Thursday, October 20, 2005

Looking After Number One....

Fat kids. Asthmatics. Oppressed younger brothers. Gangly boys who can't run. The possession of two left feet. Insistence on spectacle wearing. Many and varied are the reasons why a stripling youth, his head full of fantastical dreams of scoring last minute, bicycle-kicked winners in World Cup finals, finds himself- to use the technical term- "shoved in nets".

The Darwinian law of the playground, following careful Opta Index-style analysis of key indicators such as 'Ability to Dribble While Munching a Cheese Sandwich' and 'Superiority or Otherwise to Scabby-Kneed Ginger Girl', singles out two hapless souls, the chaff, the cream of the crud, to be buffeted incessantly with toe-ended pile-drivers until either a) their spirit breaks or b) the bell rings.

It gets better from there though. If the character is right, if the lad has the right amount of pig-headed disregard for his own safety, he might just take to it. He'll always harbour a deeply hidden sense of sadness that he will never be the glamour boy, the sleek dashing blade that excites supporters. But he'll find a different, deeper fulfilment in standing nobly defiant against an attacking onslaught, as his defence crumbles yet he remains resolute, accepting the grudging respect of his foes when the final whistle blows.

Team mates pat him on the back. He earns a different sort of respect to that afforded a goalscorer. They get Hollywood-style showbiz adulation. The proud last man gets more firefighter/paramedic-type "only for ye" adoration. The message is: Its a dirty job but someone's got to do it.

This is how we imagine the Shay Givens, the Gianluigi Buffons, the Maik Taylors coming to love their craft.

But then there is the other side.

Watching the travails of Antonio Doblas of Real Betis and Volkan Demirel of Fenerbahce in Wednesday night's Champions League fixtures was to be see the particular vision of personal hell that is a part of every goalkeeper's reality.

If, like me, you have donned gloves and garish padded-elbow top in your football career, you will have shuddered to the very core of your being as Doblas fluffed his catch to the feet of Carvalho at Stamford Bridge. You will have turned away mournfully when Demirel came out swinging at thin air. For only if you've experienced the horror of that moment, when you realise that you have just committed the dreaded 'howler', only if you have watched the opposition wheel away mixing their celebration with mocking laughter, only then can you really know how those gentlemen felt.

You will NEVER experience such loneliness.

Your team-mates stare at you with barely disguised contempt, like you are some sort of depraved wretch who has sold everything they have fought for and held dear down the river, due to your clownish stupidity and wrecklessness. People you called your friends cannot look you in the eye, afraid to stare into chasm of fear and loathing that your face represents. You hang your head in shame.

Now, if that's how it feels when it happens playing astro-turf five-a-sides, what on earth is it like when the clanger you've dropped destroys the dreams of tens of thousands of supporters, costs millions of euros in potential income and will see your hapless face on every newspaper as the embodiment of failure?

Well, it must be character building.

There is a well-worn football maxim, which gained much of its currency in the great era of Grobbelaar and Higuita, relating to the fact that all goalkeepers are, reportedly, stone mad. They're not born that way though. No, most of them were probably sane, sentient, even well-adjusted at one time. But years of soul-destroying horror mixed with the odd chapter of heroic defiance conspire to create the haunted, troubled demeanour that marks the profession. Indeed it is said that Pope John Paul II gained much of the inner strength to cope with the challenges facing modern Catholicism from a few dropped crosses while playing for the Wadowice United under 16s.

So next time your team's keeper comes charging out for a through ball and falls on his arse, or comes twelve yards out for a corner that he has no business coming for and , er, falls on his arse, well, just go easy on him will you? Because the poor guy is in a pretty bad place.....


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good article,Tommy. I don't think the Jambos will truly last the pace and the damage could be caused partly by implosion, rather than solely from the competion.No-one really knows the true intentions of Romanov, vis a vis his ideas on moving, or is it "developing" Tynecastle. Not to mention the rumoured friction with the manager re signings.

6:26 p.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

By the way Tommy, I am the blogger formerly known as Tom the Tim. It seems I have been marked absent for a few weeks and have been airbrushed out of the account. Will try and re-establish identity whwen i have something worth saying.

6:29 p.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Whoops, posted on the wrong article. silly me, I'll get me anorak.BTW, I thought you were a better keeper than the "Scabby -Kneed Ginger Girl". It was just because she was the headmaster's daughter that she got a game.


6:34 p.m.  

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