Introducing Dan Langley
Written by Dan King
Rookie goalkeeper Dan Langley will make his senior Newcastle United debut in today's friendly at York City (kick-off 2pm BST) - the latest chapter of a remarkable story which has taken the 6ft 7ins shot-stopper from Sunday League to St. James' Park in the space of less than four years.
The 20-year-old from Northumberland came within a matter of days of giving up on his dream of becoming a professional footballer before - at last - being given the opportunity he craved by his boyhood club. He has regularly trained with Steve Bruce's side since the second part of 2019/20 and, after Karl Darlow tested positive for Covid-19 at the Magpies' training camp in Yorkshire this week, and Mark Gillespie and Freddie Woodman were required to self-isolate having been identified as close contacts, Langley will be between the posts at the LNER Community Stadium.
"I probably couldn't count how many trials I'd been on and how many times I've been rejected," he told nufc.co.uk in an in-depth interview last year. "It was almost like a last chance saloon - it's so hard to keep coming back after that many times.
"I'd went on trials until I was 16 and it was sort of the last push, because I was meant to be going back to sixth form a few days later. I was getting ready to do business, biology and physical education. I wanted to be a PE teacher, in my head; I've always been sporty and not that academic at school. I was a keen golfer - I still am - and with football, I'd just been rejected by Sunderland and I was like 'I'm 16 now...'
"I don't think I would have fully scrapped football but I'd have been playing just with my mates on a Sunday, for a local team, something like that. But then I got the trial at Newcastle - Sheffield United were interested too - and I thought I'd just keep with it for another few months.
"Thankfully it worked out. I had to phone the school up two days before term started and say 'right, I'm not coming back - I'm doing a scholarship at Newcastle!'. It happened that fast."
At the end of that scholarship, Langley signed a first professional contract with the team he'd supported since his grandad, Dave Crane - himself a former junior goalkeeper with the Magpies - bought him a replica shirt with DAN 1 on the back for his first birthday. He went to his first game - a 2-2 draw with Derby County - in the Gallowgate End at the age of five, idolised Shay Given and had a season ticket for several years as a teenager.
He'd started playing outfield as a four-year-old with Blyth Town before following his father, Chris, to Whitley Bay Juniors when he started coaching there. Already, Langley junior was "a head above everyone else" height-wise and a coach, David Shepherd, suggested he go in goal. By the time he was 11, scouts had started to take notice but despite spending time with several clubs, a scholarship offer never materialised.
That was until Langley joined Monkseaton Juniors, via a spell with Cramlington Juniors. Manager Iain Anderson, the father of United youngster Elliot, recommended his goalkeeper to Magpies scouts and the tall teenager was soon invited for yet another trial. This time, though, things went differently. "Newcastle kept me on longer than any team had before," recalled Langley. "I think I was on trial there for coming up two months, so in the back of my mind I thought 'they must be looking at something here. I've got a chance and I've got to go for it.'
"I think it's partly because I'd got better - I probably had improved - but with me, before I got to the Academy set-up, I wouldn't have been very technical with what I was doing. So when I went into the trials with other goalkeepers, they probably thought 'he can keep the ball out of the net, but he's not really orthodox,' while other goalkeepers who had been in an Academy set-up since they were really young look neat and tidy.
"But when I came to Newcastle, I think it was partly due to the trial games that I played. Because of all the rejections, I'd got to the point where I was almost expecting a no, so perhaps that helped me play with more freedom. I played an under-18s game against Liverpool away and did quite well, and I think Chris Terpcou, the goalkeeper coach at the time, thought there was something there to work with.
"And I feel like as the years are going on, I'm starting to become more and more polished; I'm still getting there but I feel like I'm the most orthodox that I've ever been. At the start, when I came in, I'd probably save lots but I wouldn't look good, and tidy. I'd be effective in what I was doing, but now I'm saving them and it looks like how it's 'meant to.' That's to do with all the training, the coaching. I was a blank slate and I had to learn things, which I think is good in a way because you do get 'keepers who are young and have habits that they've been taught, and can't really get rid of them.
"I'm kind of being fine-polished now. I'll always have that bit of edginess in there, but as long as it keeps out of the net that then it doesn't really matter."
Langley doesn't turn 21 until December but already knows just how quickly life can change in football. "Things can just happen at times you don't expect, and if something goes your way, you've just got to try to take (the opportunity)," he said. "You might have in your head that you've got to give up after so many times failing, but if you keep going then you never know what can happen.
"All you need is one person's opinion on you, one person to take a chance on you. That's what happened with me. I don't know how many people must have said no to me, but one person comes along and says 'I'll take a chance on him.'
"You've just got to keep going, because you never know when that one person could be watching. You've got to keep working and hopefully, one day, you'll get that chance."
That next chance will come today, and based on his journey so far you'd back him to take it.
"Things can just happen at times you don't expect, and if something goes your way, you've just got to try to take (the opportunity)."