IF MEMORY serves me correctly I wrote some time years ago a short treatise entitled Great Goalkeepers of our Time. It was a lighthearted account of how a young, long-trousered spectator was suddenly called into action and persuaded to act as goalkeeper in the absence, through drunkenness, of the regular keeper.
I would now like to dwell, with the reader’s indulgence, on the chief characteristics of another type of goalkeeper, ie, the regular goalkeeper for a junior country club. I do not intend to be derogatory in any way.
Why should I belittle myself? Yes, it was a role I played for a while when I lacked the pace and wind for more demanding positions in other parts of the field. I should, of course, have said more demanding physically because only a goalkeeper who has truly served his time knows of the mental demands made upon him at all times during the game. As a youth I knew an outstanding junior goalkeeper. When my own turn came I more or less modelled myself on him. I could never hope to be as good as he was because he was, as it were, born to the trade and had never played in any other part of the field.
As I recall he stopped no more goals than any other goalkeeper but it was the manner of the stopping of those he did stop that stands out in the memory. Let me say at once that a goalie who isn’t an actor has no business between the sticks. It is between the sticks and a few yards in front of them that all the dramatic action in a football game takes place. If the hero of the piece, to wit the goalie, lacks any acting talent then much is lost and what might have been a great game is often a dead loss.
When bringing off a save it is the function of the accomplished goalkeeper to make the save look twice as hard as it actually is. This is not always easy especially with a soft lobbing ball and no forward within thirty yards of the goals. To the practised actor it can be made to look like a daring save because instead of standing where he is he can dash out to meet the ball and catch it after a mighty leap into the air. It would have been easier and safer to stay inside but what kind of an existence would that be for a goalkeeper of mettle.
Now when this man got his place on the junior team in question the first question that was asked was could he dive. Yes. It was disclosed that while practising he could dive like a gannet and had the eye of same in spotting a menacing ball.
As one of his admirers I was standing behind the goals on the occasion of his first outing. Play swung this way and that and there was nothing to be alarmed at. Then one of the opposing midfield pair got possession and passed on to the centre forward who did a neat bit of highly ineffective soloing out towards the wing. When he got to the sideline he realised he could go no farther so he passed the ball to the full-forward, who had come out looking for the ball.
The full-forward headed straight for our goals, but let me assure you that we were ready for him. When twenty-five yards out he steadied himself and took a shot. He struck the ball well and it travelled at tremendous speed, not in the direction of the goals, however, but well to the west of them. I breathed a sigh of relief but I breathed too early.
Our goalkeeper was not content to watch the goal go wide. When it was safely passing the left post he dived full length and caught the ball with the tips of his fingers. The crowd went wild. Then it dawned on me that they had no way of knowing whether it was a legitimate save or not.
Only those of us who stood behind the goals knew this. The goalie knew it, too, of course. It was a fine dive no doubt, and in many other games he made better dives. He was also the cause of goals which would not have been goals if he had left the balls go harmlessly wide. But he couldn’t. He was too good an actor. Take away his diving and he was just another junior goalkeeper. No, he made every ball count and he complimented poor forwards by making it seem that their shots were shots of uncanny accuracy and force. Because of him they didn’t lose interest in the game. Other goalkeepers would yawn as these unfortunates shot for goals, but our friend made them feel important when he tore out clutching the leather as if it was burning from the force of the kick.