England C international goalkeeper Ben Killip reflects on his difficult start to life at Hartlepool United and the simple message that helped him overcome it
It can be a lonely world when things aren’t going your way as a goalkeeper, as Hartlepool United’s Ben Killip found out.
The England C international arrived at Victoria Park with high expectations as Scott Loach’s replacement between the sticks.
But the 23-year-old’s start to life in the north east didn’t go as planned as he conceded eight goals in his opening three home games.
With that, the early expectation soon turned into criticism directed towards Killip, who admitted himself that he ‘personally wasn’t doing well’.
In addition, manager Craig Hignett felt his young number 1 was getting intimidated by the change in atmosphere following his summer switch from Braintree Town.
The mental side of being a footballer is often something that gets overlooked despite it’s significant importance, particularly for goalkeepers.
And as a young player in new surroundings coming under scrutiny, Killip admitted he found the opening weeks of the season particularly difficult.
“It was a hard start because the team wasn’t doing well and I personally wasn’t doing well either,” he conceded.
“It got difficult for me at times because I was getting a lot of criticism and as hard as it is as a player and as strong as you are mentally, you’re always going to hear it.
“It got to a point where it was coming from the home fans as well and I’m not naive, people tell you stuff and you know what’s going on.
“Because of that, I was trying to chase a performance and trying too hard to play well and I think that was my biggest problem to begin with.
“The first game we conceded after eight minutes and I should have done better with the goal so from then I felt like I had to try and prove myself after that.
“Throughout my career, I’ve always been susceptible to chasing a performance and trying too hard to do well because I want to do well so badly and I think that was the case in the first few games.”
During pre-season, all the right things were being said and done on and off the pitch. Hignett had assembled a strong squad on paper and as a result the positivity and expectation surrounding the club had started to build.
As a summer newcomer, Killip confessed he was guilty of getting a bit carried away in all the excitement building up to the competitive campaign.
But with one win from the opening six games, reality quickly set in for the whole Pools squad.
“It was a difficult start for the whole club really,” said the former Chelsea youth goalkeeper.
“In pre-season we had massive expectations and I think we got carried away with it and got lost in a bit of a bubble where we thought ‘yeah, we’re going to win the league’.
“So it was a reality check to start with but now everyone has realised and started to get down to work and we’ve really kicked on.”
The fickle nature of football is something Killip understands all too well given his roller coaster start at Hartlepool.
“You’re only ever two bad performances away from getting battered,” he said when reflecting on scrutiny he’s under as a goalkeeper. “I think it’s football generally, not just goalkeepers and you see it at all levels. You can be up here one week and down there a few games later so that’s difficult as a player when things aren’t going your way because it’s hard to ignore it.
“You’ve just got to keep working hard and keep that confidence and belief in yourself so you know that things will come good eventually.”
Fortunately things have now settled down for Killip with his positive turn in form mirroring that of the first team as a whole.
Pools are now five unbeaten in the National League with Killip keeping two clean sheets during that period.
And the key behind his improving displays was supposedly just a simple message from a certain Champions League winner.
“Ross [Turnbull, goalkeeping coach] just said to me ‘you’re an excellent ‘keeper and that’s why you’re here so just go out there and show yourself, you don’t need to go out there and try and chase games or prove to people that what you are is good enough,’” Killip revealed.
“The work Ross has done was fantastic and that took all the pressure off me. It was just a mindset thing, Ross has been brilliant helping with the mentality side of things so I’ve just been able to take a step back and not trying too hard to chase a performance, just letting it come naturally.
“He was one of the main reasons I signed for the club, working with someone who has won the Champions League and been up there at the highest level.
“It’s become apparent for me that the mental aspect of the game is probably the hardest part of goalkeeping and Ross has been massive for me coming through that period so credit to him as well as all the lads and staff. Now I’ve got the belief that I am good enough and I think I’m finally starting to prove that after relaxing, so long may that continue.”