GoalKeepers and their blunders

Goalkeepers, over the generations, have long been prone to expensive errors. Even the greatest of them can have their disastrous moments, writes Brian Glanville.

When Tottenham Hotspur, already four goals behind from their first leg cup tie at Real Madrid, played the return match at White Hart Lane there was scant hope of survival. And even that disappeared early in the second half, when an almost comical blunder by their Brazilian international goalkeeper, Heurelho Gomes, conceded a farce of a goal. When Cristiano Ronaldo, whose goal at the Bernabeu had looked like an error by Gomes, shot none too fiercely from some thirty yards, it seemed beyond all doubt an easy goalkeeper's ball. But the hapless Gomes totally misjudged its flight and helped it disastrously into his own goal. That Real went on to win the match 1-0 in consequence was not of ultimate importance: they were never going to be in any real danger after their triumph in Spain.

But it was just too much for the Tottenham Manager, Harry Redknapp, who had inherited Gomes, with little confidence, when he took the team over and had even had him coached by a former Tottenham keeper, Tony Parkes. Besides, Gomes in the vernacular may be said to have had previous form. In a UEFA Cup match in Italy in October 2008, he had foolishly tried to dribble the ball round the Udinese striker, Fabio Quagliarella, and in failing, brought the player down, to concede a penalty. Over time, he seemed to have improved, but the possibility of further lapses was, alas, always there.

Goalkeepers, over the generations, have long been prone to expensive errors. They themselves, will tell you, with some bitterness, that whereas an outfield player may make a mistake and get away with it, a goalkeeper's blunder can all too easily result in a goal. And the greatest of them can have their disastrous moments. Even Ricardo Zamora, who for so many years was rated the finest goalkeeper, not only in Spain, but in all Europe. He was an Olympic Games star. He was superbly defiant though often fouled of an Italy attack in Florence, in the world cup of 1934. Yet three years earlier, when Spain, who'd become the first ever European team to beat England, in Madrid, the year before, came to Highbury for a return game, Zamora was inept. England won 7-1 and goal after embarrassing goal went past him. One of the scorers being the prolific England centre-forward, Dixie Dean of Everton.

Many a long year later, I met Dean at a luncheon in London and recalled that game to him. He smiled and said that at the post match banquet, the Spanish interpreter had told him of Zamora. He says, “he is nothing in Madrid,” to which Dean, somewhat callously, replied, “tell him he's not much here, either'.”

When England met West Germany in the World Cup quarterfinals in Leon in 1970, they had to play without their outstanding keeper, Gordon Banks, mysteriously afflicted by a stomach bug, which had not troubled other members of the squad, after the previous evening's dinner. Dirty words at the crossroads? Alas, we shall never know. So his place went to Peter ‘Cat' Bonetti, a famously agile Chelsea keeper, but out of match action for several weeks. Disaster here, too. England had cruised into what seemed a decisive 2-0 lead when Germany's Franz Beckenbauer shot low and far innocuously, along the ground. It looked an easy task for Bonetti but he reacted too late and the ball went under his body into the net. Subsequently, he was at fault to some extent with the two other goals, whereby the Germans won. On his return to London the cruel joke went round that he went to Chelsea ground at Stamford Bridge, on the Fulham Road, declared that wasn't worth living any more, went back out into the road, threw himself in front of a number 11 bus; and missed!

There is no doubt, however, that the relatively new rule, forbidding goalkeepers to pick up back passes in their own penalty box, has made things hugely more difficult for them. Now, they are obliged to kick the ball clear and all too often, with expensive results. One avidly recalls a moment in a game, actually at Stamford Bridge, when the explosive German 'keeper Jens Lehman, playing in a European Cup tie for Arsenal against Chelsea, superfluously went out of his area to his right to kick a ball clear. All he succeeded in however, was to kick it against Chelsea's Icelandic forward, Eidur Gudjohnsen, who proceeded to walk it unimpeded into the empty net.

Wembley stadium was long ago called “The goalkeeper's graveyard”. Never so than in the 1927 FA Cup final between Arsenal, then emerging from years of mediocrity under the dynamism of Chapman, and Wales' Cardiff City. Cardiff centre forward Hugh Ferguson sent a speculative, unexceptional, shot travelling towards the Gunners' goal. Where Danny Lewis, their own goalkeeper, somehow managed to let it squirm out of his hands and roll off his jersey, into the goal, enabling Cardiff to be the first team ever to take the Cup out of England. Thereafter, before any final Arsenal made sure to see that their goalie's jersey was laundered.

Their later keeper, Bob Wilson, of the 1971 double winning team, was on his own admission guilty of letting in a Liverpool shot by Steve Heiehway from the left, between himself and his near post, though the Gunners went on to win. And even as fine and resilient a keeper as Peter Shilton has conferred that he wasn't blameless when during a vital World Cup qualifier at Wembley, in 1973, he, too, allowed a crucial shot to slip between the post and himself, to enable the Poles to draw 1-1 and quality.

Curiously, goalkeepers aren't always important. When the dazzling Brazilian side won the 1970 World Cup it was with a keeper in Felix who was equally inept when the high crosses sailed over his head and when he had to deal with shots on the ground. An attack which included Pele, Gerson, Rivelino and Jairzinho was simply good enough to keep opposing teams largely at bay. You might unkindly say that Gomes was and is in the Felix tradition. Indeed, it used to be said that no Brazilian boy ever wanted to play goal. His burning ambition was to be another Pele.

I once wrote a short story, “Goalkeepers are Crazy” and a boy's novel “Goalkeepers are Different” which Peter Shilton told me was the only book he ever finished! Perhaps the most appropriate title should be “Goalkeepers are only human”.