West Ham’s Irish goalkeeper Darren Randolph reflects on his circuitous route back to the big time.
Darren Randolph, Irish goalkeeper and new West Ham signing, has vivid memories of his Premier League debut, when he came on for Charlton against Liverpool at Anfield on the very last day of the season back in 2007.
“We were winning 2-1 and in the last couple of minutes they got a penalty – Harry Kewell took it — and it ended up 2-2,” he recalls. “It was Robbie Fowler’s last game for Liverpool as well, so it was quite an occasion up there.” Plenty of reasons there alright for a young man to remember his first taste of top-flight football in England.
But there’s an additional reason the day stands out in the now 28-year-old’s memory — it was not only the first but also the last time he would play in the Premier League. Until now.
“We got relegated with three or four games to go,” says Randolph of that season eight years ago which ended with his Charlton debut on Merseyside.
“The following season we finished mid-table and then the season after that we got relegated to League 1 and then the team broke up. And it’s been a long journey ever since then to get back.
“But it was always in the back of my mind. Because I was so young I probably took it for granted back then. But when we went out of the Premiership and dropped down the leagues, you realise then it’s not that easy to get back. I suppose I wanted everything right now but then you learn that things come with time and you’ve just got to be patient and be ready to take the chances when they come.”
He also had to learn how to cope with personal setbacks in his career.
“Like when it was time to leave Charlton and there were no clubs around,” he recalls. “Everyone was, like, we know who you are but you’ve not played many games and we want a goalkeeper with more experience. And that’s when I went up to Scotland, really to just get some games and try and get myself back out on the radar.”
Fir Park was never on the path he’d planned for himself when dreaming about a football career in the family back garden in Bray but he thrived at Motherwell, even gaining a little Champions League and Europa League experience with the SPL club, as well as being called up to the senior Ireland squad under Steve Staunton.
He also developed sufficiently to attract the attention of an English club again in 2013, joining Birmingham City in the Championship where yet more impressive displays saw West Ham come calling at the end of last season.
And so now he finally finds himself back in the big time, albeit as cover for first choice ‘keeper Adrian but, it’s widely expected, with plenty of opportunity to get game time in the Europa League and domestic cup competitions.
Indeed, it was confirmed by academy manager Terry Westley yesterday that Randolph will make his Hammers debut in tonight’s Europa League clash (kick-off 7:45pm) with Andorran outfit FC Lusitans.
Still, leaving the Blues was a wrench.
“It took me probably about a month to decide,” he admits, “but I’m no different to any other footballer. I want to try and get to the top of my field and if you ask any player who is not in the Premier League that’s where they want to get to. Obviously, I may not play as regularly as I want but hopefully I’ll get a few games and show what I can do.”
He is, of course, not the only new arrival at the club, Slaven Bilic having replaced Sam Allardyce at the helm in time for the start of the new season, with the gaffer’s first sighting of Randolph and the rest of his players at Fota Island in Cork where the Hammers held a pre-season training camp.
“It’s a little different to clubs I’ve moved to before where the manager has been there a while when I’ve arrived,” Randolph observes. “The new manager is going to learn about all the players he has here and we’re learning about him and how he operates. ”
Randolph was included in Martin O’Neill’s Ireland squad for the recent games against England and Scotland and there has been some speculation that the management have him earmarked as a leading contender for the goalkeeping position in the long-term. To date, he has just the two non-competitive caps to his name but while he talks about his senior international debut – against Oman at Craven Cottage in 2012 – as one of the special moments of his life, he says his Irish prospects were not a significant consideration in his decision to move to Upton Park.
“I’m aware of how long keepers can go on for but I wasn’t thinking I need to get this move to play for Ireland,” he says. “I needed to get myself sorted out club-wise and whatever happens after that is a bonus.” And if he is to make the breakthrough, it’ll mean dislodging one of his all-time goal-keeping heroes.
“The three I liked when I was young were Shay Given, Peter Schmiechel and David James,” he relates, “so it was kind of surreal the first time I trained with Shay for Ireland.” Whatever else happens this season, he’ll be part of history at West Ham as the club prepares for its final campaign at its famous east London home.
“Yeah, it’s a massive year,” he says. “The last season at Upton Park and then on to the Olympic Stadium.” Mind, he has played at West Ham before – but only for the reserves when he was with Charlton. It might have taken him longer than expected, but Darren Randolph’s next taste of the Boleyn Ground should be somewhat more memorable.
Darren Randolph was speaking on behalf of Betway, official principal sponsor of West Ham United. Betway offers odds on more than 30,000 betting markets, available live and in-play across a huge range of sports.
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