The Twelve Rules of Goalkeeping

It is generally accepted that goalkeepers have to be a bit mad. This is not actually true - there are indeed some dreadfully dull and uncharismatic custodians out there. Elsewhere, however, the received wisdom about goalkeepers (propagated, as usual, by commentators, co-commentators and pundits) can be detailed quite definitively. Since no other media outlet has either the foresight or the inclination to do so, The Angle... gladly obliges:

1. Make yourself big.
A method mastered by Neville Southall in the 1980s, and made popular by Peter Schmeichel in the 1990s, making yourself big is not a complicated concept. By maximising one's surface area, one can minimise the likelihood of the ball going past. The frequency of references to making yourself big, however, appear to be on the wane. It is another cliche that has been forced to defend itself against the all-conquering co-commentary of Andy Gray. Gray often attempts, quite admirably, to apply some sort of narrative (complete with dialogue) to a slow-motion replay. This device is often used by Gray when the goalkeeper is shown to have made himself big:
Martin Tyler: ...and Saha couldn't find a way past Peter Cech.

Andy Gray: Great goalkeeping Martin. Cech just hasn't committed himself there. Saha's waited for Cech to make a decision, but he's said to Saha: "I'm not going to ground, son - you've got to try and beat me."
2. Do not wear tracksuit bottoms.
Goalkeeping is a thankless task. The last line of defence, the 'keeper needs all the assistance he can muster. Which makes the occasional donning of tracksuit bottoms all the more mystifying. The sight of an opposing goalkeeper in such attire is invitation to shoot from all angles, as it is a clear sign of his inadequacy. From Dmitry Kharine's black leggings to Gabor Kiraly's grey pyjama bottoms, goalkeepers in trousers have a long tradition of pantomime-level clumsiness. The odd bit of camera-friendly acrobatics only serves to exacerbate their image as flaky goalkeepers that simply cannot be trusted with backpasses or crosses.

While The Angle... doesn't wish to dwell too long on international football stereotypes, we believe that the pan-continental penchant for tracksuit bottoms is the sole contributor to the image of African goalkeepers as "erratic".

A distant cousin of the tracksuit bottoms-clad goalkeepers is the goalkeeper in short sleeves. This has a significantly less negative connotation, but remains the hallmark of a maverick goalkeeper that has ideas above his station, much like short-sleeves standard-bearer Fabien Barthez. This brand of goalkeeper may be referred to as "eccentric".

3. Englishmen catch, foreigners punch.
Dwelling further on international football stereotypes, The Angle... calls upon one of the more lazy cliches attached to the art of goalkeeping. Along with diving, alice bands and wearing socks above the knee, the influx of foreign players to our shores has also brought with it the ugly art of punching clear. An almost total refusal to catch the ball understandably registers with English supporters as rather a handicap for a goalkeeper. Nonetheless, the foreign custodians will always choose to punch. Actually, no goalkeeper ever chooses to punch the ball. No, they will always be said to either elect or opt to punch.

The Angle...
is quietly compiling a list of words and phrases that football people only use in, and indeed only know from, a footballing context. Electing to do something is one of them, as is lack(s)adaisical, but that's a story for another day...

4. Be brave. Everyone likes a brave goalkeeper.
Putting your head where the boots are flying is the timeless benchmark for goalkeeping bravery. Any goalkeeper that dives at the feet of an approaching striker will have his bravery applauded by the co-commentator, despite the fact that if he hadn't have done so, the striker would have scored easily and made the goalkeeper look unquestionably foolish. In the event of injury in such circumstances, it is more admirable to hold on to the ball rather than throw it out before receiving treatment.

5. Have your goalkeeping ability measured in minutes.
Going 9 games without conceding a goal is a superb achievement. Somehow, though, going 756 minutes without conceding appears more impressive. Breaking the 1,000-minute barrier could be considered the holy grail for a modern day goalkeeper.

6. Play until you are 40.
Goalkeepers, presumably due to their perceived "madness", simply do not know when to hang up their gloves (a misleading cliche, perhaps, as gloves are surely stowed away or packed up in some way, be it temporarily or permanently. But never hung.) This longevity may also be attributable to the dubious "fact" that goalkeepers, we are told, "do not reach their peak until their early thirties". How, for example, a 32-year-old goalkeeper is able to perform better, on average, than a 28-year-old one is not immediately clear.

