England's Countdown to Rio - Part Two (Keeper Crisis)
From time-to-time, I’m quite certain we all have a bad day at the office (normally when that leggy girl from accounts with the cheeky smile is off), and wonder why we got out of bed that morning at all (see above – especially when she’s off for a fortnight). The same goes for professional footballers – it would be unreasonable to expect them to play at the zenith of their respective games every single game without fail, yes? So why do we expect the opposite from them?
Manchester City and England shot-stopper Joe Hart is currently experiencing a loss of form, which under normal circumstances would be shrugged off by all as a temporary blip he will recover from by the New Year at the very latest. The problem here, is not just if a ‘keeper makes a mistake the game will become an uphill struggle, or worse still - lost, it’s just England has no clear cut replacements for Hart of an equal calibre. I did read in the local press in my home region, the goalkeeper of the Dudley Royal British Legion Thirds is available next summer, should Roy Hodgson require his services.
Of all the positions a football fan does not want his favourite side to have a complete tiswas over, it’s the fellow in the green shirt between the sticks. No other player has such an influential bearing upon a match, as I’ve already mentioned. The one thing no England supporter wants to hear is Joe Hart is now Superman with kryptonite in his pockets. Very worrying indeed. But this is not all Hart’s fault – historically, England has always had an embarrassment of riches in this department over the years, plus all English shot-stoppers will forever be naturally compared to one man in particular and the one event that confirmed he was best in the world, and in many eyes still is.
Gordon Banks was arguably the best goalkeeper in the world in the sixties. No-one else came close, or has done according to who you listen to in the pubs the length and breadth of our nation. Totally fearless, the consummate professional, exceptional positional sense, I could go on and on repeating the praise laid down at his doorstep. Besides being the only England goalkeeper to date to lift the World Cup, it was during the 1970 tournament that Banks became immortal. In the group match against Brazil, the South Americans were on the attack, breaking down their right flank. Jaiziniho sprinted for the goal-line leaving England left back Terry Cooper in his wake, and launched a missile of a cross towards the far post. Brazil’s all-time greatest player – Pele - leapt through the air perfectly, aiming a bullet header for the base of the far post. A goal seemed certain – Banks was standing on the other side of the goalmouth – stranded. The empty English goal was wide open to the mercy of the Master. No way on Earth was anyone going to keep this one out.
What happened next was a manoeuvre that defied not just human agility and the capabilities of homosapien anatomy, but also questioned the laws of physics as well. Banks somehow managed to traverse the entire width of the goal in the blink of an eye. As Pele’s goal-bound header arrived at lightning speed dead on target, Banks managed to get the fingers on his outstretched right hand to the ball. Any slight contact would merely flick it into the net, making his monumentous leap totally futile. However, the England goalkeeper made such solid contact with the ball, it arched up over the crossbar and out for a corner. This was just incredible – on par with any of the breath-taking goals the Brazilian maestro had scored throughout his career. I’ve watched this incident again and again on television and now on YouTube, and everytime I observe it, the save still defies belief. How did Banks move so fast so quickly? I’ve seen some remarkable saves from other ‘keepers over the years, but nothing comes close to this. My description here really does not do it justice, and I urge everyone to see it just once, and stand in awe at what they see.
Banks remained England’s first choice number one until he lost the sight in his right eye after a car accident in late 1972. Immediately, two players vied for the position for the next ten years – effectively Banks’ ‘apprentice’ at Stoke City, Peter Shilton, and Liverpool shot-stopper, Ray Clemence. Shilton just edged his friend for the green jersey come the eighties, and remained in the side all the way upto and including the 1990 World Cup Finals in Italy. Like I said, England had an embarrassment of riches in this position, as more than adequate and competent deputies existed in Joe Corrigan, Jimmy Rimmer, Paul Cooper, Nigel Spink, Martin Hodge and Steve Ogrizovic existed.
Come the nineties, Chris Woods and Nigel Martyn initially battled for the position, but not quite proving a satisfactory replacement to the now retired Shilton, David Seaman secured the number one slot as his own come 1995. The Arsenal ‘keeper remained in the England team ‘till after the 2002 World Cup Finals. The shirt was then passed onto David James, a player who promised so much, but in reality wasn’t quite as good as Seaman. Paul Robinson was tried on occasions, gradually overtaking James in the pecking order. Robinson had his own period of loss of form, leading to Rob Green being selected. Green looked the real deal, very competent and composed, very useful infact - that is until his howler against the United States in the 2010 World Cup.
This meant the only solution at the time was to bring back David James into the team. If truth be known, he was only selected as there were no other English goalkeepers available any better. Ben Foster being a very fine club player, put not of international class, was obviously only used when James was unavailable. Luckily, Joe Hart appeared at Manchester City, and all England fans breathed a sigh of relief – until now. Norwich City’s John Ruddy may well be one for the future, but at the moment does not quite seem the part. At lot of the blame for this situation lies with our top clubs. During the seventies and eighties, virtually all clubs had an English ‘keeper (Liverpool, then Spurs had Clemence, Manchester United had Alex Stepney, Jimmy Rimmer then Gary Bailey, after the great Pat Jennings retired, Arsenal had John Lukic then David Seaman, Aston Villa had the afore-mentioned Rimmer, then Nigel Spink), now a side does not seem complete without a foreign goalkeeper.
It’s no wonder England effectively does have a ‘crisis’ in this department, when Roy Hodgson has to look lower and lower down the Premier League, even into the Championship for cover. Yes, Banks and Shilton played for ‘unfashionable’ clubs all their respective careers, but there were more than enough very good English ‘keepers at the more successful clubs. So please – Messrs Wenger, Mouriniho, Moyes and Villas Boas – if you’re reading this, can you give serious thought and consideration to that lad in your youth team, and develop him into a first team regular. After all, he may well have been born in Worksop, and come the Qatar World Cup in 2022, we’ll need him.
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