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The Outsider: A History of the Goalkeeper – Jonathan Wilson

20 Jun

Shoe‘Aloof, solitary, impassive, the crack goalie is followed in the streets by entranced small boys. He vies with the matador and the flying aces, an object of thrilled adulation. He is the lone eagle, the man of mystery, the last defender.’  It’s safe to say the goalkeeper hasn’t always been a team player. In THE OUTSIDER, Jonathan Wilson traces the sometimes dangerous intellectual and literary preoccupations of the keeper, and looks at how the position has secured a certain existential cool, as well as taking a deep tactical and technical look at the history of goalkeeping. There has been the odd, minor work on goalkeeping in the past, but nothing like this in scope or depth.

Whether you are a sports fan or not, the complex thoughts of your fellow humans are a thing of intrigue.  The psychology of the person who wishes to take on the least thankful position in a football team – or in any role – is always going to fascinate and need a deeper understanding.

The Goalkeeper is the lonely man on the team,  who spends more time waiting to be involved than anything, blamed when things go wrong and given less credit than he deserves when things go right…it is no wonder that people back in the annals of football assumed that anybody wishing to keep goal was either ‘mad or queer’.  This perception of goalkeepers has held on down the ages, do these people really conform or are they a different breed all together?

Albert Camus, Vladimir Nabakov, Pope John Paul II, Evelyn Waugh, Arthur Conan Doyle and Niels Bohr (won the Nobel Prize in physics) were all goalkeepers which perhaps underlines how interesting the position can be and perhaps also inspires intelligent thought.  I should add that Sylvester Stallone in Escape to Victory is perhaps the most awkward goalkeeper ever but it is worth a watch as a decent film in its own right..

Wilson’s choice history of the goalkeeper is a fascinating look into not only an evolving sport but also a position that is a lot more complex then just stopping the ball go in.  Within the books pages is chronicled a look at the progression of the body shape and technique of ‘keeping as well as what cultural differences have contributed to positional techniques and so on.

I quickly learned that the ball never came to where you expected it.  This helped me in life, above all in the metropolis where people are not wholly straight forward – Albert Camus

Far from being separate, the ‘keeper is both the first line of attack and last line of defence.  He/she inhabits a philosophically interesting position, is seen as a complex thinker whose introverted thoughts and character match his literal and metaphorical position.  My chosen position was always a left winger somewhat bizarrely and disappointingly.

There are interesting insights for the fan into pre and post world wars as well, as the mistakes that defined a goalkeepers career, no matter how well they did for the rest of their careers.  The feeling of rivalry for the single position in the team has given to some great battles and whilst not all the great ‘keepers are mentioned the selected players and their careers (for both club and national teams) are a great mix and prime examples of why the position is so fascinating.

With any football book, it is always going to be something of an acquired taste but if you have seen a game or two then it is something that could interest you.  Not only does it inform about how the game has changed over the years but gives some great anecdotes about the sport in general and perhaps gives a wider understanding into sports psychology and the complexities of solitude.

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45 Comments

Posted by on 20/06/2014 in Sport

 

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45 responses to “The Outsider: A History of the Goalkeeper – Jonathan Wilson

  1. Alastair Savage

    20/06/2014 at 16:23

    Sounds fun. There was also a book last year about Bert Trautmann, the German POW in Britain after the war who went on to become a Man City legend and fan favourite.
    I never liked being in goal although everyone has to take a turn if you play ‘three and in’.
    I like Camus a lot too. I wonder if he kept goal with a ciggie in his mouth, as per his classic author photo?

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    • Ste J

      20/06/2014 at 16:36

      Trautmann is mentioned in this book as well, I never did get around to reading that book though. Being in goal was always nice in summer but in winter I hated the mud and the rain and all that. I can imagine Camus doing just that…I think I need some sort of affectation as well, to make me look eccentric.

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  2. Bumba

    20/06/2014 at 16:25

    An apt review, coinciding with the World Cup (too bad about the English team. Go Uruguay!).

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    • Ste J

      20/06/2014 at 16:33

      I thought it would bump up my stats and create a bit of a world cup theme, there will be another one next week sometime. We were terrible yesterday, we didn’t want it and deserved to lose. I was a little miffed with all the over dramatic injuries and such but as ever the optimist in me says we can still get through.

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      • Bumba

        20/06/2014 at 16:40

        I think the English should keep an eye on that Suarez guy.

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        • Ste J

          20/06/2014 at 16:46

          Real Madrid will nab him for 70 million before the summer is out no doubt.

