In Praise of Goalkeepers

With various other commitments recently, there has barely been time for me to comment on a pair of occurrences a couple of weeks or so ago, that brightened up an otherwise dull weekend of premier league football.

I refer, of course, to the goalkeeping incidents of the weekend of 2nd November 2013. We can’t help but be entertained by the antics of football’s outsiders.

The enduring image of the man between the sticks is that of a loner. Goalkeepers are different, the great Brian Glanville once wrote. Numerous novels and books explore this theory. Most recently, Jonathan Wilson’s “The Outsider” aimed to delve deeper in to the psychology of those that choose to play in an odd coloured shirt.

Often as a kid, the child with the least footballing talent or the largest bulk to fill the goal would be picked. Like a drummer in a band, they are the most vilified, but probably the most sought after component of the team.

Guitarists are ten-a-penny. Got a drumkit? You’re in the band.

You want to play in goal? It’s all yours.

Mention the names Fabien Barthez, Rene Higuita, Peter Schmeichel. Various associated images of eccentricity spring immediately to mind. The bald-head being kissed (or peeing, mid-game – whichever takes your fancy), the scorpion kick, the screams at the defence from behind that red nose.

David De Gea dejectedThen there is Manchester United’s wonderful knack of getting it wrong with ‘keepers. Massimo Taibi, Ricardo, Mark Bosnich and his famous takeaways and… er, Andy Goram.

Albert Camus, the French existentialist author of “The Outsider” (there it is again) and many other works, was famously a World Cup goalkeeper. The Uruguayan writer (and football obsessive) Eduardo Galeano commented on Camus that, he chose the position of ‘keeper “because his shoes would not run out as fast.”

He is the man who is judged by his mistakes more than any other player.

We all remember Andy Dibble having the ball stolen from his hand by the head of Gary Crosby. There was a recent almost-reprisal of the mistake this season by Cardiff City’s David Marshall. Samuel Etoo taking advantage of the ‘keeper bouncing the ball.

Joe Hart’s England career apparently hangs by a thread due to recent errors. David De Gea was ridiculed two years ago.

The flaps at crosses and corners, the ball squirming through the legs. We love them all.

Brazilian Goalkeeper Moacyr Barbosa

Moacyr Barbosa
(photo Wikipedia)

As the World Cup in Brazil looms in to view, we are reminded of a darker side to these mistakes with the story of Moacyr Barbosa’s attempts to escape the ghosts of his own error in the 1950 World Cup decider.

Even when the goalkeeper has a chance of redemption, their shot at glory is denigrated as “one for the cameras.”

Goalscorers names appear in the classified results, their impact forever engraved in the headstone of the match that has passed.

Not so for the goalkeeper, saves are forgotten quickly as the action moves on and the scoreline remains untouched. They are there as guardians, charged with ensuring that the chisel does not mark that headstone.

The ultimate party poopers, along with their mistakes they are probably best remembered for acts of bravery: Bert Trautmann and his broken neck, Munich air disaster hero Harry Gregg making it to the FA Cup final only to be poleaxed by a Nat Lofthouse challenge, or the recent furore over Hugo Lloris and his head injury.

There are some saves that stand out and will be remembered. Gordon Banks tends to have a grip on this notion which is as strong as the grip which he often had on the ball. All reflex-dive stops will forever be known as “Banks-esque” and judged in comparison to his famous wonder-save from Brazil’s Pele.

Perhaps it is this lack of recognition that creates the eccentric characters we find?

“I’m going to whack it!”

 

The sight of a goalkeeper going forward for injury time corners is now commonplace. Galeano informs us that the Argentine ‘keeper Amadeo Carrizo was the first “who had the audacity to leave the penalty area and lead the attack.”

Mexican goalkeeper Jorge Campos spent time at his first club Pumas as a striker, while he waited for the number one jersey to become his own. Once he did have it, he would make the jersey even more his own by designing them himself  and was often to be found loitering in the sweeper position as an extra defender.

Jorge Campos

Jose Luis Chilavert is remembered as much for his free-kick and penalty-taking ability as his goalkeeping heroics. He scored from the halfway line once, for Velez Sarsfield against River Plate.

A free-kick was awarded to Chiavert’s side. As he ran forward to complain about the tackle, he noticed his opposite number off his line, chatting to a defender. “I’m going to whack it!” he screamed at team-mates and referee. The goal stood.

The goal-scoring is not restricted to the Latin-American goalkeeping fraternity, though.

Peter Schmeichel famously netted for Manchester United against Rotor Volgograd in their 1995 Uefa Cup campaign. The giant Dane also caused havoc at the first injury-time corner in the 1999 Champions League Final comeback against Bayern Munich.

Tim Howard also notched last season for Everton, with a looping clearance—and what of the wonderful moment where Jimmy Glass rescued Carlisle United from the Football League trap-door with a last minute goal in 1999?

Blowing in the Wind

 

And so we arrive in November 2013 and an otherwise dull footballing weekend was also brightened by the luminent sight of the man between the sticks entertaining us.

Asmir Begovic’s first minute, wind-assisted clearance breaching the Southampton goal sent various journalists scampering around to compile lists of other goalscoring keepers.

The slightly embarrassed demeanour that the Stoke City goalkeeper wore as he received the congratulations of his team-mates told us much about the psychology of goalkeepers. Football is a competitive game. He would want to win—but not like that. He felt for his opposite number, Artur Boric, and he knew that on another day, it could easily have been him.

Hotfoot over to South Wales a day later and we had more goalkeeping shenanigans.

As Swansea tried to press for an equaliser in their grudge match against Cardiff City, Michael Vorm raced from his area to challenge Frazier Campbell. The challenge resulted in a last minute red card and, having used all their permitted substitutes, the immediate search for a replacement to go in goal.

Suddenly, the game got much more interesting to the neutral, with the sight of an outfield player having to put on the ill-fitting goalkeeper’s jersey. Angel Rangel took responsibility and immediately made a none-too-graceful, but competent stop.

Thus, we were privileged to witness the footballing equivalent of a dog that has wandered in to a schoolyard (or sometimes a gluesniffer, it was the 80’s after all). Kids pushing their faces up to the window to get a look at this interloper.

As prepare we come back from international duty to the staple diet of a packed weekend of premier league fixtures, we can cast our eyes over the accumulator odds checker, with one eye on the form of Joe Hart—what odds are there on a goalkeeper scoring again? It might be some time before we see such sights.

In his memoirs, Amadeo Carrizo lamented, “I remember the goals they scored on me better than the shots I blocked.”

Therefore, to redress the balance slightly-in celebration of the goalkeeper, please raise your (Jimmy) Glass and let me know of any other goalkeeping moments that deserve our praise.

 

twig

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