Throughout the season, we'll be catching up with our young Gunners to find out more about their route to our academy. This week, Noah Cooper talks about how a twist of fate saw him become a goalkeeper, and how he's enjoyed breaking into the under-18 side during our FA Youth Cup run.
I come from a family with a very rich history in sports. Both my parents used to run 100m hurdles at international level, so it was inevitable that I would play some type of sport. I started playing football at a very young age and I looked up to guys like Neymar because he could do magical things with the football and he expresses himself through his skills. Goalkeeping-wise, I liked Iker Casillas and Tim Howard.
I grew up around the south London area so the first team I played for was Bromley FC back when they were a Sunday League side. My first taste of academy football came when I was invited to train with the Crystal Palace pre-academy. Funnily enough, while on trial my current teammate Osman Kamara was there too. The interesting thing about this was that I was actually a midfielder at the time. The route into goalkeeping was on the off-chance during a tournament with Palace – we needed a keeper and I asked if I could play there because I liked the idea of it. I played very well and, as the famous saying goes, the rest is history!
Even though I moved to play in goal, there are technical elements of the game that you need to possess if you want to thrive in the modern game. Being a midfielder previously has helped with that element of goalkeeping because I’ve always loved having the ball at my feet. It allows me to express myself on the pitch and I enjoy it more.
After passing my trial with Palace I stayed there for around seven years, until I was 14. A big factor in why I left the club was that I wasn’t getting much gametime and it was disheartening. Training hard every week to not play on weekends was not a nice feeling at all. At that point in my life football wasn’t fun, especially being a keeper when you know only one person can play in your position.
The season after I left, I was out of academy football for around a year, but I continued training hard to get myself in the best possible shape if a potential trial arose. That year out was a turning point in my career because it allowed me to rebuild my confidence and improve my ability as a keeper. I have to say thanks to a man called Jerome John, who took time out of his day to train me every week. He was an important factor in getting me to Arsenal. He invited Terry Mason, goalkeeping coach at Arsenal, to watch me train and then I was invited for a trial.
When I arrived at Hale End I was shocked at how good the facilities are – it was surreal. At Palace we would train at multiple different venues but Arsenal was different. It was such a professional environment, and everything was in place for a child to succeed here. I knew from that moment that this was the right place for me.
"I’ve had several opportunities to train with the first-team, which has been a real eye-opener"
The trial lasted around eight weeks and when I found out they wanted to sign me I was very proud but also relieved because just a year earlier I had no club and wasn’t sure where my career was heading. Then here I was signing for Arsenal – one of the biggest clubs in the world. It shows that if you keep working hard, an opportunity will find its way to you.
Since receiving my scholarship I’ve had several opportunities to train with the first-team, which has been a real eye-opener. You instantly realise why they are at that level. The basics are perfect and they demand so much from one another. On a day-to-day basis, they are very friendly with us around London Colney – they always greet us and they encourage us a lot too.
During my time at London Colney I’d say I’ve built a strong relationship with under-21s goalkeeper Hubert Grazcyk. He has great attention to detail and he is an extremely talented player who I rate highly. There are little pointers that he gives me which have helped me develop my game.
The biggest highlight of my career so far is playing in the FA Youth Cup this season. The game against Millwall in the third round was a special one for me because it was my debut for the under-18s. I was nervous going into the game but the coaches and players encouraged me massively – we’re a really tight-knit group, we’re like a family. It was a perfect day all around as we scored six goals and I kept a clean sheet.
It had been a long time coming because I fractured my collarbone playing for the under-17s, which kept me out for three months prior to that. Being injured was difficult because you’re training on your own a lot of the time, but stepping out on the field against Millwall in such a prestigious competition was such a great feeling.
"As a team we all want to win the FA Youth Cup – it’s such a big competition and we’re all gunning for that"
On top of that, playing at St James’ Park in the next round was a fantastic experience for us. Having the opportunity to play at iconic stadiums is great for our development and we relish the opportunity of what life will be like in the first-team. It’s something for us to aspire to and drives us going forward.
Being coached by Jack Wilshere has been very enjoyable. He trusts me to play in the FA Youth Cup, which has boosted my confidence massively. He has also got such a unique experience because he has won trophies, competed at World Cups and played with world-class players. I learn so much from him all the time. By the end of this season I want to keep my performance levels high enough so Jack continues to trust me in goal.
As a team we all want to win the FA Youth Cup – it’s such a big competition and we’re all gunning for that. But I also have the desire to keep on learning as much as I can, whether that’s through speaking to certain players or having one-to-ones with coaches. Finally, I’ve recently made my debut for the under-21s so I’d like to become more integrated with the squad going into next season.
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