Freddie Woodman opens up about his debut ‘nerves’ – and Rafa Benitez’s influence on him at Newcastle

Newcastle United goalkeeper Freddie Woodman (left) and Luton Town's Elliot Lee during the FA Cup, third round match at St James's Park.
Newcastle United goalkeeper Freddie Woodman (left) and Luton Town's Elliot Lee during the FA Cup, third round match at St James's Park.

Stood in the tunnel at St James’s Park, the nerves kicked in.

Freddie Woodman could hear the build up – and the 47,069 crowd – as he waited behind Newcastle United captain Jamaal Lascelles.

The 20-year-old had long waited for this moment.

A few days earlier, Rafa Benitez had told Woodman that he would be in goal for the club’s third-round FA Cup tie against Luton Town.

Knowing what was the come, Woodman trained with a smile on his face for the rest of the week.

“The gaffer came to me in midweek and said that he wanted me to play,” said the England Under-20 international.

The gaffer came to me in midweek and said that he wanted me to play. He didn’t make a big deal of it, and that was it. I carried on training, but I trained with such a smile on my face all week.

Freddie Woodman

“He didn’t make a big deal of it, and that was it.

“I carried on training, but I trained with such a smile on my face all week. I was buzzing. I had to get my family up to the game. It was just a really nice moment.

“I’m grateful that he’s the manager that’s given me the chance. I feel like I’ve learnt so much under him.”

Back to the nerves.

Woodman has played in some big games, like last summer’s Under-20 World Cup final.

But this was different.

Asked if he’d been nervous before the game, Woodman said: “Yes, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t.

“In the tunnel I was a bit nervous, but with the players we’ve got on the pitch ... as soon as I got out there, I felt fine.

“I’ve played in some big games, but this was totally different.”

There were also nerves on the pitch.

However, Woodman made some saves and got through the game.

It was a box ticked.

“I’m buzzing, delighted to tick it off the list,” said Woodman, son of former Newcastle goalkeepering coach Andy.

“To play play in front of nearly a sell-out at St James’s is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. To say I’ve done that, and played for Newcastle United, is amazing.”

Woodman has been around the first-team squad for several years.

And his senior competitive debut has seemingly been a long time coming.

“It seems a long time, but everything I’ve been doing – everything in the gym and on the pitch and playing for England has been geared towards playing for Newcastle, because that’s my club and I want to continue to do that,” said Woodman, now preparing for Saturday’s Premier League home game against Swansea City.

“We’re in the hat for the next round, and that was the goal at the start of the day.

“We’re delighted. We put a professional performance in, so we can take that into Saturday.”

Woodman has always loved the FA Cup since watching his father play for Oxford United against Arsenal in the competition.

“Personally, I love the FA Cup,” said the Croydon-born player. “I’ve been to the FA Cup final since I was a kid.

“My dad used to take me every year. It’s something that’s close to my heart. It’s the first time I’ve played in it, so I’m buzzing.

“To play for Newcastle in it is a dream come true.”

Woodman – who has had loan spells at Kilmarnock and Crawley Town – knows he will be back on the bench for the visit of Swansea.

He’s hoping for another loan spell later this month.

“I feel like I’ve done the bench role for a long time – I’ve been on the bench since I was 17,” said Woodman.

“I’m 20 now, and it’s been a long time. Every Saturday, every game I’m on the bench, I’m ready to play. I’ve just got to continue doing that.”