Tim Howard followed in the footsteps, or gloves, of some other impressive American goalkeepers in England when he arrived in 2003. Brad Friedel of Liverpool, Blackburn and Aston Villa; Kasey Keller of Millwall, Leicester City, Tottenham and Fulham and most impressive of all – the penalty saving, Captain Robert Hatch of the allied POW’s against the German National Team in Escape to Victory. What it lacked in historical authenticity (I didn’t realize that so many French peasants in the 1940s had digital watches, flairs or tennis shoes), it certainly made up for in drama and Howard himself earned numerous comparisons to Hatch when he saved a penalty against Arsenal on his debut in the Community Shield game at the beginning of the 2003/04 season.
Sadly, his career at Manchester United went downhill a little after this, culminating in his handling error against Porto in the last minute of a Champions League Quarter Final. This resulted in their elimination from the competition, and also introduced the British public to a previously obscure Portuguese coach named Jose Mourinho, who sprinted the length of the pitch to join his players in a corner flag bundle celebration.
Tim came back from this set-back and subsequent dropping by regaining his place in time for the 2004 FA Cup Final against Millwall where he not only kept a clean sheet but also became the first American to win the competition in its 122-year history. He was also named as the Goalkeeper in the PFA Premiership XI at the end of the season, voted by fellow players – the only Man Utd player to make the line-up that year.
Howard started the following season unconvincingly and was dropped again but regained his position toward the end of the season. Unfortunately, his performances weren’t strong enough to convince Sir Alex Ferguson that he had his long-term No.1 and Edwin Van Der Sar was brought in from Fulham to contest the jersey with the New Jersey native. Howard took this rather badly and mentioned to the press that if he had known that another top keeper was coming in then he wouldn’t have signed a contract extension the previous summer. In the annals of Manchester United player versus manager power plays in the media, the score currently stands at Sir Alex Ferguson 23 Players Zip, and Howard was soon on his way down the East Lancs Road to Liverpool to sign in at the “School of Science” as an Evertonian.
The following season he had a modicum of revenge by saving two penalties against Man Utd in the FA Cup Semi Final before finishing on the losing team against Chelsea in the Final.
Howard is also the only footballer currently playing in the English Premiership who can legally park his Bentley at the very front of a supermarket parking lot. He has Tourette’s syndrome which is a legal disability in English Law. Signing an American with a disability to play in goal would be seen in some quarters as an “Open Season” sign to the famously fair-minded and reserved United fans but they took Howard to their hearts and even immortalized his battle with the condition in a song to the tune of “Chim Chiminey” from Mary Poppins:-
“Chim Chiminey, Chim Chiminey, Chim Chim Charoo,
We’ve got Tim Howard and he shouts F*** You!”
English fans are hard to please at the best of times to Howard has achieved a lot in becoming a respected Premiership level Goalkeeper and England fans will know not to take the 6-foot-3 Harlem Globetrotter lightly. He started this season with four consecutive clean sheets in a row and if he continues this form throughout the season and into the World Cup, the only people swearing will be his former fans and friends at Goodison Park and beyond.