The Art of Goalkeeping

The Art of Goalkeeping

I’m standing in a puddle. In the pouring rain. And there is a man in front of me screaming his head off. At me. And I don’t even know him. The problem? Well, it’s a little tricky to make out what he’s actually trying to communicate, due not so much to the howling wind and torrential downpour, but more to his apparent desire to ignore the claims for inclusion of any potential second syllable attempting to force their way into his diatribe.

But I think I’ve got what he’s saying now. I didn’t throw myself on the ground, at the feet of the onrushing attacker, in a bid to smother the ball, and therefore stop the attack.

For I am a goalkeeper, and that is my job. Or rather, in this instance: ‘YOU’RE THE BLOODY KEEPER, THAT’S YOUR BLOODY JOB!’

Right. Thanks. Got it. Could I just explain?…

In truth, you know, I’m not actually that bad at being a keeper. Especially the 13-year-old version of myself, about whom this wrath-filled tale is told.

Indeed, back in 1984, around the youth leagues of the home counties, I was even considered – in hindsight somewhat erroneously, admittedly – to have the potential to be the ‘next big thing’. I was agile, alert with great anticipation, apparently. A good catcher, and an even better shot-stopper, with a quickly-growing reputation. And fearless. Utterly fearless. Except when it came to asking out girls. But that’s another story.

I remember standing in my over-sized goal, illegally using my boot to scrape out the parallel points of the posts on my six-yard box (because I’d seen Peter Shilton do it on the telly), screaming at my back four. Move here, pass there, stay back, go up. I really gave them a hard time. But because I was good, it would always be OK. They’d do as I barked, knowing that if they didn’t it would come back to bite them. My screaming served a purpose. Unlike that of this man, tearing a strip off me now in the rain. But unfortunately for me this man is not just a man. He’s a coach. A Brentford coach. And he’s running this training session at the Third Division club. And, as I mentioned, he’s not happy.

I’m training here because word had apparently reached west London that I was worth having a look at. Through a twist of fate, I had become the goalkeeper of a decidedly-average team – perfect for a young keeper in search of plenty of action, the environment in which to improve and the chance, dare I dreamt, to be noticed.

And now I’ve hit the big time! At Brentford, in the rain on a cold midweek night, being screamed at by a coach so furious you would have thought his side was on the brink of relegation to Division Four (which a quick look at Wikipedia reminds me they were, so, admittedly, he probably did have a bit on his mind…). I’m just looking at him, stunned more by the ignorance and stupidity of his outburst against this unknown 13-year-old boy than its magnitude and ferociousness. Perhaps if I just explain. ‘But we’re in a car park, playing on gravel, and I’m wearing shorts as you said this would be on grass,’ I finally attempt to counter.

‘My knees are already cut to shreds… and, anyway, the striker had already handballed it, and the other coach had blown his whistle.’

Now, I can’t remember the dialogue which followed, but I do know that was the end of me training at Brentford. Apparently I didn’t have what it takes to be a goalkeeper. And who did I think I was answering back?

I still have a scar on my wrist from that day, albeit one imprinted for life after I fell off my bike a few weeks later (cycling with no hands while drinking a can of Top Deck was never going to work out well, was it?). In truth, I was never going to make it anyway. Good as I was, there were probably plenty better, and no manager has ever fallen in love with a goalkeeper who would stop growing a few years later at a frustrating 5ft 11in.

And while shouting at a kid drenched with rain and nursing two blood-soaked knees sounds bad and even cruel, such behaviour could just about be put down to one of those regrettable moments, that, as we mature, we come to accept can happen.

But ignorance of a goalkeeper’s art by a coach, holding your future in his hands, with no idea of what it takes to stand between the sticks? Now that really makes me scream...

This article was first published in Pickles issue 7, 2013. To purchase the new issue or check out the latest Pickles gear, head to our webshop.

Words by Richard Copeman
Illustration by Peter Ryan