Darlington tie for semi-final goaltenders Jordan Pickford and Kasper Schmeichel
Jordan Pickford and Kasper Schmeichel will have more in common than a yearning for Euro 2020 glory when they face off at Wembley on Wednesday night.
England goalkeeper Pickford, 27, and his Danish counterpart, 34, Schmeichel, could prove to be key figures in a highly anticipated semifinal showdown that will see one team come close to the ultimate prize and the other suffer sadness.
Now Premier League rivals at Everton and Leicester respectively, the journeys that have brought them to one of the greatest games of their career to date have started in one place, Darlington Arena.
It was there on January 14, 2006, that the then 19-year-old Schmeichel on loan from Manchester City made his senior debut for the Quakers in a 2-1 Ligue 2 victory over Peterborough, and there- down on January 21, 2012 as Sunderland’s Pickford followed suit in a 1-0 National League loss to Fleetwood at just 17 years old.
Manager Craig Liddle was the man who turned to the cash-strapped club’s Wearside neighbors when Darlington, which was under administration and operating under a player registration embargo at the time, was forced move senior players.
Liddle, who had worked with Pickford as an under-12 at Sunderland, told the PA news agency: “The first game was Fleetwood when he made his debut, and there were a lot of people there for him. Darlington level – there were almost 6,000 there.
“It was a great opportunity for Darlington and for Jordan. But he was a very confident young boy and the guys adopted him right away.
“The big thing that cleared up all doubt was in the first few minutes he came looking for a ball high in the box and he just emptied everyone and took it with relative ease which gave everyone the world a little boost, and it was also a big boost to Jordan’s confidence.
“For 17 he was a big presence. He was very confident and to be fair wasn’t afraid to put his neck on the line. He was also a very courageous young boy, playing against men.
Washington-born Pickford made 17 appearances for the club that season before returning to the Academy of Light, from where he was loaned to Alfreton, Burton, Carlisle, Bradford and Preston, making his senior debut for the Black Cats in a 3-1 FA Cup third round loss to Arsenal in January 2016.
His £ 25million stint at Everton in June 2017 put him in the spotlight and although he’s had his critics ever since, Liddle isn’t at all surprised at his high status.
He said: “Jordan has always been the best for his age and over time he has matured. He looks very confident and he’s the best goalkeeper in Europe, if not the world, at the moment.
Schmeichel’s fate in the Northeast, brought on by injury to Sam Russell, lasted just four games – three wins and a draw in which he kept three clean sheets – with proud father Peter watching the first against Posh from the stands.
The former Quakers defender Liddle, now director of the Academy in Middlesbrough, had retired by that time but was leading the rule over future Denmark number one, who also had loan periods at Bury, Falkirk , Cardiff and Coventry, from the press gallery as radio expert.
Liddle said: “He was another young goalkeeper at the time who was extremely confident in his own abilities and he had a fantastic career.
“Darlington can be a club that is very proud to have had two goalies of this magnitude making their senior debut for them.”