7. Become a Third Choice Keeper
Third choice goalkeepers face a continuous battle with 4th officials over the dubious honour of having the easiest job in football. Often either a 19-year-old rookie, or inexpensive European journeyman (Chelsea's Hilario, for example), the third-choice goalkeeper is called into action only in emergencies. Lower-league clubs, who cannot afford the luxury of having a third-choice goalkeeper on the payroll, may find themselves begging the Football League for special dispensation. Despite its lofty, rather dismissive terminology, this permission is always granted, however.

Probably the only type of footballer that is not likely to say "at this stage in my career, I need to be playing first-team football." They will have given up on any hope of that long ago.

That is not to say there are no prospects for a third choice goalkeeper. If you are deemed to be the third best available goalkeeper in your country every couple of years, you may find yourself jetting off on a free holiday with your mates. All that is required of a World Cup third-choice goalkeeper is to:

1) half-heartedly join in the warm-up before games. The odd drop-kick will suffice.
2) Join in the celebrations/protestations that involve the entire bench.
3) Assist second-choice 'keeper in offering advice/encouragement to first-choice keeper before penalty shoot-out.

8. Go Up For Corners in The Last Minute
An absolutely delightful phenomenon. His team desperately requires a goal, the game is in its dying moments, and a corner is won*. The goalkeeper races towards the opposition area, to the delight of the crowd and the commentator. Somewhere in the official Laws of the Game it states the following:

If, in the event of a corner being won in the final minute of the game, the goalkeeper of the team that requires a single goal must enter the opposition area. The goalkeeper, despite the fact that he is indeed a goalkeeper, must then become the sole focal point of that team's attack. The corner must be delivered towards him, and he must strain every sinew to reach the ball, regardless of his ability to head the ball.

As if he has realised that there is no point in coming up for a corner unless he, and he alone, connects with the cross, the goalkeeper causes absolute havoc. Who should mark him? Should a defender be riskily sacrificed to deal with this curious attacking threat? Why is he more dangerous than the goalscoring centre-back or the 30-goals-a-season striker in this situation?

Despite the drama, a goal very rarely results. We are then treated to the secondary spectacle of whether or not the defending team can take advantage of the open goal left at the other end.

But when a goal does result...

*Given the alarming frequency of last-minute corners awarded to teams that desperately require a goal, one wonders if supposedly impartial referees actually want to see a goalkeeper come up for a corner as much as the rest of us.

9. Overprotection
Goalkeepers, as we are constantly reminded, are overprotected these days. Referees, concerned at having to face a whole team's wrath if allowing a goal after the goalkeeper has been challenged, will always blow for a foul. Once we all realise that it's the same for both teams, we can all move on. But not until the commentator has grabbed his opportunity to tell us how overprotected goalkeepers are these days.

10. Be Dubbed "The Cat"
An important and valuable part of the goalkeeper's repertoire is to have cat-like reflexes. No goalkeeper in history, be it Lev Yashin, Peter Schmeichel or Perry Digweed have qualified for fly-like or mouse-like reflexes. Those capable of reaction saves, often from point-blank range, qualify for "Cat" status (even if, when making such saves, it is deemed that "they didn't know too much about it"). The most famous "Cat" was Peter Bonetti, but others include Sepp "Die Katze" Maier and František Plánicka, the "Cat of Prague".

11. Relish Penalties
Goalkeepers often whinge about how their mistakes prove more costly than an outfield player's. They get their own back in penalty shoot-outs, when a straightforward save of a shot hit at a good height for the goalkeeper can make them an instant hero.
Penalty saves in the 90 minutes are equally heroic. Penalties that are dubious or downright scandalous are often saved, so that justice is served. Goalkeepers that save penalties have a pre-programmed "celebration". Once the ball is out of play or cleared, the goalkeeper is ready to receive the acclaim of his teammates. But he must not appear too ecstatic - there are opponents to mark and a match to be won, and he will over-earnestly remind his colleagues of this. It is very similar in nature to the goalscoring centre-back's goal celebration.

12. Dive for Everything.
If humanly possible, it is recommended that a goalkeeper dives for everything, for three reasons:

1) He may make a save. Boring, but rather important.
2) No goalkeeper wants to be labelled as "statuesque" when a goal goes in.
3) If the shot is going just wide, and the goalkeeper tries to save it anyway, the television viewer is ensured the following disclaimer from the commentator about the unnecessary piece of goalkeeping:
Commentator: That shot might just have been creeping wide, but he wasn't to know that.
Goalkeepers. They're mad, you know.