For our fixture against Stevenage earlier this season, Red Review took a look at goalkeepers. On International Goalkeeper Day, we decided to take a look back:
In Red Review so far this season, we’ve discussed counter-attacking, formations, the art of the strike partnership and the engine room, all different and unique parts of the game. However, there is one position, one element of the game that is far removed from the rest. Goalkeepers.
Glovemen, Goal-tenders. Shot-stoppers. Sweeper Keepers. They all form the mystical body labelled the Goalkeeper’s Union.
Fabled but undoubtedly real, this group have been brought together by the unique-ness of their profession – it doesn’t officially exist but it appears that, through empathy the bond between glovemen is formed.
Paul Robinson, ex-England goalkeeper – described the position as ‘unforgiving’. ‘One mistake and you’re the villain, one miraculous save and you’re the hero.’
It’s hard to argue with that verdict. In no other position can one mistake define you – as a general rule. Think of Robert Green, you think of England v USA, 2010 in South Africa at the World Cup. You don’t tend to think of the incredible form he had shown for West Ham the season before.
With Robinson, another England international, you think of the ball that bobbled over his foot in Croatia as Steve McClaren’s European Champioship Qualifying campaign began to unravel (well, Swindon Town fans may think of the League Cup tie in which he scored a last-minute equaliser for Leeds. However, that is a freak anomaly).
The general point is that for all your good achievements in between the sticks, you are often only a couple of mistakes away from being beaten with one.
Goalkeepers are exposed – more so than any other position on the pitch. Their mistakes, as the cliché goes, almost exclusively end up with a goal. It is that lonely role in the team that makes the ‘trade union’ that bit closer and makes their psyche more important than anywhere else on the pitch.
Town’s newest recruit between the sticks is Steven Benda – hailing from Germany, he says that the bond between goalkeepers is a worldwide thing:
“The Goalkeeper’s Union is a thing, definitely here, but we have it in Germany too. Goalkeeper’s get along with each other. As a keeper, you see goalkeeping differently to other people. Most outfield players don’t know how it is as a goalkeeper, so there’s going to be different opinions.”
Seeing the game differently, a different set of skills, the psychology of the GK is all very distinct.
Steve Mildenhall, goalkeeper coach at the club, places a huge emphasis on the position-specific mentality of the goalkeeper – in his training sessions and around the County Ground corridors.
“You can only control the controllables – I always say that to the goalkeepers here. The thing is that, as a goalkeeper, only one of you can play and when that time comes and you’re not in the team, it’s not like an outfielder, where you think you might get ten minutes at the end.
“Your mentality is completely different – another reason for that is because, at points, you’re so isolated in the game. You have to know how to keep yourself interacted with the game even if you don’t touch the ball for 20 minutes.
“You’re isolated from the game but you’ll always be close to the crowd so you can hear anything that’s said and shouted. It can be easily directed at you so you have to be mentally resolute as to not let anything effect outside of what you control.
“If you’re not in the team, it’ll be a period of time when your mentality has to be different – you have to be ready knowing it’s unlikely that an injury or a red card will chuck you in. You also have to support the other goalkeeper that’s playing which is why there is always that union but also why the mentality of goalkeepers is completely different.
“The big one, really, is that 99.9% of the time, if you make a mistake it leads to a goal and you have to deal with that. The first thing I say to young goalkeepers is you have to accept that you’re going to make mistakes. If you cannot accept you’re going to make them, you’re not going to make a good goalie.”
It’s not just a mental detachment that sets goalkeeper’s apart from the ‘other ten’ – there is a day-to-day physical distance on the training pitch.
When Red Review sat down with Mildy – one of his first phrases was ‘Keeper’s Corner’, where the shot-stoppers go to relieve themselves of the company of their outfield counterparts. Keepers only, traditionally, join the outfielders for small-sided games and shooting drills – the rest is separate.
Town’s number one, Benda joined ‘keeper’s corner’ at the County Ground this season, on-loan from Swansea, and has been impressed with the whole group, from the experienced Luke McCormick to the youthful Archie Matthews and Will Henry.
“Mildy is a great guy. Macca, Will, Archie are really nice guys. When I came in, they really helped me get settled in. It’s a great environment because we all help each other- we have fun when we train which is a really important thing for our team spirit. I think we have a good balance in there of ages and a solid working environment.”
In terms of the changing style of goalkeeper’s, Mildenhall was part of the old school – as it is now known. The ability to ‘keep the ball out of the net’ was the be all and end all – the solitary goalkeeping mantra. He still places huge importance on that ability to defend the goal despite the modern phenomena that requires football’s handymen to be useful with their feet too. Benda is certainly part of that new breed of ball-players. The 20-year-old Swansea loanee says:
“Now, you have to be able to play with your feet. You have to be able to be higher up the pitch, and be really comfortable coming for crosses. It’s definitely different to 20 years ago where it was a case of staying in the goal and keeping the ball out.
“Jens Lehman was someone I looked up to. Manuel Neuer, Oliver Khan. Germany has produced a lot of good goalkeepers in the modern era.”
‘Keeper’s Corner’ has been positively effected by the advances in technology and, more importantly, information - meaning goalkeepers are now more ‘in the know’.
“The major change is the type of training that’s done,” says Mildenhall. “Anybody can go on YouTube and pick the training that was done donkey’s years ago when I started. It was lots of volleys, diving, collapsing, routine stuff – the drills that you do. You still do them nowadays – the fundamentals.
“But training has moved on though – now, we do things like scenarios that take place based on research from the opposition. That’s come about as a result of the advent of technology and advancement in that area. When I started there were no tools like WyScout or Huddle.”
“You couldn’t watch the clips of a player for the last two years like you can now. Goalkeepers now are more informed on what they can expect on a Saturday. The pitch is broken down now into areas so you can see the percentage of where crosses come from individual teams, which players take up areas and where they shoot from.
“Bournemouth are one of the leaders in the country, probably in the footballing world at the moment for real specifics. Their goalkeeping department is a head goalkeeping coach, an assistant goalkeeping coach, and two analysts just for the goalkeepers – they will break down and code Bournemouth’s performances from before to look back, to enhance.
“And the other looks at the opposition to find out how quickly a forward turns and shoots and loads of other tiny details.
“You can’t compare to when I started out in that regard. Goalkeepers were still good but in a different way.”
The same, but different.
For goalkeepers, even as the game and position evolves, the emphasis stays on psychology. It stays, arguably, more important than that of the outfield players; almost as if in an individual sport.
However, data and a new emphasis on a goalkeeper’s footballing ability mean they are, more and more, becoming part of the XI rather than part of their own union.