Karl Darlow programme interview - in full
Written by Tom Easterby
The position of number one goalkeeper at Newcastle United has long been the subject of a keen battle, whether that may be to retain it regain it. Karl Darlow is one of a trio of players currently vying for the role and, having made a handful of appearances for the Magpies so far this campaign, he sat down to reflect on that ongoing battle and an eventful few years. You can now read the full interview here…
Almost two years passed between Karl Darlow’s Newcastle United debut at the Hawthorns and his return to the Magpies’ line-up at the same ground last month. “It went a lot better this year!” he laughs, recalling a frantic bow a couple of Christmases ago. It ended, unfortunately for the former Nottingham Forest stopper, with Darren Fletcher’s winner slipping through his grasp. “It was strange. It’s no excuse, but I was in the warm-up when Rob (Elliot) pulled out with ten minutes before kick-off. It was one to be thrown in the deep end, literally have a ten minute warm-up and then mentally prepare for my first Premier League game.
“I had a lot of Championship games behind me, but I didn’t know what the Premier League entailed. Now I’ve had a taste of it. Alright, I’ve still not played a lot of games in the Premier League, but I feel like I know what’s to come and I’ve dealt with a lot of different things in already in a short space of time.
“That was a lot different to this season – I knew I was going to come in a couple of days before, so I prepared myself mentally, really had a good go at it. This time, I felt a little bit more established and that I know what I’m doing.”
The 2-2 draw at West Brom in November saw the 27-year-old dislodge Elliot and reclaim the spot between the sticks, 701 days after that forgettable late December afternoon. Plenty has happened during that lengthy stretch; he has been a number three, a number two and a number one, replaced, reinstated and replaced again. “I think I’ve matured as a goalkeeper since then,” he says. “It’s not that I wasn’t relaxed, but it was a bit more daunting back then. I was coming into a team that I’d only really joined in the summer. No one had seen me play before, so I felt I had to prove myself a little bit again.
“Whereas now, I’ve played quite a lot of games, over 50 games for Newcastle, so…” he pauses. “I don’t know how to explain it. I feel liked by the fans, and that they’ve got a bit of trust in me. I feel like I’ve proved myself and I can just go out there, enjoy myself and display what I can do.”
When Darlow returned from a loan at former club Nottingham Forest at the end of the 2014/15 campaign, he had a considerable challenge ahead of him but also the stature and assurance of a player who had already accrued a century of first team appearances.
It wasn’t until the end of the following season’s escape attempt in the spring that Darlow began to endear himself to United’s supporters, though, when injuries to Tim Krul and Elliot gave him his chance. His penalty save from Crystal Palace’s Yohan Cabaye sticks in the memory, and that link with the terraces is one he cherishes. “It’s a lot better than having it the other way, where they want you out the door!” he laughs. “It’s nice to have that bond with the fans. I appreciate what they do.”
That relationship remained strong throughout a summer of speculation regarding his future. Earlier this month Darlow revealed how close he was to departing, after finishing the 2016/17 Championship-winning season – to which he had contributed significantly – on the bench. “I think patience is probably the main word,” he says. “It was a strange start to the season – I didn’t know whether I was coming or going – but I managed to handle it. That’s gone now, that’s in the past, and now I’ll keep moving forward.
“Whilst I’m contracted here, obviously you have to give your lot to whatever club you’re at at the time. I’m still contracted here for a good few years yet. I didn’t lose focus on what I was doing here.”
Over the course of a hectic few years, Darlow has come in to the team for Elliot, dropped out for Matz Sels, come back in in place of the Belgian and seen Elliot reclaim a starting berth as 2016/17 reached its peak. Darlow returned against the Baggies in November, also playing against Chelsea, Leicester City and Everton, but Benítez brought Elliot back in just before Christmas, and the goalkeeping tug of war rumbles on.
Darlow admits that dropping out towards the end of last term was hard to take. “The back end of last season was probably the toughest, after doing quite a lot of the hard work, if you like, getting us to where we were,” he says. “So that was tough to take but that’s football – these things happen now and again. The manager has his ideas and whatever he was thinking is what he was thinking – I couldn’t change that. You have to learn to cope with difficult scenarios, and when it’s going well, just enjoy it.
“It was about looking to the summer, really. I wanted the lads to win the league after what we’d done, so it was more a push of staying silent in the background and keeping working, and let the lads bring the title home for us, which was a fantastic end to the season and something we thoroughly deserved. It was more a case of supporting them, and taking a bit of a step backwards and playing a different part in the squad.”
It’s something Darlow did with professionalism. The three senior goalkeepers in the current squad are, he says, “a good group, a talented group who work hard and push one another. We’ve worked well with Simon for the last three years now so we all know each other inside out and we know how to keep improving.”
The pleasure he takes in performing his duties when afforded the chance to do so is something the Northampton-born stopper alludes to a number of times.
It can’t always be easy to do that when occupying perhaps the most isolated, pressurised position on the pitch, managing the scrutiny and the straining mental aspect of goalkeeping. His perspective is refreshing. “I try to enjoy it. It’s a massive concentration thing with a goalkeeper. You still enjoy it, just playing and being part of the team,” he says.
“I’ve worked so hard to get here, so while I’m here I might as well enjoy it, because it’s only a short career. I might not have ever played for Newcastle again, so while I’m here and when I play, it’s a big thing for me to enjoy my football and enjoy playing in front of 52,000 at St. James’.”
"I’ve worked so hard to get here, so while I’m here I might as well enjoy it, because it’s only a short career. I might not have ever played for Newcastle again, so while I’m here and when I play, it’s a big thing for me to enjoy my football and enjoy playing in front of 52,000 at St. James’."