Goalkeepers, to quote the great Brian Glanville, are different, and this is a theory which expands far beyond the mere otherness of their stock in trade. To define the goalkeeper as the sort of person who may – thanks, John Burridge, thanks a lot – may hang a metaphorical “You don’t have to be mad to work here but it helps” sign in the netting of their goal covers only one aspect of the lot of their job. Goalkeepers are the only people on the pitch who spend most of their match standing around doing very little apart from shouting and treading down imaginary divots in the grass and they are, of course, the only ones that are legally allowed to use their hands, but we are not concerning ourselves with such trifling matters here. Goalkeepers dress differently, and they have done since an amendment to the laws of the game in 1909 made them wear shirts that were either red or royal blue, with green being added as a third option three years later.
Of late, however, we have come to note a certain sloppiness in goalkeeping attire. Standards are slipping, whether in terms of how ridiculous a goalkeeper looks – and one of the basic, fundamental rules of football is that the goalkeeping position is the most thankless task that any player can take, up to and including the way in which they dress – or through offering them too much protection against the rough and rumble of the modern game. With this in mind, and in the full knowledge that what is to follow is a list which not only betrays the age of the author but also the ongoing psychosis that he endured through having to dress like this in school football matches during the middle of the 1980s, we present a list of rules which all goalkeepers should adhere to, in order to bring back a little sartorial elegance to the player whose main job is to stare into the middle distance for long periods, occasionally spit, and shout almost incomprehensible obscenities at defenders who aren’t listening to him in the first place.
1. Thou shalt wear a green jersey: As mentioned above, green wasn’t the original choice of those that came up with the rules of the game more than one hundred years ago, but it was soon popularised once it was allowed because so few clubs had green as their colours. Since the middle of the 1980s, however, the marketing rush that has overtaken all of football has come to affect goalkeepers as well and goalkeepers now turn out dressed in all the colours of the rainbow (and sometimes all at the same time, as demonstrated here by David Seaman.) The only exceptions to this rule apply to the goalkeepers of clubs whose colours mainly contain green, as well as the England and Scotland national team goalkeepers, who should wear yellow, and whoever is lucky enough to play in goal for Brazil or Italy, who should wear grey or, at a push, silver.
2. Thou shalt wear the same shorts and socks as thy team-mates: Quite where the idea that goalkeepers should have a completely separate kit in a completely different design to the rest of the team came from is unknown, but we could hazard a guess that it started in the marketing department of a sportswear firm somewhere. Small wonder, we might ponder, that so many goalkeepers suffer from some degree of existential crisis or other, when they look to all intents and purposes as if they don’t wear any part of the same kit as the rest of their team. Consider this picture of the former Spurs and Arsenal goalkeeper Pat Jennings, for example. This picture was taken while Jennings was playing for Arsenal, and he looks like a part of the Arsenal team, even in black and white. And at the risk of being presumptuous, it seems unlikely that he was ever the victim of an existential crisis.
3. Thou shalt only wear pads on thy elbows, and perhaps on the side of thy shorts: We here at 200% are not rigid believers in the somewhat tired belief of some that football is a ‘man’s game’, but the increasing amount of body armour being worn by goalkeepers over the last two decades is a clear cause for concern. This trend, which reached its logical conclusion with Petr Cech’s penchant for something approaching a crash helmet, might even be regarded as a form of passive- aggression. Considering that the minimum height for a goalkeeper seems to be about 6’5 these days, we believe that they can cope without extra padding for their forearms and shoulders.
4. Thou shalt wear the number one shirt, and only the number one shirt: There are plenty of reasons to dislike the fact that squad numbers have permeated the club game, not least the fact that the less orthodox numbering used in major tournaments no longer has any rarity value. Numbered shirts for players didn’t become compulsory in England until 1939 (they were first used in the 1933 FA Cup final between Everton and Manchester City, and yes, the City goalkeeper wore the number 22 shirt, but we can put this down to failed experimentation, much as Oscar the Grouch was yellow rather than green in the first series of Sesame Street), and the convention of the goalkeeper wearing the number one shirt took hold almost immediately. The squad-style numbering of players’ shirts, however, was limited to the World Cup finals, though even then the first choice goalkeeper would usually be given the number one shirt, although there were notable exceptions in the 1970s when Jan Jongbloed of the Netherlands wore the number eight shirt at the 1974 and 1978 World Cup finals and in the 1978 Argentina team, in which players wore shirts that were numbered alphabetically and the first choice goalkeeper, Ubaldo Fillol of River Plate, wore the number five shirt. There are, however, a clutch of goalkeepers who now presumably choose to wear a shirt other than the number one shirt – Everton’s Tim Howard and Liverpool’s Pepe Reina, for example – while two clubs in this year’s Premier League, Sunderland and Wigan Athletic. Purists might argue that they should be forced to played the rest the season without a goalkeeper.
