My Football Life: Raimond van der Gouw
The former goalkeeper talks about starting his career as an outfielder, making his Manchester United debut at Villa and his toughest opponents...
I played for a small amateur club in the neighbourhood where I was living, in Holland. I started as an outfield player, and I just remember playing 11 v 11 on a half-pitch and everybody running after the ball. When you get older, it starts to look a little bit more like football! There was a tournament and the goalkeeper was ill or injured so he wasn’t there, and my dad said to the coach: “You can play Raimond in there,” and I did so well that they wanted to keep me in goal from that point. You see, when I was very young, my parents used to take us camping in the woods, and there was a little field nearby where you could play football and I always went in goal. So, in a way, I learned my goalkeeping on a campsite!
Becoming a player
In our area there’s a club called FC Twente and they selected the best players from 14-18 years old. I was always invited to play in training sessions with those players. When you’re 18, then you get the chance to go to the reserve team of FC Twente. I played all these years in their selection team, which was a great experience, while also playing for an amateur club, where I was a first-team player from the age of 16. When I was 18 I had to make a decision: play for FC Twente or not. I was studying at university in the north of Holland, so the combination was too difficult, because if I didn’t pass my first year then I had to leave. I made the choice to go to university and focus on my education. I thought: if I am good enough, a club will come for me and I can make the decision. That’s exactly what happened because a club called Go Ahead Eagles from Deventer invited me to go there when I was 20. When I finished at university, I became a full-time professional player with them. I played two seasons in the reserve team and three in the first team, and I was twice the club’s Player of the Year.
Signing for United
I had five years at Go Ahead Eagles and eight years at Vitesse Arnhem after that. I was always hoping to go to England and I dreamed of it. I’d signed a contract for five years at Vitesse Arnhem when my manager called me and said he had an English club who wanted to sign me. He couldn’t tell me which club, but when I was flying over he told me it was Manchester United. Alex Ferguson was waiting for me at the airport, I agreed the contract and went back to Holland that day. The whole day was like a dream.
It was at Aston Villa – a fantastic stadium and pitch. It was a tight game which finished 0-0, so a clean sheet was good. There was one situation where I dived outside the box and got the ball, but Roy Keane warned me to be careful with that! But you get the feeling to go for it, I went for it and got the ball. I was pleased with my first game; it’s great to be able to look back on keeping a clean sheet.
The Treble season is always the favourite! It’s very, very special. On the other hand, I had other seasons where I played more games. I played in the Champions League quarter-finals and semi-finals, which were very special for me. But I have to say the Treble season is so unique. I jumped at the chance to play in the Treble Reunion game last summer.
There was a Champions League match against Valencia at home when I played a very good game and we won 3-0. I also really enjoyed our away game at Dortmund in 1997, but it was unbelievable that we didn’t win. We had so many chances away from home, then conceded a goal that had a huge deflection. The home game we lost 1-0 too, and again we had so many chances. It was amazing how the ball didn’t go in. Such a frustrating tie.
Ronny Johnsen and Jesper Blomqvist – I got on with them very well. My room-mate was Jordi Cruyff in the beginning. I lived in the same area as a lot of players. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Peter Schmeichel lived in the same area and later on, Henning Berg and Mikael Silvestre did too. I got on very well with all of those guys.
Winning the Champions League. It’s the combination of the last weeks of the season, winning the Premier League, the FA Cup and then the Champions League at the end. I’m really, really proud of it, proud of that group of players and staff. It was really special for the club. The whole feeling… it was for the people who worked there, everybody at the training ground, the board, the coaches. That was the most special moment of my time at Manchester United. It wasn’t just lucky, it was because we were so good. We were dominating for long periods at the top of the Premier League and the top of Europe.
In our time, Arsenal were one of the best teams. There was big competition between Arsenal and United. In 1997/98, Arsenal won the league after winning a crazy number of games in a row, which we never thought they would do. That was unbelievable for them. They had good players, big names: Seaman, Vieira, Bergkamp, Overmars, Petit, Dixon and a lot more. A very good team.
I was a good all-round goalkeeper who controlled all parts of the game. I felt I had good reflexes, I was always alert, I could coach my defenders how I wanted, I came out for crosses, I dealt with backpasses, I read the game very well and the biggest thing is that if you don’t play regularly, you have to be very strong in your mind as well. That’s the most difficult thing. If you’re not playing every week, it’s very hard to come into the team and perform. You have to do it from the beginning very well, otherwise people ask: ‘What’s he doing here?’ Expectations were always high. I think my mentality was really good, in that I tried to make sure I would never let the manager down.
Well, my age was not the best thing for me! I had to leave and it was painful because I love Manchester United. It’s in my body, in my veins. I almost signed for Coventry City. I was doing my medical with them and I got a phone call from West Ham United. I had the option of going to Coventry with a contract for two years or go to West Ham for one year. Coventry were in the Championship and West Ham were still in the Premier League, so I decided that I wanted to stay in the Premier League. I went to West Ham, where David James was no.1, and I was curious to see how he was and how he trained because he was a goalkeeper I admired. A year in London was a great experience.
I still love the club. Relations are still good and though a lot of people have moved from one place to another place, there are still a lot of people at the club who I still have contact with, and that feels really good. Coming back for the Treble Reunion game over the summer was a great feeling. Everyone had a big smile on their face. You’re talking about things that happened in the past, and all the stories come out that are so good, so nice. You could see that everybody really appreciated that we were all together.
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