If Tim Krul had been told as a 17-year-old what lay ahead for Newcastle United on the day the club came to his parents' home in The Hague to sign him in 2005 he would have been shocked. But he would have signed anyway.
The Dutch under-21 goalkeeper has lived through the most tumultuous years in the club's recent history and he still loves the place. Tomorrow, having come through the ranks behind Shay Given and Steve Harper, he plays against Sunderland in his first North-east derby which – for a naturalised Geordie – is a true rite of passage.
Like Peter Schmeichel's Mancunian accent or Jan Molby's Scouse inflection, there is a Geordie lilt to Krul's English which is hardly surprising given that he has been immersed in the city for five years. Now 22 he readily admits he has seen it all, from changes of manager to changes of ownership to the goal against Arsenal that bounced in off the back of his head in the Carling Cup fourth-round defeat on Wednesday night.
"Life can be so Krul" said the headlines the following morning but in truth life is good for this young man, who became Newcastle's No 1 in September when Harper badly damaged ligaments in his shoulder against Everton. Krul has played every game since then in a Newcastle team that, having returned to the Premier League this season, has held its own and begins the weekend in ninth position, two places behind Sunderland.
Krul is a part of the new Newcastle, or at least the team that passed through the shame of relegation from the Premier League last year and came back as champions of the Championship. He says that in the five years he has been at Newcastle, the spirit in the club has never been better than it is now.
"Of course we had the top players like [Michael] Owen," he says "But it was a shame we didn't have the results. I think we needed to start from scratch with relegation last year. I think it proved the world of good to be honest. Everyone said: 'Trouble, trouble, trouble' but we needed to start again. Look at us now. We came back a healthier, stable squad.
"We had the conversation at the start of last season: 'The guys who want to go, can go'. We had a meeting and said 'If you want to go, then go'. It was clear to everybody because it is normal that if you are relegated, players want to go. That's what happens. We came back up the first time and it has been great. Everybody knew that we needed a squad who wanted to fight to go back up. You don't want people who don't really want to do that.
"Over 46 league games [in the Championship], it is a fight and you want everyone together. We came up with this group. The boys who wanted to leave, they left. These are the ones who really wanted to stay and that gives an extra special touch to it."
At 6ft 2in tall and with a springy step, Krul looks the part although he is still relatively young for a first-choice goalkeeper. He was spotted by scouts working for Freddie Shepherd, the former chairman of Newcastle, playing for the Netherlands at the under-17s European championships in Italy. Newcastle offered him a three-year professional contract and he did not have to think twice. The opportunities were far greater than his hometown club Den Haag could offer.
Krul came to Newcastle as a teenager and was thrown into the club's academy team with Andy Carroll, the boy from Gateshead who has become the new great hope in the No 9 shirt. There are few young players at the club who are better qualified to judge Carroll than Krul, who made his debut in the same game as the striker, against Palermo in the Uefa Cup in November 2006.
"I grew up with him," Krul says. "His debut was my debut. He came on for one minute and broke my record [for the youngest player to represent the club in Europe]. He didn't even touch the ball! I really get on with him. We have been with each other every day for years now and he is a pal. But you have to be careful [in life]. If people want bad [sic], they want bad. You get that on the street – even the same can happen to you. You just have to be careful with that."
It has been an eventful week for Carroll: bailed to live with club captain Kevin Nolan after being charged with assault; car torched by persons unknown and then a fine for pleading guilty to common assault. Krul says that Carroll can handle the spotlight.
"Yeah, especially with the talent he has got. Everybody said last year because he scored so many goals in the Championship he has to do it in the Premier League and he has already scored five. A lot of assists as well. He is very important for Newcastle. He is a great talent and for England as well. He will do that sooner or later.
"People said 'Could he handle it in the Premier League?' and he has done it. He is good enough because he has done it there. It's the same with everybody: if they get the opportunity, they have to prove themselves." Has Carroll got the mentality to cope with the scrutiny that an international career would bring? "Yes, I think so. Put the ball in the air and I would rather be on his side than against him. On Saturday he gave Robert Green a difficult time."
