This is a lost, exclusive excerpt from Tim Howard’s missing epilogue from his forthcoming memoir, “The Keeper.” Warning: This material may contain explicit language.
On the evening of Friday, December 5, 2014, my phone rang, displaying a number I didn’t recognize. When I answered, the voice on the other end spoke quickly, in a crisp Spanish accent with a slight British affectation.
Tim Howard? Bert Martinez here. I’m your coach. I’ve seen you in practice and I’m interested. No need to do anything. Just wanted to let you know that we have a game today and we want you to play in goal for us. Take care.
When you get a call like that, things register in different stages. Spanish manager … my coach … Everton FC.
And then: Holy cow. Bert Martinez!
After Bert hung up, I stared at the phone. I was going to be starting in goal for Everton against Manchester City. It had happened so fast, part of me wondered if it had happened at all. And then I remembered, I need to trim my beard.
After trimming my beard. I dialed my agent. “I just got this crazy phone call …” I said.
True to his word, Bert started me in goal, as he had in pretty much every game during his tenure. I was his #1; that’s what he always told me.
The game started as most games begin — scoreless, with a few gentle strokes of my beard for luck and some electricity in the air. The opening stanza was pretty uneventful, until — I hate to say this — Sergio Agüero gave us hope.
At that moment, I knew that we had to impose ourselves on the game. There was Sergio Aguero, perhaps the most prolific goal scorer in the Premier League, crumpled on the ground. I hoped his injury wasn’t serious, but I also knew that losing the Argentine would be a psychological blow for City.
I knew I had to pick up my team. It’s something I do well, and it’s something Bert asked me to do the morning of the game, when I met with him to make sure the previous night’s call wasn’t some sick joke. So I started with the theatrics I learned back in New Jersey as a kid.
I high-stepped and yelled “Monkey shit!” in an effort to make the City players uncomfortable.
I talked to my beard in the third-person, telling it to calm down every time a City player was in ear shot.
Ultimately, it was all for naught, as a refereeing conspiracy led to one of the most egregious penalty decisions of the 21st century. I was appalled but knew there was nothing I could do about it. One of the things I learned when if first moved to England (not from Brad Friedel) was to move on quickly from decisions that go against you. So I maintained my cool and moved on.
The game ended 1-0 and allowed Manchester City to pull within 3 points of Chelsea. Other than the referee, and maybe Brad Friedel, we only had ourselves to blame. After the final whistle, I made my way toward City’s keeper Joe Hart. We embraced, because only a goalkeeper knows what it’s like to live the goalkeeper life. No words were exchanged. We just held each other until we knew that could each move on with our lives. It turns out, that would be 30 minutes later.
I learned a lesson that remains with me until this day: You can’t hurry hugs.