Former Chelsea and Norwich City youngster Ben Killip on becoming 'an adopted Poolie' at Hartlepool United
You don’t just pass through Hartlepool, you come to Hartlepool – embrace the town and it will embrace you back.
That is what Hartlepool United goalkeeper Ben Killip has discovered during his three seasons on the North East coast.
The former England C international arrived at Victoria Park from Essex minnows Braintree Town in the summer of 2019. The Iron had just been relegated from the National League but their then 23-year-old goalkeeper had a solid reputation as one of the division’s brightest young goalkeepers.
Trained at the likes of Chelsea and Norwich City and with Football League experience at Grimsby Town under his belt, Killip seemed to be an ideal long-term solution to Hartlepool’s goalkeeping problems following the departure of formerly ever-present shot-stopper Scott Loach.
But things initially didn’t turn out that way with Killip experiencing a frustrating start to his time in the North East. Conceding twice in the opening 25-minutes of his debut against Sutton United did little to convince supporters at The Vic.
It has been far from plain sailing for the goalkeeper since then with spells in and out of the side and injury problems to contend with. But 77 appearances, 28 clean sheets and one promotion later, he’s still got the number one shirt and is loving life up in the North East having signed a new deal in the summer.
"It’s a completely different world from London which was difficult for me in my first season here because I didn’t get to go home much after being home for a year or so before that,” Killip tells The Mail.
"It took me a while to adjust to the North East but I live with good people who have definitely helped as well. I enjoy living up here now and feel as though I’ve got a life up here whereas before, it almost felt like a temporary thing instead of accepting myself to the area and embracing it.
"For sure, the last year and a half, I feel like an adopted Poolie and have accepted that this is me.”
Obviously a dramatic promotion against Torquay United and thousands of Poolies storming the pitch at Ashton Gate always helps.
“As soon as the final whistle went at Bristol, all I wanted to do was stay,” Killip admits.
"The aftermath and how the fans were in the town and the manner in which they connected with the players is just something I’d never experienced before in my career and was something I wanted to be part of because it’s an exciting time for the club.
"It was huge because it was well known that my first year at the club wasn’t what everyone would have hoped for, including myself.
"Last season fans weren’t in but I personally had a really good season and the fans were still brilliant supporting the way they did.
"After the play-off final, I felt accepted by the town and the fans. Getting back into the Football League is what the town has been begging for.
"I’ve lived up here for a long time now and I feel like I’ve bought into the culture up here and people have bought into me and the team too.”
As Killip’s hair has grown longer, his relationship with the club and the town has grown stronger.
Both technically and mentally, he has improved and boasted one of the best clean sheet ratios in the National League last term.
"It was 13 in 29, I think,” he says, trying to make it look like the figure was pulled off the top of his head.
"I’ve improved massively because I came from Braintree where it was so action packed as a goalkeeper where I could personally feel like I’ve had a really good game but still lose three or four nil.
"It’s completely different here because it’s more around focus and being ready for moments. It can take 80-minutes for me to make a save of come out for a cross in some games so that’s something I’ve learned to do better in terms of affecting the game in small moments and reading things.
"It’s just about staying concentrated in every moment and dealing with whatever comes my way, even if it’s not a lot.”
Like Pools, Killip has adapted well to the step up into League Two with four clean sheets in his opening 11 games this season. Even Saturday’s 2-1 win over Northampton Town saw the goalkeeper make a string of important saves.
“I’ll always back myself to be the best I can be,” he adds. “Even going into the season, we had no other goalkeepers signed so I knew I had a head start.
"I felt like I just made sure I started the first game and then from then on, whatever happens, happens. To get the shirt to lose is much better than trying to win it.”
While the coronavirus pandemic and lockdown proved to be a difficult time for the majority of the world, it was a period that helped Killip accept his new life in the north east living with teammates Mark Shelton, Timi Odusina, Ryan Johnson Tom Crawford and Claudio Ofosu.
"I knew I was missing nothing back in London so last year did help because living in the house was probably the most fun I’ve had in my life let alone football, just living with five of my mates and having a good laugh and playing football every day,” he continues.
"We knew we had nothing to complain about even when it was such a difficult time for a large majority of the world because we were having a real laugh and a great time which was good.
"Last year was when I really accepted it and dived into it so I’d enjoy my time here and that’s exactly what I’m doing.”