Millwall's highly-rated keeper Tom King continues to progress with Darren Sarll's Stevenage
PUBLISHED: 15:24 23 February 2018 | UPDATED: 15:52 23 February 2018
Danny Loo Photography 2017
The handshake is firm and he fixes you firmly in the eye as he says a cheery hello. They say keepers are different and the glint in the eye of Stevenage's Tom King is very much consistent with many charismatic members of the goalie's union.
But behind the bonhomie and good nature is a deadly serious professional aiming to progress as far as he can in the challenging world of football.
The Plymouth-born 22-year-old has been in impressive form since he joined Darren Sarll’s Boro on loan from Championship side Millwall when the January transfer window opened.
Such is his standing at the no-nonsense south-east London outfit the Lions made sure he signed an 18 month contract extension with them before allowing him to go to the Lamex until the end of the season.
King immediately replaced the talented but inexperienced Middlesbrough propsect Joe Fryer who, like all good footballers suffered a dip in form, making his debut 48 hours after putting pen to paper.
The fact his first start was in the maelstrom of the FA Cup third round, in the first match against Reading led by former Manchester United legend Jaap Stam, didn’t worry him as he kept a clean sheet in the 0-0 draw which took the tie to a replay.
Although Sarll’s men were unfortunate in losing the second game 3-0 King was already showing he had settled in at the club on and off the pitch.
Speaking to CometSport at the club’s training ground at Bragbury End this week, he said: “It has all been going really great, on a personal note it was just good to get in a team somewhere and start playing some games.
“The lads have really helped me settle in quickly, I have taken really well to Jack King who I knew previously just through mutual friends, so it is good that he is here.
“Obviously Joe Martin was at Millwall with me last year as well, so those boys really helped me get with the lads and helped me settle.
“I am really enjoying it, the lads on the pitch have been great. We have got to find that consistency, I think that is one thing before I came they struggled with and now I am here we are still picking it up.
“The additions that the chairman and manager made in January were fantastic, the experienced lads coming through the door really bring that settled energy into the club.”
In an inconsistent season having a goalkeeper a team can rely on is vitally important, so much so at League Two level when a matter of a dozen points separates half the table.
With the excellent run Stevenage embarked upon last season still fresh in fans minds, the hope is the club can ignite their season with a good spell of form to rise up the table from an under-par 15th place. Under-par when you look at the talent which abounds at the club.
But what is King’s strongest suit?
“I just try to be as loud as possible”, he says, with a hint of a smile which doesn’t detract from the serious appraisal of his skills.
“On the pitch a successful day for a goalkeeper is not really doing a lot. If I can talk to my defenders, give good coaching and i have nothing to do all day, it is a successful day for me.
“Luckily for when they have had shots on our goal, I feel like I have acquitted myself well.
“I pride myself on being able to kick the ball the full length of the pitch and if that can help us start counter-attacks, then hopefully that is a way I can aid us.”
King’s new club has fired in starts this season, not least with an impressive 4-1 victory over Yeovil on Saturday at the Lamex.
But with another big game approaching as Sarll takes his men to Notts County’s historic Meadow Lane, the highly-rated keeper explains: “The biggest thing in my mind is playing Notts County.
“That is the biggest thing in my mind and every step after that – Mansfield, then Crewe and we just keep going game by game.”
And after that?
King’s honesty and passion shines through. He replies in an instant: “The dream is to be able to go and play for Millwall in the Championship, you want to play at the highest level as possible.
“It would be nice to be given a chance, but I am just going to take every step as it comes.
“When it gets to the summer, I will sit down with the Millwall manager, I will sit down with the Stevenage manager as well and hopefully have a chat about how well we have done this year.
“And I will just take it from there, whatever the Millwall manager has planned for me then I have to kind of go along with that.”
King, who made his first team debut for Millwall in a 2–1 defeat to Nottingham Forest in an EFL Cup Second Round match at The Den in August 2016, has already earned international recognition after being capped at England under 16 level – and is understandably ambitious.
Which is a good thing for it shows clear thinking in terms of his career. “There is a long list of very good keepers ahead of me and I’ve got to be realistic. I have Welsh roots and Kit Symons [as part of former Wales boss Chris Coleman’s coaching staff] had been in touch to say I’m on Wales’ radar which was nice.”
King is clearly going places if he keeps learning and working hard and Stevenage should make the most of him while they have him.
But what is refreshing to see is his modesty as he relishes the chance of progressing his career in North Herts.
“It is just so important that I keep playing games”, he adds with that glint in his eye which indicates he is enjoying life as Boro’s number one. “I have got the bug for it now.
“I had the bug for it last year so I have just got to keep on top of it and get to those milestones – 50 games, 100 games, 150 games and build a reputation for myself as soon as possible.“
Judging by the impressive way he handles himself on and off the pitch King’s reputation is deservedly growing by the day.