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  3. Tom Gething

    20/06/2014 at 23:58

    The perfect read for World Cup. I didn’t know so many famous people were goalkeepers. I read an interesting article about Tim Howard in the New Yorker a few years ago talking about his disability. I think he’s either dyslexic or ADD. But it kind of fits based on this.

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    • Ste J

      22/06/2014 at 14:37

      I suppose with all the time on their hands goalkeeping became the thinking man’s position so it helped them develop intellectually as well as sportingly…Howard is one of those ‘keepers you never hear about but always seems to do a good job, I think he has Tourette’s so to be able to keep the tics and whatever under control during pressure moments is a big deal and makes me respect the guy even more.

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      • Tom Gething

        22/06/2014 at 19:33

        That’s right. Tourette’s. And yes, it impresses me all the more. Keep your fingers crossed for him. Tough match against Portugal today…

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        • Ste J

          23/06/2014 at 13:39

          Gutted that you let that match slip through your grasp mate…still it’s in your hands now, who are these upstart Germany anyway?

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          • Tom Gething

            26/06/2014 at 03:10

            I know. I was depressed the next day. So close, but that’s football. Germany will be tough we a need a draw if not a win!

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            • Ste J

              26/06/2014 at 13:44

              As ever I shall be following closely, as long as Portugal go home I will be happy. with this World Cup though anything is likely…Germaany don’t seem half as imposing as they did in their first match so I will be rooting.

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  4. gargoylebruce

    21/06/2014 at 02:12

    Why do they have to wear different coloured shirts from the rest of the team? Wouldn’t it make more sense for them to be camouflaged, so the other team’s kicker can’t pick out exactly where they are from a mile off?

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    • Ste J

      22/06/2014 at 14:26

      That would be a clever way to do it, although the referee would be duped many times a game…I remember Manchester United players complaining that that their new grey kit rendered them invisible against the crowd, so they only wore it for 45 minutes, then it was retired.

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  5. RoSy

    21/06/2014 at 05:13

    “…The Goalkeeper is the lonely man on the team, who spends more time waiting to be involved than anything, …”
    One of my daughters was a goal keeper for lacrosse this past season. When I read that part of your post – I knew exactly what you meant.

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    • Ste J

      22/06/2014 at 14:29

      It is a noble position but one which demands total concentration even though the action is often away from them. That is perhaps why the intellectuals gravitate to that…I’ll review your daughter’s book when she written it!

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  6. Letizia

    21/06/2014 at 13:09

    What a wonderfully written review. Love the list of people who were goalies! Am tempted to buy this for my father.

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    • Ste J

      22/06/2014 at 14:14

      I am set to review another book by the same author as well, later in the week, so perhaps I can tempt you into buying both and having a flick through. A lot of footballers are seen as a bit dense so his is one for the naysayers. As ever I was not happy with my review but posted it in a huff, knowing I could do better…so it means a lot that you like it. My perfectionist ways do nothing for my blood pressure.

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      • Letizia

        22/06/2014 at 15:02

        We’re often our toughest critics, aren’t we? As you know, I’m a big fan of your writing style and perspective so always just go with your gut.

        I was telling my father about your review and the famous men who were goalies as we were watching the Ghana-Germany match yesterday. It’s fun to think who was a goalie and why. Personally, I could see myself in midfield. And you, what position would you play if you were playing for the England team?

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        • Ste J

          22/06/2014 at 15:10

          I used to play left wing, I had a good turn of speed but not the best ball control so I would be up and down the wind attacking and defending and generally impressing with my stamina. I could see you as a creative midfielder, a reader of the game setting up all the attacking moves.

          I will make sure I get at least three more football books in the next few weeks, more if I can find the packed away books thaty still need to be sifted through. If I didn’t have such awesome support and inspiration, I probably would have packed up years ago and hidden in a book like the big sulk I could have become…it’s better here..I like the whimsy and smiley people.

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          • Letizia

            22/06/2014 at 15:31

            “a creative midfielder, a reader of the game setting up all the attacking moves” That’s one of the best compliments I’ve received in a while! I will be thinking of that all day. You’ve given me a little extra spring in my step!

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            • Ste J

              22/06/2014 at 15:35

              That spring will help for all those headers you will win. Perhaps football metaphors are a source of potential chat up lines, I smell a novelty book for the European Championships in two years time!

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  7. anna amundsen

    21/06/2014 at 18:41

    Goalkeeper was usually my favorite player in a team. It was a long time ago I watched football regularly. When Oliver Kahn was one of the best!
    And, I remember I once played some football in primary school and was guarding the goal.. It was both fun and scary..

