From world record holder to Newport County's bench - why Portsmouth's Tom King isn't celebrating new-found fame

It has been 17 days since Tom King established a world record, catapulting him into the nation’s consciousness.

Former Admiral Lord Nelson pupil Tom King has featured for three clubs in the Football League, totalling 79 appearances. Picture: Jack Thomas/Getty Images
Former Admiral Lord Nelson pupil Tom King has featured for three clubs in the Football League, totalling 79 appearances. Picture: Jack Thomas/Getty Images

Nonetheless, ever-impatient football refuses to pause for lengthy applause.

The Newport County goalkeeper last month netted with a booming right-footed goal kick from his six-yard box in a 1-1 draw with Cheltenham.

Measured at 96.01 metres, King’s wind-assisted moment eclipses previous holder Asmir Begovic’s goal against Southampton in November 2013.

Consequently, the lad from Baffins possesses a Guinness World Record, albeit recognition so far warranting a Twitter follow from the organisation rather than certificate.

Still, no time for basking in the admirable feat – as King has swiftly discovered.

Just two matches later he found himself on Newport’s bench, where the keeper is expected to remain for Saturday’s encounter with Grimsby.

How the ex-Admiral Lord Nelson pupil would trade relinquishing his goalscoring accomplishment in favour of a clean sheet and win on that windy Cheltenham day.

Newport's Tom King saves Neal Maupay's penalty in last month's FA Cup third round encounter with Premier League Brighton. Picture: Michael Steele/Getty Images

‘Unfortunately managers don’t look for goalies that can score – they like goalies who can keep them out!’ he told The News.

‘That reflects the ultimate highs and lows of football. One minute you’re a world record holder, the next you’ve lost your place in the side.

‘I would swap the goal for a win and clean sheet in that match against Cheltenham, every day of the week. I would rather not have scored, I promise you.

‘A win and clean sheet there would have been superb. We had been going through a tough period so hopefully that could have bucked the trend for us and turned the season the other way.

West Ham's Javier Hernandez attempts to take the ball around Tom King in Carabao Cup match in August 2018. King was on loan with AFC Wimbledon at the time. Picture: Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

‘Instead we drew 1-1. The following game was Oldham, which was a 3-2 defeat, and afterwards the manager felt it was right to change it. I was dropped.

‘He’s the manager, he makes the decisions and picks the team. It’s his job on the line at the end of the day and I have to accept that.

‘I’m now out of the team, but I’ll be working hard every day to rectify that. I will be fighting for my place.

‘I’ll take that on the chin, I have no-one else to blame but myself. I know I’m good enough to play in this team.’

Tom King made 19 appearances for Millwall and was on the bench at Wembley for their May 2017 League One play-off triumph over Bradford. Picture: Pete Norton/Getty Images

Although born in Plymouth, King proudly regards himself as a son of Portsmouth.

When his step-dad was transferred from Devon through his job with the Royal Navy, the family relocated to Hilsea.

Aged five at the time, King would attend Gatcombe Park Primary School and Admiral Lord Nelson School, while developing a strong affection for the team at Fratton Park.

His footballing education began at East Lodge, playing in the same under-9s team as future Southampton skipper James Ward-Prowse and ex-Pompey Academy product Josh Warren, currently with Baffins Milton.

Such progress alerted Pompey, earning a trial against a Southampton side which included the aforementioned Ward-Prowse.

The indications were the Blues were afterwards keen on recruiting King for their Academy – only for the family to move to Gibraltar, as work requirements once again intervened.

However, three years later they returned, this time settling in Copnor Road, Baffins.

King, who at the time was known by the surname Fry, entered Pompey’s under-12s, with the likes of Adam Webster, Ryan Williams, John Swift, Josh Sims and Bradley Tarbuck contemporaries along the way.

He added: ‘I was born in Plymouth, but I’m a Blue.

‘Should people who don’t know much about me ask where I’m from, I always say Portsmouth.

‘I’ve got family in Devon, but never really made a connection with the place, all my friends are in Pompey. I might get Wikipedia to change the entry of Plymouth as my place of birth!

‘At the age of 13 I was 6ft and we had some good players in Pompey’s Academy. I even caught a little bit of John Swift being in it.

‘He had a lot of people in his ear about joining Chelsea. He was in Gosport at the time and there were rumours a car was picking him up to take him training there. When we asked if it was true, he said “No - but they’ve bought me a house!”.

‘In the year below was Ben Close, our mums were quite close friends. This boy could play, properly play, but was so shy and quiet and I was worried for him that he was never going to grow.

‘Then Conor Chaplin came along and was even smaller!’

King’s development was earning admirers, although in January 2011 he netted an own goal in a 3-2 defeat against Manchester United in the FA Youth Cup.

While attempting to punch the ball in blustery conditions, he succeeded only in diverting it into the back of the net.

