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Is being a keeper the hardest position on the field?

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Jim Spence | 14:10 UK time, Sunday, 22 January 2012

Neil Lennon, talking of his keeper Fraser Forster, said: "Good goalkeepers are hard to find and we feel as if he has great potential to go on and become a great goalkeeper."

It led me to ponder the question, is being a keeper the hardest position on the field?

I would argue 'yes'.

The vast bulk of managers, players, fans and even journalists, have some experience, at whatever level, of playing football.

But very few have experience between the posts.

Andy Goram enjoyed a fine career as a goalkeeper yet was under six-foot tall. Photo: SNS

Andy Goram enjoyed a fine career as a goalkeeper yet was under six-foot tall. Photo: SNS

Scarcely a manager in Scotland has been a goalkeeper, hence the reason for employing specialist goalie coaches.

So who can truly judge, with genuine expertise, the man for whom one mistake between the sticks can be fatal?

Dunfermline keeper Chris Smith has had a bad run in recent weeks, but the very position he plays in has amplified his errors.

Strikers miss chances, midfielders miss passes and defenders miss tackles, but very few of those will have the instant and dramatically game-changing effects of a goalkeeping howler.

It goes without saying that good keepers need athletic flexibility, bravery, the ability to judge angles and great reflexes.

All of them, though, require more than anything, the great mental strength to recover quickly from the mistakes which can befall them and which have consequences more dramatic than any outfield player is liable to suffer.

By the very nature of being the last line of defence, the pressures on a keeper are unique.

A particular set of skills is called for, including an inner strength.

Many insist that a keeper needs presence.

Usually that is code for being around 6ft 4in and built like Steven Segal.

That, in my book, is nonsense.

The top keepers in the last 25 years in Scotland have been Andy Goram, Stefan Klos and Jim Leighton.

Goram never touched 5ft 11in his socks, Klos just made 6ft and Leighton was never in danger of concussion from hitting his head off the underside of the bar.

All three, though, exuded capability and confidence, along with the ability to remain unflustered and in command in pressure situations.

All were confident enough in their own skins to hold their line and refuse to come for balls in a reckless fashion, which could be better dealt with by defenders.

In England Brad Friedel and Shay Given are two prime examples of top-class custodians.

Age seems to be an important factor too in improving goalkeepers.

The top men are now seeing careers which allow them to play to 40 and perhaps beyond.

It's a great joy to watch all players perform their art at the highest level.

The meandering Lionel Messi on a mesmerising run is a thing of beauty.

The thrill of a Cristiano Ronaldo free kick swirling and twisting into the top corner of the net is a moment of magic.

But matching both in its own unique and special way is the craft and artistry of the great men who guard the nets.


  • Comment number 1.

    Boruc was mecurial. But he was one of the best from 05-06 thru 07-08. He called by many, following his Euro 2008 performance, one of the top 5 in the world

  • Comment number 2.

    Still no blog on Rangers impending bankruptcy

  • Comment number 3.

    Big gap between blogs again Jim, this is not the way to maintain and retain interest
    is it?
    Either the Beeb wishes to drop it or you're losing interest in what is the only forum of it's kind on Scottish football.

  • Comment number 4.

    As for this subject; In many ways the answer has to be yes.
    No other position is as isolated with so little opportunity to make amends for any mistakes or can be so costly when it comes to winning/losing matches.
    Keepers also have to maintain concentration at a high level even when not involved in the game.
    There has never been a great team that didn't have a good goalkeeper.

    Not sure that you're right about the height issue though. Just as outfield players are bigger and stronger it surely follows that keepers also need to be able to dominate their areas whcih is easier if you're as big as they are.

  • Comment number 5.

    And then the party lifestyle took over!

    There is no interest in the OF on this blog and there are bigger issues in Scottish football then them! If you give me a couple of years I'll try and remember some football moments for you that will justify this assertion!!

    You get more Scottish fans commenting now on the English blogs and its not surprising. This used to be a lively forum but has slipped into deadzone.

  • Comment number 6.