5. Thou shalt only wear tracksuit trousers if the pitch is frozen solid: These days, a combination of undersoil heating and a greater propensity on the part of officials to call matches off if the weather is bad means that the days of playing matches on pitches that are frozen (such as this 1985 FA Cup match between York City and Arsenal) are largely behind us. So what is the rationale behind goalkeepers who insist on wearing tracksuit trousers in all weathers? It can’t be because they get cold, surely. Indeed, goalkeepers might even suffer as a result of wearing tracksuit trousers. The story of the only goal of the 1927 FA Cup final, in which a shot which squeezed through the Arsenal goalkeeper Dan Lewis to take the cup to Cardiff was subsequently blamed upon an unwashed and slippery shirt that Lewis was wearing, is well known, but we should also take a moment to consider this career-defining moment
from the former Manchester United goalkeeper Massimo Taibi in which a shot that passed under the unfortunate player might even have picked up speed as a result of rubbing against the material covering his legs. And as for this guy, well, words fail us.
6. If thou has to wear tracksuit trousers, thou shalt wear shorts over the top of them: If matches being played on frozen pitches are becoming a thing of the past, then artificial pitches might yet be due a comeback. The new generation of artificial pitches are starting, albeit slowly, to become accepted at lower levels of the game and they might well become more commonplace in the future. Whilst these pitches are considerably better than those that appeared at such grounds as Loftus Road, Kenilworth Road and Deepdale during the 1980s, football’s equivalent of carpet burns remain a potential hazard for goalkeepers. If we are to concede, then, that goalkeepers should be allowed to wear tracksuit trousers, though, we should add clauses. During the late 1970s and early 1980s, it became briefly fashionable for goalkeepers in inclement conditions to wear their teams’ shorts over the top of their tracksuit trousers. It’s a strong look, and should be encouraged for all goalkeepers who have to wear tracksuit trousers.
7. If the sun is shining, thou shalt wear a peaked cap which may have been designed for another sport altogether: Perhaps the loss of open terraces means that goalkeepers seldom get the sun shining directly in their eyes, and it is perhaps a reflection on the skill set of the goalkeeper that so few goals have ever seemed to come about because they have lost the ball in the sun. On rare occasions, however, goalkeepers do still need a little protection for their eyes and in this event they have usually had to find what they can in order to blot the sun out. Perhaps a rule could be introduced which requires a single baseball cap to be hidden in a cupboard somewhere in the deepest inner sanctums of each stadium for the goalkeeper to find in the event of the sun shining too brightly.
8. Thy gloves should not be reinforced with strips of metal: The question of where the dividing line should be drawn between man and machine may become a hot topic over the next couple of hundred years or so and perhaps, just perhaps, we are entering into the infancy of this date by pointing out our objection to the strips of metal which sit inside many goalkeepers gloves in order to reinforce their fingers these days. Perhaps in the days when a match ball would quickly take on the weight and consistency of a medicine ball, there was a reason for a little assistance for the fingers, but these days (and it is instructive, perhaps, that when that beach ball goal for Sunderland beat Pepe Reina a couple of years ago the goalkeeper didn’t seem able to tell the difference between a beach ball and the match ball) there is little need for this extra protection. Goalkeepers gloves are worn to allow a little more purchase when attempting to catch the ball, and the introduction of, yes, innocuous looking strips of metal into gloves could be the thin end of the wedge. How long might it be before a club tries to send out a goalkeeper wearing an entire lightweight suit of armour, or sporting telescopic arms? You wouldn’t put it past Tony Pulis, would you? Best to nip this trend in the bud before it gets out of hand.
9. Thy sleeves should be long: Sartorial matters are of personal taste, of course, but surely we can all agree that short-sleeved goalkeepers shirts just long, well, wrong. They might be the fault of the Great Satan of goalkeepers Jorge Campos (other crimes to be taken into consideration – those wretched luminous all in one kits that looked like an irradiated set of pyjamas, insisting on taking free kicks and penalties, and so on), but they have never fully caught on in this country at least, thankfully. Well, not quite yet. Long may this state of affairs remain the case.
10. Thou shirt should be tucked into thy shorts: This one is for the goalkeepers themselves. No-one (in spite of what you’ve read above – you realise that this is all tongue in cheek, right?) is really going to tell you what you can and can’t wear. Okay, no-one apart from Sepp Blatter. But this is a matter of self-respect. Nothing on a football pitch says ‘I’ve given up’ quite like a goalkeeper with their shirt untucked. It’s a look that hints at a Saturday afternoon spent flailing around a penalty area in an unsuccessful attempt to stave off a post-match tirade from your manager. And here’s the thing – opposing strikers are like packs of wolves. They pick up on this sort of thing, as if by instinct, and they thrive upon it. So, keep your shirt tucked in, even you’re only twenty minutes in, three goals down and thankful that it’s not worse. Nothing says ‘you’ve beaten me’ like an untucked goalkeeper’s shirt. Don’t give them the satisfaction.
I know what you’re thinking. Amen, indeed.
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