Blundering goalies

England's Robert Green looks at the ball heading into the net during a Group C match against the USA at the Royal Bafokeng Stadium in Rustenburg.-AP

Alas, as we know, a goalkeeper's error will almost always prove fatal and sometimes decisive. Defenders and attackers can make mistakes, but even if they don't always get away with them, can frequently hope to escape the consequences. Goalkeepers' errors can so often be disastrous, writes Brian Glanville.

The fearful blunder by Robert Green which gave the USA a goal and a World Cup draw was alas only the latest if an almost traditional series of fiascos by England's goalkeepers. It seemed particularly ironic that the 39-year-old David James, to whom Green was preferred, should take it very badly insisting, against the opinion of manager Fabio Capello, that he was perfectly fit to play and should have done.

There is no doubt in my mind that even at his advanced age, having seen him several times last season playing splendidly for Portsmouth, James is still the best of a somewhat unimpressive bunch. Yet none for nothing did he acquire the nickname of “Calamity James”. A keeper capable of the most sublime saves and the most ludicrous errors. Two games for England still stand out for their disastrous nature, one in Vienna against Austria, a qualifier, the other a friendly in Copenhagen against Denmark.

In each match, James was a huge liability, making one error after another, giving away goals which should easily have been avoided. Yet to be fair he had his ill fortune playing for England too. I remember especially what should have been a routine pre-season friendly at the Tottenham Hotspur ground against Holland in which he suffered a shocking injury. Yet I also recall that after that evening match, he limped out into the Tottenham car park, that famous rendezvous, to talk philosophically and even humorously to a little group of journalists among them, myself.

Green, for me, was always going to be a bad risk. Seasons ago he had been discarded by England after a shaky display in Eastern Europe. Last season with West Ham United he committed some alarming errors. Hopes arose when, shortly before the World Cup began, one saw him make a fine, one-handed save at Wembley long ago known as “The Goalkeeper's Graveyard”, when Mexico's Carlos Vela, let through by a slack England defence, shot at point blank range. Green stopped it splendidly with one hand. Optimism, alas, proved unjustified.

Yet you don't have to go back very far to find goalkeeping errors as bad or even worse than that. Two were abysmally committed in the qualifying group for the European Championship of 2008, both against Croatia. The first, in Zagrab, came when the England keeper Paul Robinson kicked out at a back pass which was rolling towards him. The ball seemed to have hit a divot, for it bounced agonisingly over his foot and into the net. England lost; just as they did again, in the return game at Wembley.

It was still in its early stages, when Niko Kranjcar, the Croatian attacker, shot from long range, with no deadly effect. Or so it seemed till the hapless Scott Carson allowed the ball to slip out of his grasp and into the goal. Later when Ben Foster, who had already made his debut impressively for England some while back, while on loan from Manchester United to Watford, got a game at Wembley, his clumsy attempt to deal with what seemed an easy enough high ball simply resulted in giving the softest of goal to the opposition.

Yet the supposedly greatest of England goalkeepers can err dismally. David Seaman, for example; though not at Wembley where he made many a famous stop. Playing for England in Japan, against Brazil, in the 2002 World Cup, he was hopelessly beaten by a long, swerving, diabolic drive by the insidious Ronaldinho. England, who had taken an early lead through Michael Owen, went on to lose. Then there was the embarrassment of the goal he conceded straight from a corner, playing against modest Macedonia in a group match at Southampton.

In passing, however, poor Robert Green had only to wait a couple of days to see an equally inept and costly piece of World Cup goalkeeping. Paraguay were leading Italy 1-0 when over came a left wing corner. Justo Villa, capped for Paraguay over 70 times, but, alas, not the tallest of goalkeepers, came for the high ball but disastrously missed it, allowing Italy's Daniele Di Rossi, admittedly untroubled by the two Paraguayan centre backs, to exploit the open goal.

Famous, or infamous, for his failings in England's World Cup goal, in 1970, was the hapless Peter Bonetti. In the Mexican quarterfinals, at high altitude in Leon, Bonetti, at the last moment had to step in for Gordon Banks; hero previously of an astonishing one-handed save in Gauadalajara from a point blank header from the illustrious Pele: who was already crying, “Goal”! But on the morning of the quarterfinal match, on the lawn outside the team's motel, was poor pallid Gordon staggering along in the arm of the England team doctor, Neil Phillips. He had been taken ill overnight; but how and why? Above all, as he told me himself many years later, he had at dinner eaten and drunk exactly the same as every other member of the squad. Deliberately poisoned? A leading American senator later joked in Washington to his English sports writer cousin, “That was the CIA! You didn't think we were going to let England beat Brazil!”

Who knows? But my own suspicions have gathered through the years. As it was, the lithe and talented Peter, nicknamed “The Cat”, when he played for Chelsea, had a disastrous day. England were 2-0 up when he allowed a far from irresistible shot by West German's Franz Beckenbauer to pass under his body. He didn't improve, and England lost 3-2.

Even as famous an England keeper as Peter Shilton had his shaky moments. Should he not have saved the Polish striker Jan Domarski's shot, between himself and the near post, when the Poles held England in 1973 to a World Cup qualifiers draw at Wembley, and thus eliminated them? Most of the blame descended on the wing half, Norman Hunter, who culpably let the Polish winger, late, clean through on the left, eventually to cross, but Shilton himself eventually accepted blame. One-all, and England out.

There are even some who would blame Peter for Diego Maradona's notorious “Hand of God” goal, punched against England in Mexico's Azteca Stadium in the World Cup of 1986. A blatant, shocking foul, it is true, with extended arm and fist, but Maradona was dwarfed by big Shilton. Could Peter not have claimed the ball?

Alas, as we know, a goalkeeper's error will almost always prove fatal and sometimes decisive. Defenders and attackers can make mistakes, but even if they don't always get away with them, can frequently hope to escape the consequences.

Goalkeepers' errors can so often be disastrous.