Long live King Tim
Cometh the hour, cometh the Krul. No, I’m not referring to the moment when Louis van Gaal chose to sub on Tim Krul for the Netherlands just before their penalty shoot-out against Costa Rica in the 2014 World Cup quarter-final, which paid off handsomely when Krul saved two of the five spot kicks and sent his country through.
I’m talking about right now, about this mad, sad, strange year. For me, in many ways, and arguably for Norwich City as a whole, it’s been the year of Tim Krul; a time when the value of the goalkeeper and all he delivers, on and off the pitch, has been made clear.
The last football match I saw live, with my dad, was the FA Cup fifth-round game against Tottenham Hotspur, when Krul’s now trademark penalty heroics booked us a spot in the quarter-finals for the first time in 28 years – the first time in my lifetime, in fact. We did not know then that it would be three months before that game was played, or that none of us would be there at Carrow Road to see it.
And my dad did not know that only a few weeks later he’d be getting a call from the goalkeeper, one of many Krul made during lockdown to check up on fans. It may have been part of a club initiative but Krul often went above and beyond, bringing a cake to one woman he spoke to after discovering that it was her 94th birthday, and that she lived nearby. On Twitter news spread of these and other generous acts that seemed to come naturally to the Dutchman.
In July, he was named our player of the season, no doubt taking the title by a landslide. He was the obvious choice, the most consistent performer, one of the few players who seemed to grow in stature during those last difficult months, when many around him were shrinking.
It’s worth remembering how his time at Norwich began, because it makes the heights he has since reached all the more remarkable.
He’d spent a season at Brighton & Hove Albion after leaving Newcastle United in 2017, the club he’d joined 12 years before, at just 17 years old. He’d been much loved at St James’ Park but an ACL injury while with the national team in 2015 and the long layoff that followed forced him to relinquish the number one spot, and he slowly faded from view.
A series of loan spells did not bring the breakthrough he must have hoped for, and the new start at Brighton turned out to be a false one – he made no league appearances for the south coast side.
Enter the Norwich City of 2017/18, home of continental misfits, untried youngsters and experienced pros in need of some luck and encouragement. Krul was a free agent after leaving Brighton and desperately in need of game time, and a manager willing to give it to him. Luckily for him, and for us, Daniel Farke was that man. At the time, Krul said: “I just can’t wait to show what I’m worth on the pitch again.” He’s done that, and far more.
His first season with us began shakily, as he would probably admit himself – but as he got matches under his belt, he blossomed, and it is no coincidence that the team did, too. His second campaign did not go to plan for us but for him it was comfortable, in the sense that he looked like he was back where he belonged.
When he joined Norwich he had eight caps for the Netherlands, including that infamous World Cup shoot-out; it was during the eighth appearance, in October 2015, that he suffered the injury that interrupted his career. Now he has three more caps after playing his way back into the international set-up, and there was something neatly circular in the way his ninth cap, in a friendly against Mexico, came almost exactly five years after his last.
Krul exemplifies why Norwich fans should be proud of our club, which looks at the player as a whole and weighs up what we can give to them, not only what we can take – and we should, of course, be proud of our Dutchman and what he has been able to achieve, both for us and while with us.
Which takes me back to this year, and Krul’s shining example. Anyone can stand up and lead when everything is going right, when adversity is only notional. It takes far more character to do so when every week brings new challenges – when football, which is meant to be an escape for so many, brings further disappointment.
This year – though thankfully not, so far, this season – we’ve all needed inspiration and motivation more than ever. But if you want a reminder of what can come from being brave and patient, from putting your head down and persevering through dark, difficult, disquieting moments, look no further than Krul. Long live King Tim.
This piece was published in OTBC, the Norwich City matchday programme, for the Championship game against Coventry City on 28 November 2020. Subscribe to OTBC here.