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July 3, 2012
“The goalkeeper is the lone eagle, the man of mystery, the last defender. Less the keeper of a goal than the keeper of a dream.” – Vladimir Nabokov
Goalkeepers traditionally wear Number 1 in their jerseys. It is not a coincidence. They occupy a very privileged but also potentially risky role in football. They defend the goal, and they face each and every member of the opposing team who want to put the ball in his/her net. One cool move by the goalkeeper can boost the confidence of the team or one silly mistake can bring the whole house down. No one on the field stands so equally close to being a hero or a fool. As, Emrah Serbes, a popular Turkish author, writes in one his short stories, while other players chase the ball, goalkeeper is the only one that stands against it.
It is no surpise that most eccentric football players also come out of goalkeepers. Think of Rene Higuita and his famous scorpion kick or Bruce Grobbelaar and his spaghetti legs (watch especially 4.56′).
The goalkeepers occupy a special place in female football as well. In Women’s World Cup 2011, US goalkeeper Hope Solo, considered the best female goalkeeper in the world had her own follower group and people would tune in to watch her saves. Ironically enough, Hope Solo, a goalkeeper, is the closest female player to be considered an international football legend, a title normally reserved for strikers.
The EURO2012 was a showdown for goalkeepers as well. Once again, England lost in penalties, and the followers of our FREE blog jumped up and down with recognition after Andrea Pirlo’s Panenka penalty, which is a popular subject among FREE researchers and followers. However, my most popular personal moment was during the semi final between Italy and Germany. When Mario Balotelli scored his (and Italy’s) second goal with an excellent shot, many people focused on his goal celebration. I didn’t. As a devoted goalkeeper since my childhood, I always try to observe the reactions of the lonely man who has just been beaten. German goalkeeper, Manuel Neuer, did something extraordinary for some after Balotelli’s second goal: He clapped this beautiful goal. Not a mocking clap that goalkeepers sometimes would do to protest his/her teammates after they fail to defend properly. Neuer’s applause was a genuine one, the applause of someone who recognized the beauty of a kick. This is a moment of honesty, in a crucial moment in the semi final match of European Championship. Only a goalkeeper, the loneliest player in the field would dare to do such an act.
Manuel Neuer is someone who knows what it means to stand alone. Turkish football intellectual and writer Tanil Bora wrote a piece devoted to Neuer in his weekly column, titled `There is no home game for him`. Having played for Schalke 04 since he was 5 years old, Neuer is a true Schalke fan, who never missed an away match of his team when he was in junior teams, travelling with the fan groups. But one day he did what every good German player ends up doing in their careers: he signed for Bayern Munchen. The Schalke fans literally begged for this son of their team to go anywhere but to Bayern. Bayern fans did not greet this talented goalkeeper with flowers and champagne either. In Neuer, they did not see the best goalkeeper in Germany. They saw the wild Schalke fan who ripped off the corner flag and made the crazy ritual in 2009 in Munchen after Schalke beat Bayern. He is called Judas by Schalke fans and he is not accepted by Bayern Munchen fans. Inferno Bavaria, the influential fan group of Bayern made it clear that no matter how many saves he makes, they will not like him. He is a great goal keeper, and he is very lonely.
The loneliness of the goalkeeper is a very popular theme outside the football realm as well, being an inspiration for many. Peter Handke’s famous novel, The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick (1972), which was later made into a movie by Wim Wenders is a great example. The novel’s anti-hero is indeed a lonely goalkeeper. Fitting to his ideas and arguments, Albert Camus was also a goalkeeper (and not a bad one either) who played for Racing Universitaire Algerios (RUA) junior team. Camus carried the experience for the rest of his life.
If you are also interested in the story of these lonely men and women, facing the pitch, making a stand against all, you may want to take a look at an interesting radio documentary titled The Loneliness of the Goalkeeper.
Next time you are watching football; keep your eyes on these brave men and women, as they are the only individuals in a team game.