Years ago, I wrote a book about goalkeepers and goalkeeping (Only the Goalkeeper To Beat, Macmillan, 1998) which was more about attitudes than about particular techniques. There was something of a boom in football writing in the UK after the publication of Pete Davies’ excellent book about the England team at the World Cup in Italy in 1990 (All Played Out, Heinemann, 1990) and I benefited from that.
I still think goalkeeping is a glorious sport-within-a-sport, and I still get into trouble for being wholly unable to restrain loud appreciation when the opposing goalkeeper does something fine. Goalkeeping remains under-appreciated, and as far as I am aware, under-discusssed. I write ‘as far as I’m aware’ because there may well be, for all I know, the most engaging blog somewhere devoted to goalkeeping, which I’ve simply missed. I come late to a pleasant blog called More Than Mind Games which may be a likely place to find good stuff.
Goalkeeping moves on, as all sport does. The great Edwin van der Sar is coming to the end of his career, and somehow, even though he’s not by any means disrespected, the levels of admiration are lower for him, as they always are for a goalkeeper than for even a tolerably gifted outfield player. It’s an odd imbalance whereby we persist in regarding goalkeepers as strange aliens within the game when they routinely have the most outstanding combination of athletic and intellectual abilities. You don’t get to hear of van der Sar behaving eccentrically, either. He is routinely described as a ‘model professional’. But no matter how sober the behaviour of goalkeeping leaders like him, the mythological wildness and madness persist. What an athlete. What a leader. What rare skills to excel at such a high level for so long. Edwin van der Sar, still playing faultlessly at 40 years old for Manchester United against hungry and determined top-class opposition every game. His record is like that of the great hurdler Ed Moses – it’s not just the longevity. It’s the unimpeachable quality.
When my book was about to come out, I asked it if it could have one of Roger Mayne’s pictures on the cover. Mayne is not so well known outside Britain, but he made in the late 1950s in West London a series of street photographs fully the equal of Helen Levitt or anybody else. One of the things that he was repeatedly drawn to was the informal street sport which was possible at the time before the motor car barged everybody out the way. “Has to be in colour to attract in a bookshop”, said one voice at my publisher. “Has to be a famous player to attract kids”, said another. No Roger Mayne on the front cover for me. I still got one of these onto the back cover, though, and when I had copies lying around, I always left them that side up.
Not many people really understand goalkeeping. Roger Mayne probably didn’t give it a moment’s thought as anything particular in its own right. But, as photographers sometimes do, he got pretty close to explaining all in a few glances. These are for Edwin van der Sar, with thanks.