Darren Randolph: It would be nice to play against Charlton again
Tuesday’s Carabao Cup tie with Charlton Athletic will conjure plenty of fond memories for Darren Randolph.
The West Ham United goalkeeper, who is likely to deputise for No1 Lukasz Fabianski at London Stadium, began his career with the Red Robins nearly two decades ago.
It was 2003 and Randolph was just 15 when he first flew over from his native Republic of Ireland to go on trial with Charlton. A year later, having impressed the then-Premier League club’s coaches, he signed a scholarship and moved from his boyhood club Ardmore Rovers to the south London club’s Academy.
Four years later, in the week of his 20th birthday, Alan Pardew handed Randolph his Premier League debut at Liverpool on the final day of the 2006/07 season, and the young goalkeeper impressed in a 2-2 draw at Anfield.
The Bray-born stopper remained with Charlton for three more seasons but was forced to play second-fiddle to Nicky Weaver and Rob Elliot, and ultimately departed The Valley for Scottish Premier League club Motherwell.
Randolph’s time north of the border was successful, as he appeared in a Scottish Cup final and was voted into the PFA Scotland Team of the Year, before he returned south to Birmingham City in 2013.
Two years later, he joined West Ham on a free transfer and quickly impressed, appearing in the 3-0 win at Liverpool and the even more memorable 3-2 victory over Manchester United in the final game at the Boleyn Ground in his first season in east London.
After starring for his country at UEFA Euro 2016, Randolph departed for Middlesbrough in summer 2017 and, after 18 months in the Championship, he was brought back to the Club in January this year.
It’ll be nice to play against Charlton again, if I am picked.
I was in the Championship with Birmingham and Middlesbrough and have played against them a few times before, but this will be the first time I’ve faced them as a West Ham player.
Obviously, none of the players who were there when I was there are still at the club – it’s ten years ago – but some of the lads I knew are now coaches.
Grant Basey was our left-back and he’s now a first-team development coach, while Johnnie Jackson joined us on loan during my final season there and he’s now assistant manager.
A lot of the groundstaff are also still there and it was nice to see them when we played at The Valley in pre-season in 2015.
I was 15 when I was spotted by Charlton.
I went to the famous Milk Cup tournament in Northern Ireland in Ballymena with my Sunday League team, Ardmore Rovers, and played against loads of different teams from England and all around the world. I played well and got trials at Charlton, Leeds and loads of other clubs. I did the rounds.
With Charlton, I was probably coming over once every two or three months and then once a month for a weekend. I’d fly over Friday evening and go home on Monday morning. Then in the summer they came over and met my parents.
Of all the clubs I had trials with, I went back to Charlton the most and they invited me to go to the Nike Premier Cup in Durham and West Ham beat us in the semi-finals – Kyel Reid and Chris Cohen played for them. After that tournament I ended up signing Academy forms.
Charlton had some fantastic players when I was there.
Alan Curbishley was the manager and Charlton were an established Premier League club. When I first went on trial, Paolo Di Canio was there.
I remember seeing all this big players at the training ground – Scott Parker, Claus Jensen, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, Luke Young, Matt Holland, Paul Konchesky, Jason Euell, Mark Fish, Kevin Lisbie and loads more.
Mick Brown was in charge of the Under-17s and he was my first coach. Mark Robson, who had played for both West Ham and Charlton, was my coach for Under-19s, then Glynn Snodin and Curbs with Mervyn Day and Keith Peacock.
I was 20 when I made my debut in May 2007. Charlton were already relegated, so Pards gave me a game away at Liverpool in Robbie Fowler’s last game. If I remember correctly, I got Man of the Match, so it was a day to remember. I couldn’t have asked for more on my debut.
I really enjoyed my first spell at West Ham, especially those games during our last season at Upton Park.
We had Dimitri Payet, which helped! He was a match-winner all on his own. But we had such a good squad and so much belief.
Once you get into the habit of winning games, especially if you have come from behind to win and take points, then you can quickly get the mentality that you can and will win any game, so you just crack on.
That 2015/16 season, when we were successful, it didn’t matter if we went behind, because we came back and won games quite a few times. Going a goal down almost woke us up!
Performing well and getting wins becomes infectious. We need to get that feeling back this season, if we can.
I’m feeling sharp as I’ve played pre-season games and also twice for Ireland in the UEFA Nations League.
I had 90 minutes against Ipswich before the international break and then went away and played the full 90 in both international matches.
It was good to get two competitive games under my belt before the start of the domestic season as obviously competitive football is totally different than pre-season.
The results were not so good and not what we wanted, but personally, it was good for me and my performances gave me peace of mind knowing where I am in my game and that I still feel sharp.
I played the at Euros in 2016 and I would love to play in another major tournament for my country. We have the first leg of the Euro 2021 Play-Off against Slovakia away next month, then hopefully we will win that and play the winner of Bosnia and Northern Ireland and win that and we qualify.
If we do qualify, two of the games would be in Dublin which would be great. To play in a major tournament in my own country would be an unbelievable experience. The Aviva would be rocking.
I’d love to play on Tuesday night, 100 per cent. If it is the cup games I am playing in, I want to play as many games as I can.
It’ll keep me match sharp for internationals and also be nice for the Club to have a decent cup run, again like we did in 2015/16, when we reached the FA Cup quarter-finals.
The last run we had was when we lost to Manchester United in a replay, having played really well in the first game at Old Trafford. I was fouled when they scored their equaliser about ten minutes from the end. It’s still in my head. We were so close to Wembley and the FA Cup semi-finals.
I played in the Scottish Cup final for Motherwell against Celtic at Hampden Park in 2011, and I’d love to play in another big cup final.
I’ve also played in Europe for both Motherwell and West Ham, against big teams like Panathinaikos from Greece and Levante from Spain, and I’d love to play in Europe again.