‘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.