Exclusive: Newcastle United and Swansea City goalkeeper Freddie Woodman opens up on his Premier League aim – and addresses his future
It was kind of a big deal for a 20-year-old.
Only now, however, does the goalkeeper appreciate how much of a big deal it was at the time.
The hope on Tyneside is that Woodman goes on to make many more appearances for the club, though, for now, he’s only thinking about the present.
Woodman – who has won the Championship’s Golden Glove award for the most clean sheets this season – is focused on helping Swansea City win promotion to the Premier League.
The 24-year-old finished the season with 20 shut outs, three more than Tim Krul, his former Newcastle team-mate.
However, what’s happened up to now will count for nothing in the play-offs, where fourth-placed Swansea face Barnsley over two legs.
“I think if you’d asked anyone at the start of the season where you’d want to finish, you’d definitely say in the top six, and we’ve managed to get ourselves in the play-offs two games short of the season finishing, which was a massive achievement,” said Woodman.
“But we know that counts for nothing unless you go and try and do well in the play-offs and get promoted, and our focus is purely on that, and that not looking back on the season, even though it’s been a good one. We’re fully looking forward.”
Woodman was sold on a return to the Liberty Stadium after spending last season on loan at the club – and United had coach Steve Bruce was happy to farm him out again for more first-team experience.
“Obviously, Swansea was my first choice, and when I spoke to the manager (Steve Cooper) here, he wanted me back,” said Woodman.
“I had nothing else in my mind other than to come back and get another full season under my belt working with him. I thought it was another fantastic opportunity, and it’s worked out well. I’ve really enjoyed this season, even more than my first season.”
Woodman – who wasn’t loaned out in the 2018/19 season after refusing to sign a contract extension on the same terms as his deal at the time – has long needed to play week in, week out, and Swansea gave him the opportunity to do that in the fiercely-competitive Championship.
The Croydon-born player, however, is quick to credit his team-mates for helping him in the Golden Glove.
“Firstly, for my development I’ve managed to get more game time, which is always important when you come on loan,” said Woodman, who followed his father Andy, goalkeeping coach under Alan Pardew, to Newcastle.
“I’ve got the Golden Glove, but it’s a collective effort. I think we’ve got one of the best (defensive) records in the Championship, which always helps. If you’re trying to win football matches, if you keeping clean sheets, it makes it a lot easier for the boys at the top end of the pitch. It’s been a great season for myself personally, and I really want to top it off by going one step further.”
The Welsh Government will allow some fans inside Liberty Stadium for the home leg following the relaxing of coronavirus restrictions.
“When I got out and speak to people, they’re excited by it (the play-offs), but it’s almost like a bit of a gutting feeling that they haven’t been able to go on this journey this season,” said Woodman.
"It’ll be so nice to have them supporting us. I hope they can come and support us on this little journey, and we can give them something to shout about.”
Woodman – who has previously been loaned to Aberdeen, Kilmarnock ad Crawley Town – feels that he’s matured on and off the pitch in his two years away from St James’s Park.
“Firstly, I think I’m a different person for spending two years away from Newcastle, and obviously a different player,” said Woodman.
“I’ve grown up a lot more, and probably matured on the football field as well. I’m happy with where I’m at. When I was younger I used to think there was a plan, and if I didn’t get this loan at this time I was frustrated.
“As you get older, you realise everything happens and falls into place. It just sort of happens, and the most important thing is that you go and play – and play well.”
Woodman – who previously enjoyed living in leafy Gosforth – quickly settled in Swansea, and he has enjoyed the stunning coastline.
“It’s a wicked place to live – I’ve come down and absolutely loved it,” said Woodman. “I’ve bought into what the place is about. I think the people are fantastic, really warm. It’s a great vibe down here, and a perfect place to live. It’s nice. There’s nothing else to worry about other than performing well on the pitch. It’s been lovely.
“I’ve been able to really buy into the city. I’ve really, really enjoyed spending a lot of my time here.”
Woodman has also had time to reflect on his career to date, notably his United debut in a 3-1 win over Luton in a third-round FA Cup tie.
“I didn’t really hit me at the time, but now I look back and think about playing at St James’s Park in front of 52,000, I’m more proud of it now than I was at the time, if that makes sense,” said Woodman.
“It’s almost strange. Coming away from the club for an amount of time you actually realise how big the club is. I got caught up in being around the football club all the time, and you take yourself out of that down here, and hear people talk about Newcastle, and everyone says ‘it’s a massive club’.
“When you think ‘I’ve played for that football club, sat on the bench in the Premier League a number of times since I was 17’, you think ‘yeah, that’s a decent achievement’. It gives me the urge to play more. It’s nice to be removed from that to realise how big a football club that I’m at.”
Woodman has followed Newcastle’s campaign closely from South Wales. He also checks the Bromley result – his father took over as manager at the National League club in March – and that of Crystal Palace, his first club.
“I’m a Newcastle United player, so it’s the first result I check with the Bromley result and the Crystal Palace result,” said Woodman. “I’ve managed to keep in touch with a lot of the players there.
“I’ve got a lot of friends there, I’ve been there a long time. I’ve got a lot of connections with the place and the people there. Newcastle United is a Premier League club and should be up there competing, so I’m really happy they’ve managed to secure staying in the league.
“I’m happy for all my friends and for the good people around the club and the staff.”
United have been in safe hands this season with Martin Dubravka and Karl Darlow between the posts, and Woodman credits the standard of goalkeeping at the club with helping his development.
“Newcastle have fantastic goalkeepers,” said Woodman. “Since I’ve been there, they’ve had fantastic first-team goalkeepers. When I was first there there was Steve Harper and Tim Krul, and then now you’ve got Darlow and Dubravka. They’re serious goalkeepers.
“I’ve watched all the games. Darlow was excellent, made so many good saves, and everyone knows how good Martin is. It’s difficult to try and play at these tops clubs, but I guess that’s what makes you better.
“You’re competing against some serious competition. When I was there, it was a fantastic working group, and you improve so much working with and competing against those people.”
Woodman has two years left on his Newcastle contract, but he’s reluctant to look too far ahead.
“The older I’ve got, I’ve realised you can’t look too far into the future in football,” said Woodman. “There are so many different things that could happen. It’s totally unpredictable.
“For me to sit here and say ‘I’m going to do this and do that’ is almost impossible. What I like to do now is take every day as it comes. I’m excited for the next few weeks as a Swansea City player, and whatever happens after that, happens. Whatever football throws at me, I’ll be ready.”
For now, Woodman is ready for whatever the play-offs throw at him and his Swansea team-mates.