The life of a goalkeeper is never easy. Whilst their career span between the sticks is often much longer than their outfield counterparts, the very nature of the position in which there can only be one in any game often makes this position more competitive than others. More often than not, good goalkeepers find themselves spent much of their playing careers on the bench waiting for an injury, suspension or drop in form to hand them an opportunity. That is why many goalkeepers tend to have low appearance totals despite playing for 20 plus years. Take Steve Harper for instance. At the end of last season, Harper was released by Hull City at the age of 40. His career spanned over 22 years and included stays at Bradford, Hartlepool, Huddersfield, Brighton, Gateshead and his home town club Newcastle where it all started. But despite this colourful career, Harper made on 238 appearances in total for all of his clubs with 158 of them being for Newcastle over a ten-year spell. The reason was that harper was second string to Pavel Srnicek, Shaka Hislop and then the great Shay Given during those years limiting playing time. Like Harper, Marton Fulop was seen at many of his clubs as a second string amassing 213 appearances in his 12 year career. Despite this, Fulop was one of the most highly regarded goalkeepers to have graced the Premier League which makes his death this week due to cancer that much harder to swallow.
Fulop was born in the Hungarian capital city of Budapest and from an early age always wanted to play football. At 18 his career began when he signed for local club MTK Budapest. Although things didn’t work out at the club, two loan spells at BKV Elore SC and BFC Siofok in Hungary’s lower leagues proved to be decisive as he was spotted by a Tottenham scout and subsequently invited for a trial. The 6ft 6in stopper impressed and joined the club in the summer of 2004 as backup for England international Paul Robinson and Czech star Radek Cerny. That year he was loaned to Chesterfield where he made 7 appearances before being recalled due to a long-term injury to Robinson. The following season he moved to Coventry on loan where he became their number one making 31 appearances. That led to a loan move be to Sunderland in December 2006 that was eventually made permanent. Under Roy Keane, Fulop established himself as a Premier League number one, playing in most of Sunderland’s games at the back-end of the 2006-2007 season.
However in the summer of 2007, Keane paid Hearts £9 million for Scotland stopper Craig Gordon which meant that Fulop would be relegated back to support goalkeeper. He decided to move instead to Leicester in the championship, making 24 appearances from August to December including some memorable ones in the league and Cups establishing his reputation as one of the safest pairs of hands in the English leagues. His form prompt Sunderland to recall him, only to not use him at all in a move that frustrated Fulop. Subsequent loan moves to Stoke and Manchester City proved unfruitful before Ipswich stepped in to sign him in 2010 and rescue his career. At the Tractor Boys once more under Roy Keane, Fulop was again in great form playing a majority of the games that year before West Brom signed him in 2011 on a free transfer. Again it proved to be the wrong move for Fulop who left the club the following summer to join Greek side Asterias Tripoli on a two-year deal. His time in Greece however was cut short when a malignant tumour was found on his arm. He took a break from the game to undergo surgery and recover but unfortunately never made it back to the game he loved.
Over his career, Fulop played with his heart on his sleeve, his passion for the game evident to see. He made 25 proud appearances for his country, 11 of which at Under 21 level and 24 for the full national team. His death at 32 is a tragedy. As a goalkeeper he should have been in his prime fighting for a first team spot rather than fighting for his life. But his career was cruelly halted by a disease that claims the lives of far too many across the world each year. Fulop will be remembered fondly by the clubs he played for and the fans he entertained throughout his career.