One of Karl Darlow’s most treasured football memories is being taken to watch Leicester City by his grandfather.
The late Ken Leek was a centre forward of repute for Leicester and part of the celebrated Wales squad that reached the quarter-finals of the 1958 World Cup, only to lose to the mighty Brazil.
‘We used to go and see Leicester and the receptions he got were amazing,’ recalls Newcastle goalkeeper Darlow. ‘The other former players would say to me, “If you are half as good as your grandad, you will be OK”.’
Newcastle goalkeeper Karl Darlow says that he relishes ruining the day for opposition fans
What is poignant for Darlow is that his grandad briefly played for Newcastle in the early 1960s and scored a hat-trick on his debut. Darlow, 30, has had a longer, more difficult journey to Steve Bruce’s first team but is finally making his own mark.
‘It’s special that he played here,’ he nods. ‘It makes me very proud and it’s nice that I am following suit.’
Darlow has turned down two approaches to play for Wales. His ambitions are to represent the country of his birth, England. On current form, it does not seem an unrealistic thought.
Darlow, who has turned down two approaches from Wales, is eager to be called up by England
‘It’s the one thing that as a child you want to do,’ Darlow tells Sportsmail.
‘There would be no bigger achievement and I just want to leave the window open for it to happen. I know I have ability and, if I can get a good run of games and get on some good form, then there is potential for that to happen. I would love nothing more.’
Darlow’s own star has risen slowly since joining Newcastle from Nottingham Forest in 2015. Having played 34 games of the 2016-17 Championship promotion season, he battled for the No 1 spot with Rob Elliot before Martin Dubravka arrived from Sparta Prague to take the shirt.
As such he did not play a single Premier League game over the course of the last two seasons.
The 30-year-old has made some excellent saves as he has enjoyed a run in the Newcastle side
He admits he may well have left had the right offer come along but injury to Dubravka in pre-season has given Darlow an opportunity. He has taken that chance.
Performances in the draw at Tottenham and the home defeat by Manchester United have caught the eye in particular.
So far this season, he has made 34 saves in seven Premier League games and his save percentage of 74.4 is the second best in Europe.
‘It’s nice to feel the responsibility,’ he says. ‘I have been desperate to play. Being patient is part of being a goalkeeper but I had to learn that. I was No 1 at Forest so I had to adjust here — it’s not nice.’
Darlow once said he likes to be the guy who ‘ruins everybody’s day’. ‘Yeah, I want to be the villain,’ he laughs. ‘That’s the job of the goalkeeper. You have to pride yourself on that, especially when the fans are in.
‘You don’t get any better satisfaction than coming off the pitch knowing you have upset thousands of opposition fans. That’s what that quote was about.’
Released by Aston Villa as a teenager, it was former Manchester United coach Eric Steele who recommended him to Forest.
It was during his four years