    Many goalies used to be referred to as 'characters' - i.e You had to have a screw or two loose to want to be one! Very few in the modern game could be classed as such. I don't think you can compare the likes of Hamish MacAlpine or Andy Goram for example with some of the current custodians, who can best be described as functional! Indeed who can forget Hamish being the Dundee Utd penalty taker at times! Madness really! Similarly there were the likes of Grobbelar who really added colour to the game. Now all the free thinking that made them great - goalies as well as characters - has been drilled out of them!

  • Comment number 7.

    #2 read this sidebar: jim's blog is about life BEYOND the old firm. get it? write to the bbc and ask that chic or someone else write about the bankruptcy, but don't waste space here.

  • Comment number 8.

    Thats why next to nobody comments on anything on this blog and you are better off on the English blogs where the OF are discussed.

    Get it?

  • Comment number 9.

    your wrong there plenty of people that don't think scottish football begins & ends with the of

  • Comment number 10.

    #7 The blog is about Scottish football and that includes OF.
    You don't have to like them but they're there and without them Scottish
    football would be the poorer.

    #5 I agree that the standard has dropped and that's a shame as it was a good
    All it needs is more regular appearances and a longer debating time, it's up to
    BBC to make it happen.

  • Comment number 11.

    Hardest position in the world is that of a Keeper bought for big money, to replace a legend, behing a back-4 that;'s not as good as it was and when you can't speak the language - step forward Snr. De Gea.

    But seriously the pressure is immense - Forster or McGregor know that most seasons there is a potential in the end for the OF to be seperated by goal difference and if you're a keeper at Hearts, 'Well, Dundee Utd then getting into Europe and the potential for a break of the stranglehold of the OF rests on your performance given the relative lack of regular goals/winning runs.

  • Comment number 12.

    Goalkeeping is easier when you're tall (catching crosses) in some ways but more difficult in others (diving low) although both depend entirely on agility and anticipation and a keeper can be great at winning balls in the air but a terrible shot stopper and vice-versa although most top-flight keepers in any league are at the very least decent at both.

    IMO having a "presence" is a combination between communication skills (in organising and instructing your defence) and commanding your area by being first to the ball in open play when necessary, winning balls in the air and making attackers think twice about sticking their head on the ball lest they end up headbutting your fist.

    I feel for keepers. It's true their mistakes are never forgotten when a team loses a game compared to e.g. strikers who need to make enormous and shocking misses in important games to be remembered (Iwelumo vs. Norway, Samaras penalty etc.) A keeper can have an outstanding game and make 10 great saves to keep their side in it but make a mistake costing a team points and be slated, while a striker can miss 10 glorious opportunities but score one and be the hero. Enormous pressure on them which is way too often overlooked and underestimated.

  • Comment number 13.

    Klos was great but I'd say Gordon and McGregor are the goalies who've blessed the SPL with the most spectacular saves in the past few years. Their Jedi-like reaction stops can be as entertaining as the best strikers efforts. Worth youtubing for sure!

  • Comment number 14.

    If it's best keepers of the last 25 years, then surely Snelders and Gordon deserve a mention too?

  • Comment number 15.

    jim yer blog like the gemme is gawn doon the pan. what a subject even the slaver has no lead in his pencil for this one !!! suggest employee benefit trusts and their place in a football club. a compliance officer called loony !! planet regan and doncaster. falling national and club co-efficients. the farce of trying to pay to get in for the walk up fan.......... burning issues all to try and save our national game !!!!!

  • Comment number 16.

    Stunned you didn't include Craig Gordon & Antti Niemi Jim, 2 of the best keepers I've ever seen, and better than Leighton AND Goram.

  • Comment number 17.

    #15 Good points, all of which should make for interesting debate.
    Time we had a comment from Jim.

  • Comment number 18.

    In football you build from the back, a good goalkeeper is the foundation for any team to build upon. Take a competition such as the World Cup, every winner usually has a great goalkeeper.

    There are ten outfielders, so mistakes may be apportioned among many if a mistake is made higher up the pitch. There is only one goalkeeper; the last line of defence; the only one who should be able to see everything on the football park; the one who takes the most blame if he makes a mistake.

  • Comment number 19.


    I have a deal of sympathy for Jim morbhoy. His raison d'etre is outwith the OF yet he gets slaughtered for raising threads that ignore both. It is for the BBC to introduce other columnists who will satisfy OF contributors.

    It is unfortunate that Jim covered this topic in the recent past so I feel unable to add to my comments made the last time keepers were the focus.

