Shaka hoping for a fairytale finish

This time last year, Shaka Hislop was languishing unloved and unwanted on the South Coast. Out of favour at relegation-threatened Portsmouth, he did not know where his next game was coming from.

But 12 months on, having swapped Fratton Park for a close-season return to Upton Park, the towering shot-stopper now stands on the verge of the most exciting chapter of his career.

"Professionally, the next three months can be a very special time for me," declares Shaka, as he looks forward to helping both West Ham United to a possible FA Cup final clash with Liverpool and his country at the World Cup finals.

"To be part of a Trinidad and Tobago squad that has qualified for Germany 2006 has been the pinnacle of my career - we'll be running out against England in a few weeks time - and I'm very proud to have been in a West Ham United team that has got this far in the FA Cup, too.

"A year ago I could never have seen this coming. To all intents and purposes I was third choice goalkeeper at Portsmouth and not enjoying things. In fact, I wouldn't even have envisaged this three months ago, yet alone 12 months ago.

"I was understudy to Roy Carroll and only getting the odd game here and there, but I kept working hard to keep myself in good physical shape just in case something happened, and then lo and behold it did.

"With my wife and four daughters around me, I never lost sight of what's important. I was working hard for them rather than just sitting around feeling sorry for myself and when Roy got his unfortunate injury, I was happy to come in and I've been delighted with the way things have gone.

"It's gone full circle for me and I've been able to pick up the pieces, hit the ground running and carry on from where he left off.

"I've got very good relationships with Roy, Jimmy Walker and Stephen Bywater, and they've all kept me on my toes," says the 37-year-old as he looks forward to today's semi-final clash against Middlesbrough.

"It's a proud achievement for me to have been involved in every tie of this FA Cup run in the twilight of my career and it's something that I will be able to look back on with a lot of pride and satisfaction.

"I'll still be a little nervous before the match, just like I was when I first started, but that's all a part of trying to fulfil my boyhood dream of winning the trophy."

However, none of his ballet-loving daughters will be at Villa Park to see their dad as he sets about achieving a lifelong ambition.

"The girls are good dancers but they're not as good as me!" laughs Shaka, whose seven-year-old, Khazia, will even spend the afternoon away from the television, taking part in a gymnastics competition. "I certainly don't know where she's got that from because I can barely touch my own toes!"

But deep down, Hislop knows that the serious business is about to start at Villa Park. And a few more assured performances between the posts for West Ham between now and the end of the season could well see the veteran prolong his playing days at Upton Park.

"I know that my career is coming to an end," he admits. "I realise that both the manager and myself now have to look at things year on year and I wouldn't want to sign for more than a season at a time anyway, because I don't just want to be part of the furniture at a club and get paid for doing very little.

"I want to give my team the best that I have to offer and earn my keep, so we'll see how the rest of the season goes, see how the summer goes and then take things from there."