An articulate individual, Krul gives an interesting perspective on the unique pressures of playing for Newcastle and living in the city. Jermaine Jenas described the experience of playing for Newcastle as "living in the goldfish bowl" and had to get out. Krul sees it differently. He lives just outside the predominantly student suburb of Jesmond rather than outside the city and he really enjoys his life.
"It is a really compact city and you can make it as compact as you want," he says. "If you go to the places you know are going to be busy [it might be difficult] but I don't feel any problems living in the city. I know London is a massive city and you don't get any trouble there [but] you can do whatever you want here, have your nights out and you don't get bothered at all.
"I think the whole world knows Newcastle United. I am always impressed by how many Newcastle strips I see even in Holland. In Holland we got Match of the Day so I knew all about [Alan] Shearer and the big names. I didn't know how big it really was until I got here and how much it meant to the supporters.
"When I was 17, 18, I would go to every game and sit in the stand. It was good to see from the other side. I have sat there next to the supporters so I saw how much it means to them. In Newcastle people breathe Newcastle United, everybody wants Newcastle to do well. It is one mad city of Newcastle fans."
He recognises what the derby means, too. His English girlfriend Claire has some family who – as Krul says – "are on the other side" and he knows that for tomorrow afternoon at the very least the loyalty to your club is the one that counts above all.
"Derbies are always difficult to call but with us winning last week we have that extra confidence this time going into the game," Krul says. "You could just see it with all the boys and the atmosphere in the dressing room after [the West Ham game]. Joey Barton said: 'This is the mentality we need to have for every game.' We absolutely dominated West Ham at their ground and we have to do that again."
When it comes to his hero Edwin van der Sar, Krul talks about his fellow Dutch goalkeeper with real reverence. He holds him in such esteem that when Newcastle last played at Old Trafford, Krul waited afterwards outside the changing rooms just to introduce himself to his boyhood hero and was rewarded with a 20-minute private chat that he says he will never forget.
"Van der Sar is the one for me. He won the Champions League when he was at Ajax. I used to have the Ajax strip and that didn't go down well in Den Haag. Van der Sar for me has always been the main man whether it was at Juventus, Fulham or Manchester United. I was at Old Trafford on the bench that day and I waited for him after the game.
"He just took me aside for 20 minutes and spoke to me and gave me tips, 'do this and do that'. It was the first time I had met him and there was nobody else, just me and him. He is the best. He has played 130 times for his country. Look what he has done, what he has won. He is 40 and still playing for Manchester United. Everything about him is a big example. He told me that [at his stage of his career] he has seen everything already."
Krul is not the hopeful kid seeking advice anymore. He had loan spells at Falkirk and Carlisle United which he enjoyed and he feels that his career is right on schedule. As the Newcastle No 1 he wants to keep his place in the team when Harper comes back – he is scheduled to return around Christmas – although he has a very close bond with his fellow goalkeeper.
"When I came here Shay and Harps just looked after me and made me feel part of the team. That's why it was easier to be patient. I didn't feel on the outside. I have to be thankful for that because they, along with the goalkeeper coaches, were the ones who kept me sharp and kept my head right. Harps said many times, 'I have been in your position longer than you and your chance will come quicker than others' and it has done.
"It is one of those difficult ones and he [Harper] would be the first one to tell you that a reserve goalkeeper waits for these kinds of moments. No one wants a goalkeeper to have a bad injury – you never want that – but at the end of the day the reserve goalkeeper wants to play as many games as he can.
"I know people say 'Oh, you have been here five years and you have only played 10 times'. But I have done my academy time, my reserve time, I made my debut and then I went out on loan. So for me it went to plan. Even now I have been here for five years and I am in the Premier League and I am playing. I came to England to play for Newcastle. That's what I wanted to do and I'm doing it."Reuse content