The late Paul and Eva Fekete were proud grandparents. They often told their neighbors at Fairway Bay about their star soccer player of a grandson, Tim. When Eva Fekete went to the pool, she would often tell neighbors that her husband was inside watching Tim on TV.
Now, the rest of the world sees the star power that Paul Fekete, who died in 2009, and Eva Fekete, who died in 2013, saw in their grandson.
Their grandson is none other than Tim Howard, 35, who shot to worldwide fame in the 2014 FIFA World Cup by breaking a record for most saves in a world cup match.
Residents at Fairway Bay, who knew about Howard before the rest of the world thanks to his grandparents, cheered him on during the matches.
“We could not believe that game against Belgium,” said Fairway Bay resident Carole McMahon. “Just one save after another.”
Howard’s mother, Esther Howard, 64, who lived at the family’s Fairway Bay unit from 2011 until earlier this year and now lives in Sarasota, said her son’s roots on Longboat Key go back to 1994, when her parents bought their unit. He visited them frequently as a child and spent a summer on the Key, training at the IMG Academy in Bradenton when he was in high school.
Howard recently attended a Fairway Bay party and told her former neighbors about her experiences in Brazil, watching her son play in the World Cup.
“I was just blown away by the way he had played,” she told the Longboat Observer. “It was beyond anything that I had ever experienced.”
She said her son, who is 35, seems to now be at the peak of his game.
“Goalkeepers tend to peak later,” she said. “This was just his time.”
Still, Howard said she could see her son’s natural athletic ability by age 2. His motor and coordination skills were so advanced then that he could keep up with his brother Christopher, who is three years older.
“He was a big kid, taller than other kids,” Howard said. “When 2-year-olds were toddling around, he was already skimping around and kicking the ball.”
Tim Howard started playing soccer at age 7, and his coaches saw that he was a natural right away. He went to the pros immediately after high school. He was a backup goalkeeper during the 2006 World Cup in Germany and a starting goalkeeper during the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
Still, until the latest World Cup, Tim Howard lived in relative anonymity.
“It’s unprecedented here in the states to have this kind of attention and buzz about it,” Howard said. “It’s also extremely gratifying for us.”
Howard said her son recently took his children out to a fast food restaurant in Memphis, Tenn., and received constant requests for autographs. Previously, when he would go out in Memphis, no one knew who he was.
According to Howard, many people have the misconception that her son leads a glamorous life.
“He works so incredibly hard to be the best he can be,” she said. “There’s very little glamour involved.”
He works out daily and has recently transformed his diet with the help of a personal trainer.
The day after the Belgium game, Howard chatted with her son, who said it was his best game ever. He was disappointed that his team lost but felt he had done what he needed to do. Then, he said, he had to go work out.
Howard said her son will most likely return to his team in England but is already considering what his next step will be after his playing days are over.
“Tim is a very thoughtful person,” Howard said. “He’s very methodical, and he’s not going to do anything without giving it a lot of thought and research.”
Contact Robin Hartill at [email protected].