The other weekend once again highlighted the extremes within the life of the last line of defence, the man between the sticks, your common or garden goalkeeper. Stoke City goalie Asmir Begovic scores for his side against Southampton from his own penalty area (admittedly heavily wind assisted), Swansea City number one Mart Poom manages to get himself sent off for wiping out Cardiff’s DJ Campbell with a blatent professional foul, meanwhile Spurs ‘keeper Hugo Lloris played on against Everton after being knocked unconscious after colliding with Romelu Lukaku’s knee.
To be a decent goalkeeper, you have to be a bit barmy to be honest. Why else would you want to dive full length at the feet of someone running full tilt and run the risk of what happened to Lloris, or worse still the injury Chelsea’s Petr Cech suffered a few years ago? I recall one of my P.E teachers several decades ago saying ‘keepers are just bad rugby union players – they can get their hands to the ball, but very rarely hold it’. A bit harsh, to be far. I think Gordon Banks and Peter Shilton would see it as a bit more complicated than just that.
Obviously, this position requires a player who is virtually fearless, has very good vision of how a game can flow, scant disregard for their own personal safety and well-being and reflexes second only to that of a cat. Plus, the desire to spoil a forward’s day, stopping a wonderful solo effort or blockbusting thirty yard drive, which to the ‘keeper I’m sure is as equally satisfying as scoring a hat-trick, but to the bulk of fans makes the goalie somewhat of a party-pooper. A goalkeeper can never win, really – seen as a villain by the majority, a buffoon by a section of his own supporters but a hero to others when he pulls off a penalty save or sends the opposition’s star player skywards while collecting the ball legally. Or illegally, depending who he has sent airborne.
Begovic is not the first ‘keeper to score from his own end of the field. He joined an elite group, alongside Pat Jennings and Steve Ogrizovic who have also achieved same. Other goalies have ran the length of the pitch in the final throws of a game in order to cause havoc in the opposition’s area and gain that elusive equaliser, Peter Schmeichel being particularly famous for this in his pomp (and scored a few times too). While this full-length of the pitch kick that goes in occurs only very rarely from time-to-time, imagine how the guy at the other end of the field must feel, having had his opposite number score past him from a good seventy yards plus away (in the case of a couple of grounds due to a quirk of their location over a boundary, from a different county). It’s bad enough to have Sergio Aguerio score a peach against you, but to have Joe Hart do same, I’d be tempted to give up the day job and leave the country to live out the rest of my natural in complete obscurity. Tapping up Cliff Richard to establish does he need any more staff in his Portuguese vineyards would be a serious option.
The professional foul is something all goalkeepers will be prone to committing once they run down a forward charging straight at them. I understand the reasoning why – hopefully their charge will intimidate the forward into shooting too early or making a mistake, but nowadays they’ve got savy to this and stand their ground. Goalkeepers are far from the game’s best tacklers, so the forward will wait – a red card for the ‘keeper will be a dead cert as the two players collide at a far rate of knots. However, this wasn’t always the case, as back in the early eighties an incident occurred that made the reason for Poom’s sending off against Cardiff seem more like a game of Ring-a-Ring Of Roses.
Back in the 1982 World Cup semi-final between France and West Germany, the French were on the attack seeking a winning goal, and at long last burst through the stubborn German defence. Frenchman Patrick Battison was now through on goal, with just Harald Schumacher to beat. A goal for le Bleus seemed inevitable. The German ‘keeper however, had other thoughts. Instead of trying to tackle Battison, he forced the France player into shooting at goal early (he missed) as he charged at him, but continued his run and leapt directly into him mid-air. Due to the heavy collision occurring at speed, Battison was immediately knocked unconscious, collapsing onto the grass. Incredibly, the referee overseeing the game didn’t even award France a free-kick, let alone any disciplinary action against Schumacher. The West German shot-stopper proceeded to take the goal kick that restarted the game, and play resumed. The injuries to Battison were quite severe – he had three teeth knocked out, damage to several vertebra, and slipped into a coma. I’m sure Schumacher did not intend to hurt Battison at all, merely make him miss the target by charging him down, but it still begs belief why the German had to launch himself full length into the French player after he had already shot for goal.
On a more light-hearted note to end to this missive, the most hilarious episode of a ‘keeper playing on after serious injury was during the 1991 League Cup Final between Manchester United and Sheffield Wednesday. In an accidental collision between United number one Les Sealey and Wednesday forward Paul Williams, Sealey needed lengthy and somewhat extensive treatment on the hallowed Wembley turf. It was clear from the body language and reaction of the United physio Sealey really should leave the field of play. However, this was before clubs began having a spare goalkeeper on the bench just for such an emergency. If the ‘keeper was injured, an outfield player who was a reasonable shot-stopper of sorts (more of a token jesture, really), would have to don the green jersey and gloves and take over. This would have left the Manchester club without a proper ‘keeper in a cup final they were losing at the time. Sealey had none of it – remonstrating quite vehemently and at some subsequent length he was not leaving the pitch. Not on his life. No way on this Earth. It was quite farcical to observe – he was clearly badly injured, needed to leave the game, but was having none of it, on several occasions bordering on fisticuffs if anyone attempted to even suggest he should surrender his shirt. Maybe he’d watched ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail’ the night before and fancied himself as the Dark Knight.
And who can forget Liverpool’s Bruce Grobbelaar with his ‘spaghetti legs’ during the penalty shoot-out at the end of the 1984 European Cup Final. It did the trick, putting off the opposition. The Merseyside club won their fourth European Cup, as the coolest man on the field that night was the Reds’ shot-stopper. Like I said at the start of this article, you have to be a bit barmy to be a ‘keeper to be honest.