Paul Pogba scored a 35-yarder in that match, while Ryan Williams struck twice for a Pompey team also consisting of Sam Magri and Dan Butler.

Nonetheless, the following month King was selected for Kenny Swain’s England under-16s for a match against Slovenia.

He was introduced at half-time in place of Angus Gunn for his international debut in a team which also included Luke Shaw, Diego Poyet and Chuba Akpom.

It was an elevation which would subsequently prompt the keeper to turn down the offer of a Pompey scholarship and move to Crystal Palace, for an undisclosed sum of compensation.

He said: ‘You get people who really don’t have your best interests at heart telling you what to do, filling your head with things which maybe aren’t best for you.

‘I was at the club I support, the club I love, but this was the opportunity to go to a new place, a new set-up, and I had made it clear I was looking.

‘Pompey were in financial trouble at the time, there was cold water in the showers at the training ground, sometimes we were training in a park, then you go away with England and players are talking about getting into a Mercedes to take them to training.

Read More

Read More
For the latest Pompey news direct to your inbox sign up for our free newsletter

‘I had trials at Celtic, Leicester and West Ham, they were keen to get me in the building, to see what I was like as a lad. There were a few offers, but I decided Palace was the best set up for me.

‘Palace were a top-end Championship side at the time, I knew Adam Sells, who was working there as a part-time goalkeeping coach and has been a father figure for me ever since. I was drawn to it all.

‘I don’t regret anything about that decision. It has put me in the position I am now.

‘With hindsight, you look at what happened with a lot of the young lads after I left. Many were given a chance, that Plymouth game in the Capital One Cup game springs to mind.

‘With the club going through bad times, maybe I would have got first-team games sooner, that was on my mind a lot when I left Palace.

‘But people close to me have said you’ve got to look at your footballing development and consider whether it was right for me at that time to be playing those first-team games? Probably not.

‘Was I ready? Probably not. And would the negative effects of not being ready and going into those games have outweighed the positives of building that experience?

‘You see people being thrown in at the deep end too quickly and it ruins them. There’s no other way to put it, it really damages their careers. They’re not ready.

‘They also haven't got the coping mechanisms for dealing with criticism. I just wish there were support mechanisms for these young kids who are drafted into these high-pressure situations.

‘I’m not too sure of the compensation fee Palace paid Pompey for me, to be honest, I never really asked. Knowing the price is something which can weigh you down as a young kid, so I tried to stay away from that.

‘Palace was somewhere I learnt so much on the pitch and off it. Not all positive, I learnt a lot of negatives about the football world, how footballers are treated, what it can be like when you are not in the team.

‘But being away from my family was the best thing for me. There was no mum to put an arm around me, to tell me it was going to be all right.

‘Instead it was go and learn these things, go and be upset, go and be angry, go and use it against these people who tell you you’re not good enough. Like a fall from the sky, land on your feet because if you don’t you’ll be forgotten about.

‘In hindsight, I wouldn't say it was a bad decision to leave Pompey. I’m glad I made it and will stick by that.’

Following three years at Palace, King was released by Tony Pulis and snapped up by Millwall in August 2014.

He would go on to make 19 first-team appearances for the Lions, while was an unused substitute in their May 2017 triumph over Bradford in the League One play-off final at Wembley.

There were also loan spells at Welling, Braintree and Stevenage, in addition to a 16-game spell at AFC Wimbledon, where he was part of the side which eliminated Pompey from the Carabao Cup in August 2018.

After departing Millwall, King joined Newport in the summer of 2019 – and after three months of the season earned a maiden Wales call-up.

Qualifying through his Cardiff-born mum, Sally, to date he has featured in five squads under Ryan Giggs, but has still to make an appearance.

Yet it was his goal-scoring contribution on January 19 which brought him to the nation’s attention.

Incidentally, the last keeper to score in the football league was Morecambe’s Barry Roche in February 2016 – against Pompey.

‘Someone tweeted Guinness World Records asking if they were going to check my goal. They came back with “Yes, we are on it”,’ King laughed.

‘Two days later they confirmed it and I then got a follow on Twitter, which is interesting. I felt obliged to follow them back and am now being bombarded with tweets about how many pens people can stick on their eyelids!

‘They said they’ll contact me for any details if they need them. I am waiting for my certificate!

‘As it was, I was a bit disappointed with Cheltenham’s equaliser from Matty Blair, which put a little dampener on my goal. I got a good hand to it, but it had just enough pace to beat me.

‘In the same game, there was actually a really good save I made which nobody speaks about. It was probably one of the better ones in my career so far.

‘Not long after I scored, Alfie May fired a shot across the goal heading towards the top corner and I produced a flying save.

‘Nobody will ever mention that – they’ll just talk about the windy goal kick.’

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

The News has launched a new subscription offer which gives you unlimited access to all of our Pompey coverage, starting at less than £1 a week.

You can subscribe here to get the latest news and transfer updates from Fratton Park - and to support our local team of expert Pompey writers.