It’s not always fun being a goalkeeper. It’s the most challenging, isolated, unforgiving, position on the pitch.
Football’s a game that rewards goal scorers far more than the unsung heroes that prevent goals. So let’s take a look at things from the keeper’s perspective. Let’s recognise the tribulations they endure throughout their lengthy careers.
Here’s what’s so tough about being a keeper.
1. Taking the Blame
As a goalkeeper you have to accept that:
- You’re the last person in the line of defence, and
- Your sole purpose on the pitch is to reduce the number of goals against you.
So even if you’re not totally to blame for a mistake that resulted in a goal, it’ll often be deemed as your fault. You’ll regularly take the brunt of the criticism.
Putting your hand up and accepting the blame is part and parcel of being a goalkeeper. At times this feels unfair — but it’s that ability to remain humble and keep your chin up that makes goalkeepers the strongest, noblest players on the football pitch.
2. Lack of Glory
Leading on from the last point is that you don’t get too much glory as a goalkeeper.
Unlike your team mates, you’re not out on the pitch for the chance to score a 30 yard screamer or an overhead kick. You’re there for clean sheets (unless you’re Peter Schmeichel).
3. The Wonder Save That Wasn’t Meant To Be
Bad luck doesn’t affect any player more than the goalkeeper. There’s times where you’ll make the ‘impossible’ save — and yet it still results in a goal at the end.
All goalkeepers experience those moments where parrying the ball pops out in an unfortunate place — such an opponent’s feet, setting up a second attempt at goal. This leaves you no time to get set and react. It’s devastating when a great save doesn’t work out, and it happens at every level of football.
I recall an unusual case of bad luck. I made a brilliant full stretch save, which I tipped onto the left post. The ball then bounced off the post at high speed, and rebounded back… onto my head and into the goal.
What can you do apart from move on? Some wonder-saves are just not meant to be.
4. That “Prematch Warmup”
At lower league levels, particularly in youth football, there’s a tendency to stick the keeper in goal before the game and pelt multiple balls his/her way from point blank range. It’s one of the worst ways for goalkeepers to prepare for a game.
What keepers really need is as many touches of the ball as possible before the kick off, to get a feel for the ground and weather conditions, to test their gloves, and to get warm. Picking balls out of the net is not preparation.
The whole “get in goal keeper while we practice shooting” highlights how neglected keepers are in amateur football. It’s foolish considering the keeper is arguably a team’s most influential player.
5. Mud. Wet, Sloppy Mud.
So there’s an enormous murky puddle in the goalmouth. And guess what? It’s got your name on it.
Until you get to a higher levels of football, where dedicated groundskeepers come into play, you have to make do with imperfect pitches (to say the least). This means that a lot of the time you’re clothing will be caked in thick, heavy, (sometimes stinky), sloppy mud. There’s multiple problems this brings to the table:
- Extra weight: have you ever done that swimming badge where you have to tread water in your pyjamas? Well, wet mud makes you feel like you’re doing that. Try running or kicking a ball when you’re that much slower than you usually are.
- Slippery gloves: mud will practically deactivates your gloves entirely if you aren’t careful. The latex simply won’t work if there’s a layer of slushy mud coating your palms; the ball will feel like a bar of soap.
- Sloppy pitch. Goal kicks, back-passes, rushing off your line are made difficult by your feet either being stuck in the mud, or slipping at your every move. If you’ve played on a really bad pitch, you’ll be all-too familiar with taking a goal kick where the ground around you moves as you take your run up.
But it’s no use complaining about it. You won’t receive any sympathy for presenting any of these “excuses”. You need to adapt and respond to the conditions. I’ve written a detailed goalkeeper’s guide to dealing with mud that will help you.
6. Touchline Criticisms
Criticisms from the touchlines can be heard loud and clear by keepers — more so than any other player. Indeed playing in one area of the pitch means you’re an easy target. If you’ve ever been to live games and sat behind the goal, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.
Abuse is particularly annoying when you absolutely know the guys on the touchline have zero experience with goalkeeping and do not know what they’re talking about. Home fans aren’t exempt, either; they’ll often grumble about their own keepers.
The bottom line is that you have to ignore all those distractions. People on the touchlines are fickle. Anything you do — good or bad — will alter their opinions on you pretty quickly. Stick to what you’ve been taught and you’ll prove them wrong.
7. Terrible Kits
Ok, so this one might be slightly outdated. But I feel that we should at least recognise how bad goalkeeping kits have looked over the years. Some keepers are practically owned an apology from the kit manufacturers.
Wearing a jersey that reflects your unique position is one thing; looking like a clown is another.
For some light entertainment, do a Google image search of “worst goalkeeper kits”.
Check out my Goalkeeper Equipment List for sensible-looking attire.
8. Being The Forgotten Man
It’s 10 of them for every 1 of you. You’re easily forgotten.
Unfortunately goalkeepers are regularly neglected in team training sessions. With so many players to work on, keepers don’t receive the attention they need. That’s to be expected.
You’ll often feel unrecognised, too. For example, those vital contributions to games (e.g. game-changing saves) will be somewhat overlooked by goals scored by another member of your team. Yes, a goal prevented is equal to a goal scored — but you won’t receive an equal amount of credit.
That’s just football culture. You can’t change it.
9. No Second Chances
Goalkeeping is the most unforgiving position on the pitch, and it offers very little opportunity for redemption.
Strikers, for example, can make several poor efforts at goal and then “get into” the game. If they score, then those poor efforts are almost entirely forgotten about. But one single goalkeeping mistake carries far too much weight to be brushed aside. A goal conceded changes the course of the game; it’s remembered.
When you step out onto the pitch, you have to be ready, because redemption is an uphill struggle for keepers. If you make a mistake you may not get another chance to put it right. You can only keep your head up, stay focused, and learn from it.
10. The Long Journey Home After a Bad Day
There’s nothing worse than the journey home when you’re kicking yourself over a mistake you made. It’s those key moments that cost games… and ruin the weekend for everyone involved at your club.
Goalkeepers truly carry the burden of their errors. Most other positions on the football pitch couldn’t hold themselves singularly responsible for dropping points. With that in mind, it’s unsurprising that some professional keepers have quit the game for a career with a little less stress.
Mental strength, a positive attitude and the determination to go again is required. Wounds will heal.
Keepers are easily victimised by their high level of responsibility. It takes guts to be one.