    I agree entirely that he is not helped by the very short response window that the BBC have recently imposed. It gives him little chance to participate which kills debate.

  • Comment number 20.

    I agree the goalkeeper is the hardest position on the pitch.Scotland has had their share of disasters though in this position..... Jim Leighton was useless as an international

    Best Scottish keeper was Bob Wilson ..... guess where he was born ??

    Brown is not bad but not world class !

  • Comment number 21.

    guess he was only sharpening the pencil !!!! guess if u look up slaford in the oENGLISHd it will say educated, learned,academic,clever. guess if you look up tom it might say not very. Bob Wilson he certainly racked up the caps Tom !!!! Never forget the night Tom when Motty declared u couldnt have a better man than a 40 something shiltz to keep gerry out in the pen kicks. we were all in stitches up here as he kept missing the thing on the way back out the net !!!!

  • Comment number 22.

    Ah Sally is back! To be fair, I think England have had an even longer list of disasters between the sticks...

  • Comment number 23.

    The biggest problem with being a goalkeeper is that unlike everyone else in your team, any mistakes that you may make end up being absolutely critical,
    The defenders have the goalkeeper to cover for their mistakes, the midfielders have the defence and the goalie, and the strikers that miss a chance will have a chance to score again soon enough.

    Plus the fact they need specialised training which keeps them apart from the team during the usual training sessions, then are again apart from the main passages of play during the game mean that goalies are always slightly on their own even though possibly the most vital members of the team.

  • Comment number 24.

    Depends on what "hardest" position means to you. If it means the most difficult position to play in terms of genuine quality as a footballer, and your skill-set, then goalkeeper is the easiest position on the pitch IMO. If it means that your mistakes have the biggest impact on the game however, then arguably it is the most difficult. However I would not have thought that was the obvious definition.

    In terms of requiring "athletic flexibility, bravery, the ability to judge angles and great reflexes" and mental strength, these are attributes that all footballers require. A number of goalkeepers start out as strikers, don't make it, and then become keepers with a well-developed instinct for how a striker thinks on the pitch, making it easier to anticipate what corner they decide to shoot to etc.

    Some extremely subjective view on the best goalkeepers from others, but I think it's difficult to argue with the 3 Jim has mentioned as being the best. Their careers are the obvious proof of that.

  • Comment number 25.

    Strange isn't it how when we were all small it was the worst players who got picked last who were always dumped in goal and yet that is probably one of the most vital positions in the team.
    If you're playing outfield there are others around you to help and cover for your mistakes but goalkeepers have to be alert at all times, read the game, make instant judgements and see their mistakes replayed countless times on TV, You tube, etc..

    I remember Gary Sprakes played for Leeds and let a simple catch slip through his hands, probably because he was looking to see where he was going to throw the ball.
    This blooper formed part of the opening credits of the ITV Sunday football programme introduced by Brian Moore for years, must have driven Sprake mad.

    Personally I can't imagine why anyone would want to be a keeper, either you're unemployed for ages or it's never ending and it's always your fault !!

    Been lots of good goalkeepers over the years but never rated Leighton, too small and slight. Have to admit though, for a man who had no teeth and couldn't see he didn't have a bad career !!

  • Comment number 26.

    Leighton is a legend if only for his trademark slide when taking goal-kicks! One of those keepers who could be brilliant on some days and poor on others.

    I suppose his crucial mistake in WE90 against Brazil sums up Jim's blog really. Not the hardest position IMO, but certainly any mistakes will have the biggest impact.

  • Comment number 27.

    The best teams have always been strong through the middle, Goalkeeper / Centre Half / Centre Forward.
    Having a good keeper does fill the team with confidence and allows them to play a few yards further upfield. Keeps the fans happy as well.

    I suppose at the end of the day, every player in every position is as valuable as the next, it is a team game after all !!

  • Comment number 28.

    bhoy o bhoy o bhoy ......

    The goalkeepers IS the hardest postion on the pitch

    Aye goalkeeper for Scotland is definitely the toughest position ... you defend as a team what chance has the poor goalie ??? ... nae chance that is why you have not qualified since 1998!

  • Comment number 29.

    AYE,NAE !!!!!?????
    Can you no speak english?????????


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