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    • Ste J

      22/06/2014 at 14:16

      Oliver Kahn was a colossus, one of the great modern ‘keepers who refused to allow his name to be used in a computer game once, there were 11,000 players or so in it and he was the only one to refuse his name being in it. Random fact for you there.

      I liked to be a keeper when it was dry as diving around is fun…a simple save would always turn into a dramatic leap and roll, haha.

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      • anna amundsen

        28/06/2014 at 09:17

        So, basically, he said: ‘Nobody will play me!’ haha
        Of course, you have to create your own drama because as a keeper you often don’t get as much of it as other players – always bumping on each other, stealing the ball, pulling shirts (or shorts), faking injuries etc..

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        • Ste J

          28/06/2014 at 16:48

          Pulling shorts? I can see you what type of ‘keeper you were…perhaps if you also sold belts that would have been a cunning way to sell a few…

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          • anna amundsen

            04/07/2014 at 18:14

            No, no! You misunderstood me 😀
            I was talking about the things – pulling, bumping on, faking, etc., the ‘drama’ that is happening to other players, not the keeper..

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            • Ste J

              04/07/2014 at 19:41

              Ah I see, yes it is all a bit ridiculous with those outfielders…’keepers are perhaps the maturest of players as well. I have been impressed with Manuel neuer at the moment playing as a sweeper…

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              • anna amundsen

                04/07/2014 at 19:59

                Nothing less than exciting!, I must say – I love versatile, capable people.

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                • Ste J

                  04/07/2014 at 20:23

                  I can stand on one foot and read, that’s how good I can be.

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                  • anna amundsen

                    04/07/2014 at 20:26

                    Hah! I bet you can drink or eat at the same time!

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                    • Ste J

                      04/07/2014 at 20:31

                      I like to be different!

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                    • anna amundsen

                      04/07/2014 at 20:35

                      You mean you can’t help it!

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                    • Ste J

                      04/07/2014 at 20:37

                      I blame it on my obsessive need to be the centre of attention…hence the neon green afro!

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                    • anna amundsen

                      04/07/2014 at 20:44

                      Aaah, yes.. I’ve long wondered why you have it.

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  8. N@ncy

    22/06/2014 at 09:01

    Oh, what a great choice of book during the World Championship Soccer in Brazil! I’ve been glued to the TV watching the cracks in the mighty German team against Ghana and of course our terriffic (v. Persie, Robben and 20 yr Memphis Depay!) Dutch team! The goalkeeper…..he is often “the man of the match’!

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    • Ste J

      22/06/2014 at 14:19

      Welcome to the blog, I have a few more sports themed books coming up in a the next few weeks, in amongst all my usual stuff. It has been a great tournament so far, seeing the young Feyenoord players get recognition from the wider world is great…I have followed the team with great interest since they took to the youth policy, it’s standing them in good stead. I think the world thanks you, well most of it for the decimation of Spain, I mean we were prepared for a good game but wow!

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      • N@ncy

        22/06/2014 at 15:09

        Wow is right…..the country was in shock after that game. Remembering the defeat in the final 2010 against Spain….the Dutch were in agreement: “revenge is a dish best served cold.” Next stop Chili!

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        • Ste J

          22/06/2014 at 15:12

          Haha, I enjoyed your pun so much I coughed up my coffee, which is perhaps how it got its name…I look forward to the next round with anticipation, although a little less after England’s utterly pathetic showing against Uruguay.

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  9. LuAnn

    22/06/2014 at 19:46

    Excellent review Ste J. I am not the most avid sports fan but once you enticed me with the list of goalies I think I will give this one a go. 🙂

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    • Ste J

      23/06/2014 at 13:46

      It does have some interesting insights into history and the attitudes of the time…there are some real characters in its pages and of course it adds another layer to the matches when you watch them as I am sure you will be an avid fan from now on!

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      • LuAnn

        23/06/2014 at 17:25

        The most avid fan, to be sure! 😀

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  10. Sherri

    23/06/2014 at 09:32

    You know I would find this a fascinating read for the psychology behind it. I know my boys would love reading this too. You are opening up my world Ste J, as one who is not a football fan, yet I’ve often thought about the goalie and what it must be like…
    PS Sorry about the World Cup…

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    • Ste J

      23/06/2014 at 13:36

      It is a strange thing this World Cup, we didn’t expect to get anywhere, had one decent game, thought we were good for the quarter finals and once again life happens…it will be good experience for the Euros in two years time though, perhaps then the hopes will be justified.

      I am glad I can entice you into something you perhaps wouldn’t have tackled before, I am hoping to keep it up when i post the next review…when I decide which one to do.

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