All In The Mind? 5 Famous Goalkeepers
Goalkeepers are painted as a breed apart. The spectrum ranges from the comical ‘one glove short of a pair’ banter to more alarming insinuations about mental stability. The associations with mild lunacy aren’t helped with the nature of the job. Surely anyone with a capacity for logical thought would opt for a job less in the literal and metaphorical line of fire. The responsibility, the isolation, the criticism – why not play in the hole and avoid the lot?
The nature of the job magnifies the element of the erratic. The 10 outfield players have broadly structured jobs that require creativity within the role (short of dropping your shorts to reveal a pair of Superman underpants, most behaviour looks reasonably logical), but the goalkeeper has potentially a much more varied array of duties to perform in the course of a match. Very often they’re not especially good at these duties and what was intended as a shrewd tactical move ends up looking like the result of a full moon.
During my university days, the notion of the ‘crazy goalie’ came up in a psychology class. By way of explaining personality types, our professor told us about several famous people who had played in goals prior to establishing much more successful careers elsewhere. He was certain there was a connection between the characteristics of the goalkeeper and the tools required for a successful career. He suggested there was a part of the goalkeeper’s psyche that wants his team-mates to fail as it gives them the opportunity to impress and this innate drive was a factor in making them the men they were to become in later life.
It wasn’t a view I particularly agreed with. Certainly as long as the team won, I was delighted if I had nothing to do. But knowing the abilities of my team-mates and the realities of football, I was confident that over the course of a match, I’d have plenty of chances to do my thing. When called upon, I would do my best to save my team and until then I would wait.
In my opinion, there are character traits that a goalkeeper needs, but eccentricity is not necessarily one of them. Thick skin from an early age would be the most important. The idea of a 9 year old being especially aware of mental fortitude is amusing, but on a subconscious level, the young goalkeeper needs to have the ability to put mistakes behind him and come back stronger. Errors will happen and criticism will flow, but blocking it out and coming back for more is crucial skill to learn for the goalkeeper. Mental strength is clearly something which will benefit a person throughout life and as far as I’m concerned that is probably the only link between goalkeepers and eminent people.
Am I right? I’m not so sure, but here are 5 famous men who played in goals. If you can see parallels between them, then I like to hear your theories below.
1. Pope John Paul II
Born Karol Józef Wojtyła in Poland, the boy who would go on to become the much loved Pope John Paul II was a lover of the beautiful game. He supported his local side, Cracovia and the fact that they haven’t won Ekstraklasa since 1949 suggests why he spent so much time talking to the man above. Reports say he minded nets for both his school and university teams, but there’s little suggestion that Europe’s giants were knocking down the door for his services. Had they known the type of connections he would go on to make in later life, they may have thought differently. A professional career wasn’t looking likely, but Germany’s invasion of his country and the on-set of World War II ended even his amateur participation in the game. His interest in calcio continued into his papacy and during Italia 90 he gave the Jack Charlton led Irish team an audience in Vatican City.
2. Luciano Pavarotti
Those of us familiar with Pavarotti’s physique in later life will see the obvious attraction in sticking the Italian tenor in goals, but there was a time when it was his svelte figure and agility that made it the idea appealing. In keeping with the majority of his male compatriots, Pavarotti was a very keen football fan to the extent where a professional career was very much on the cards. He was with his home town club, Modena at a time when they were enjoying a rare period of relative success. At the time, a football career was well paid, but not to the extent of more modern times. After a few gentle words from his mother, Pavarotti decided to hang up the gloves and opted for the stability of a career as a teacher. His familiarity with getting to shots heading for the top corner may have gone the way of his slim waistline, but his love for football didn’t vanish and along with Placido Domingo and Jose Carreras, he was a regular performer at World Cups. When he died in 2007, Juventus sent a representative to his funeral whilst Italy and Juve goalkeeper, Gig Buffon paid tribute by solemnly declaring “Italy has lost a Number One.”
3. Julio Iglesias
To one generation he’s a multi-million selling crooner and to another, he’s best known as Enrique Iglesias’ dad. Inspiring every cruise ship singer in history wasn’t originally the plan for Julio and as a young adult he was considered a good enough keeper to be on the books of Real Madrid. And this was a Real Madrid who had only ended their early domination of the European Cup a couple of years earlier and were still dictating affairs in La Liga. In 1963 he hadn’t yet made a first team appearance when a horrific car crash put an end to his dreams of making it as a professional footballer. He suffered severe spinal injuries that have required treatment throughout his life. Similar rehabilitation is said to be required for anyone who has heard ‘Gwendolyne’.
4. Albert Camus
“All that I know most surely about morality and obligations I owe to football.”* Thankfully Albert Camus isn’t around to witness events in the modern game or else existentialism may be more based on extortionate wage demands and hooking up with the latest batch of aspiring glamour models. That lifestyle may however fit in neatly with his Ideas on the Absurd. As a teenager, Camus played for Racing Universitaire d’Alger and they must have been pretty useful because clearly he had little to do and plenty of time to think. The future Nobel prize winner had aspirations of playing out-field, but in a bold move, the coach saw his small frame and decided between the sticks was the place for him. A professional career wasn’t really on the cards, but a dose of tuberculous at the age of 17 laid him low for a long period and curtailed his athletic ambitions. The camaraderie of the team game is often said to have appealed greatly to Camus and in many ways influenced his brand of philosophy.
*Far be it from me to accuse FIFA of anything underhanded – that’s what Panorama is for – but this quote appears slightly differently in various places around the internet. Football’s governing body are happy to suggest Camus owes football a debt of gratitude, but elsewhere he’s quoted as feeling more indebted to Racing Universitaire d’Alger in particular. Either way, he liked the game and was no stranger to the life of the goalkeeper.
5. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Had Arthur Conan Doyle been born in a different era, Sherlock Holmes may have spent a little less time solving the getting to the bottom of the Hound of the Baskervilles and devoted his efforts to the Mystery of the Swerving Jabulani. The Scot was a keen sportsman. He was a regular on the golf course, an accomplished cricketer who once claimed the wicket of legendary beard-wearer, WG Grace and even found time to spend some time in goals for Portsmouth Association Football Club. The club – who have no connection with the current Portsmouth FC (although we’re not sure who’d be more embarrassed by the association over a century later) – eventually collapsed in 1894 and Conan Doyle went on to concentrate on his swing – both of the golf variety and the cricket variety. It’s a shame he’s not around these days as it would seem only Holmes and Watson could unravel the mystery of why England can’t produce a reliable keeper.