It has been another busy day. Duty requires me to remind you all again to vote for me, but this is largely an aside this evening. There are plenty of other things to get through tonight. Firstly, quick round up of what’s coming up. Following on from this, this, this and this, there’ll be another post of fabulous football music for you all to, well, “enjoy”. I also intend to take a look at why Celtic and Ranger haven’t exactly set the Champions League alight over the last fifteen years or so when they have repeatedly beaten English teams in said competition over the last few years, and the best and worst of players’ nicknames. Tonight, though… goalkeepers.
Goalkeepers, as Brian Glanville wisely observed, are different. This evening, I was having a conversation with Little Dotmund which set me to thinking about that most under-rated of football accessories: goalkeepers gloves. These days, technological innovations are all the rage. We argue endlessly about whether we should have cameras inside the ball, electronic goal-nets (which I’m sure that I saw once at the Parc Des Princes, but that’s for another occasion) and genetically modified referees with eyes in the backs of their heads, but we often overlook an accessory that has arguably had more effect than any other on the way that the game is played. Check any football video from before about 1955, and goalkeepers played the game differently. Even the greats of the era, the likes of Frank Swift, Ted Ditchburn and Bert Trautmann, looked like little more than outfield players in different coloured shirts. When they went down at a striker’s feet, they often went in feet, and blocked shots with their feet first too. There was, I guess, a reason for this. Asides from the likelihood of being shoulder-charged into the back of the net, the ball was big, and heavy. The use of gloves made goalkeepers more confident in using their hands, and the landscape of the game changed in a fairly seismic way.
You will perhaps be unsurprised to learn that the internet is pretty scarce on resources regarding The History Of Goalkeepers Gloves. Even the normally excellent Goalkeepers Are Different makes no reference to them at all, even though it has a whole page devoted to goalkeepers shirts. Therefore, I can only really offer conjecture on the subject. As late as the 1980s, some goalkeepers at the top level didn’t wear gloves unless the conditions were particularly inclement (Joe Corrigan is the one that I really recall doing this – but then he used to play with his sleeves rolled up too). It is possible to argue that gloves could constitute as much of a hindrance as anything else. In 1970, when Peter Bonetti demonstrated his Gordon Brown-esque levels of depth perception against West Germany, he was wearing puny grey cotton efforts that I can only assume must have made the ball enormously difficult to handle. Conversely, four years later, Sepp Maier’s gloves made his hands look like shovels. He may as well have had frying pans attached to his wrists. His hands were naturally large anyway, but the gloves emphasised the fact.
Technology has moved on. The last pair of goalkeepers gloves that I owned had metal spines running down the fingers to prevent them from bending back if the ball came towards you at high velocity. They did make me wonder whether, somehow, goalkeepers gloves had slipped under some sort of radar that bans technology in football. When you consider the arguments over video evidence and goal-line buzzers, and the way above in which I have claimed that goalkeeping has changed over the years, was there ever a FIFA meeting when this alarming new development was discussed for many years in a a smoke-filled room? Did the FA allow them to be introduced gradually, perhaps starting out with mittens? Has there ever been a goalkeeper that has insisted on gloves five times the size of his hands to block out more of the goal? Has a goalkeeper ever taken the pitch wearing boxing gloves? After all, the modern goalkeepers glove has more in common with a boxing glove than the lady’s glove style effort that The Hapless Peter Bonetti (and I say this with full knowledge of his long Chelsea career) wore on that fateful afternoon in Leon.