Freddie Woodman is ready for the next step at Newcastle United
Freddie Woodman did his homework at Newcastle United.
As a teenager, Woodman wanted to join the club which gave him the best chance to progress and play in the Premier League.
“I looked at the goalkeepers before and how they’d been brought through – Steve Harper, Fraser Forster and Tim (Krul) – I thought to myself ‘this club is the best chance for me to get the Premier League’,” said Woodman in 2015.
At the time, Tim Krul was Newcastle’s No.1. Krul was back at St James’s Park on Saturday with Norwich City for a pre-season friendly – and Woodman was in goal for United.
The pair embraced after the game, which was won 3-0 by Newcastle.
Woodman had impressed between the posts – he was confident and composed – and he left the pitch knowing he hadn’t done his chances of playing in this Sunday’s Premier League opener against West Ham United any harm.
Speaking after the game, Steve Bruce said Woodman was in “pole position” to play, and realise his long-held ambition, with Martin Dubravka sidelined following summer surgery and Karl Darlow recovering from Covid-19.
“He’s in pole position, and I thought he did very well,” said United’s head coach. “He was mature in his performance.”
Woodman’s maturity on the field shouldn’t come as a surprise given the maturity he’s had to show off the pitch over the past few years.
The 24-year-old’s path to first-team football at Newcastle hasn’t been a straight-forward as it would seem.
Croydon-born Woodman – who started out at home town club Crystal Palace – joined the club eight years ago, following his father Andy, then-manager Alan Pardew’s goalkeeping coach, to St James’s Park.
Woodman was soon ready for first-team football, but a loan to Crawley Town was cut short after Krul suffered a serious knee injury in late 2015, and half-season loans to Kilmarnock and Aberdeen followed over the following two campaigns.
But he was left in limbo in the 2018/19 season. The club decided not to loan him after he didn’t sign an extension to his contract on his existing terms. Woodman had been hoping to sign a new, longer-term deal.
The club’s decision left Woodman – who enjoyed success with England at youth level, and made his first-team debut for Newcastle in January 2017 before heading to Aberdeen – frustrated, though he did make three FA Cup appearances for United, then managed by Rafa Benitez, that season.
It was only in the last two seasons that Woodman, loaned to Swansea City for successive campaigns, got the first-team football he had needed.
Woodman didn’t look back, and won the Championship’s Golden Glove award last season.
“Firstly, I think I’m a different person for spending two years away from Newcastle, and obviously a different player,” Woodman told the Gazette in May.
“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 also had time to reflect on his early achievements at United, including making his debut aged 20.
“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 always been focused, and he returned to the club last month driven on by that “urge” to play more. However, he was told he was not in Bruce’s plans for this season.
A loan move to Bournemouth was agreed, and Woodman headed down to the South Coast to link up with Scott Parker’s squad ahead of their pre-season training camp in Spain.
Woodman didn’t get to board the club’s flight to Marbella. He was told to link up with United’s squad in Yorkshire with Dubravka, the club’s No.1, needing foot surgery.
Ten days of isolation followed – Woodman and fellow goalkeeper Mark Gillespie were deemed to be close contacts of Karl Darlow after the 30-year-old tested positive for Covid-19 at the club's training camp – before a belated first warm-up appearance in a friendly against Rotherham United.
Woodman, it’s fair to say, hasn’t had a straight-forward pre-season, though he’s come to expect the unexpected at the club.
Speaking in May, he said: “The older I’ve got, I’ve realised you can’t look too far into the future in football. 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. Whatever football throws at me, I’ll be ready.”
Woodman is ready for the next step in his Newcastle career.