Ramsdale road to Arsenal No 1 has been bumpy, but now he is driving the Gunners’ revival ahead of the north London derby with Tottenham
Just off junction 33 of the M1, a short drive from Rotherham, there is a car park. An anonymous patchwork of painted lines but an indelible staging post on the journey of Aaron Ramsdale. Next stop? The Tottenham Hotspur Stadium for derby day.
‘Me and my dad would stay in Travelodge Hotels night after night,’ the 23-year-old recalls. ‘One night, we couldn’t even find a hotel with vacancies. So we both kipped in his van.’
As a youngster, the goalkeeper was used to life on the road. His mother Caroline, who worked at a nearby school, would drive him from Staffordshire to train at Bolton. Up to three-and-a-half hours on the motorway, three or four times a week.
‘Mum would leave work early to get me to Bolton for 6pm in the middle of rush hour,’ Ramsdale recalls. ‘She’d then do overtime and extra hours just to make sure she didn’t get in trouble.’
Then, aged 15, Bolton pulled up the handbrake. ‘They thought I was too small,’ Ramsdale remembers of being released. ‘It was nothing short of devastating… it would have been easy to give up.’
Instead? ‘Me and dad travelled anywhere and everywhere, up and down the country, just trying to get a trial,’ the Arsenal keeper continues.
‘Leicester also thought I was too small. Rotherham said I didn’t fill my shirt enough. Plenty of others wouldn’t even give me a trial.’
His father Nick, usually a plumber and plasterer, was happy to play chauffeur. ‘So long as my schoolwork didn’t suffer,’ Ramsdale recalls.
Eventually those long drives led to junction 33. To that car park. Eventually visits to Yorkshire became less fleeting. Sheffield United offered him a scholarship. ‘That was a huge turning point,’ Ramsdale says. Now, at Arsenal, Ramsdale is among England’s most promising talents.
Sunday’s north London derby at Tottenham represents another litmus test for him and Mikel Arteta’s young side. But since the goalkeeper’s first Premier League start for the club in September, they have risen from the foot of the table to the top four.
No one doubts his quality now. No one at Leicester considered Ramsdale too small in October, when he tipped James Maddison’s free-kick on to the bar with a stunning diving stop. It was arguably save of the season so far.
Now, indisputably Arsenal’s No 1, only Manchester City’s Ederson has more clean sheets in the top flight this season than his nine. A welcome upturn, certainly, from the strife of seasons passed. Ramsdale experienced three relegations in four years — at Chesterfield, Bournemouth and Sheffield United.
For now, Ramsdale is sticking to what works and that has included keeping to his superstitions.