Back in the day, commentators, football writers and outfield players all used to laugh at goalkeepers. They were sometimes described as ‘a breed apart’ but mostly they were bluntly referred to as ‘mad’. Keepers were allowed to have rushes of blood and make silly mistakes, because that is what they were there for. They provided added entertainment to football.
Goalies were weird. Just think…
Imagine that over-enthusiastic fan who sits near you. The one who screams, cries and laughs for 90 minutes. Now give him the fabled powers of a top class goalkeeper. You’ve got Les Sealy. Memorably, he once had an enormous row with the Man Utd physio who was insisting he come off the pitch after an injury. To Les, that was not an option.
John Burridge was one of the prototypes. I believe he played at least one game for every single professional football club in existence in England. Burridge freely admits that he sleeps with a football every night. Even now.
Years before David Ginola smouldered at the camera and said: “Because I’m worth it,” Phil Parkes thought it would be a fine idea to do a Cossack Hairspray commercial. Footballers had advertised things before, but that was Bobby Moore promoting pubs (yes, just pubs in general) and Kevin Keegan splashing Brut all over his toned body. Phil Parkes’ commercial was shot soft-focus and looked like a perfume ad.
Bruce Grobbelaar’s regular title in Roy of the Rovers in the 1980s was ‘The Clown Prince of Soccer’. When it was raining he’d run onto the pitch while shielding himself with an umbrella. He once wore an old man’s mask at the start of a game. He swung on the crossbars. His legs sometimes turned to spaghetti at key moments.
In fact, all over the world goalies have been unusual. Rene Higuita and his famous scorpion kick. Jorge Campos and his luminous, Picasso-style goalkeeper jerseys. Dead-ball specialist José Luis Chilavert scored an astonishing 62 goals in his career. Jens Lehmann performs a strange jump and click of the heels before taking a goal kick, like Dorothy in Oz. Peter Schmeichel was the most scary man to ever stand between the sticks.
Yet sadly the age of the eccentric goalkeeper is coming to an end. Football is just too much of a business to tolerate someone like Grobelaar actually enjoying himself on a football pitch and entertaining the fans. And, thanks in part to the back pass rule, goalkeepers have become integrated into mainstream pro-footballer society.
Look at the keepers around these days: Chris Kirkland, Rob Green, Scott Carson, Shay Given. I’m sure they’re all nice blokes. But the closest they get to being described as eccentric is when they drop a cross. David James is conisdered slightly different because he likes painting. Give me strength.
So today I kneel down in praise of Sheffield United goalkeeper Paddy Kenny. A true throwback. A man who proudly carries the tradition of weird goalkeepers.
Paddy Kenny looks like he wears his kit all week so he doesn’t have to bother changing between games.
Paddy Kenny looks a bit overweight. Keepers always used to be a bit chunky. Now they’re all skinny like Kirkland or muscly like James.
Paddy Kenny doesn’t stand around his penalty spot before kick-off doing a few exercises. He stands somewhere off to the left, shoulders slumped, looking at the planes passing overhead, his goal wide open.
Paddy Kenny looks like a bloke who drinks WKD every Friday night in the Yorkshire clubs.
Paddy Kenny will respond to crowds who chant that he likes to eat pies.
Paddy Kenny is never, ever limited by his penalty box.
Paddy Kenny has no need for a substitute goalkeeper.
Paddy Kenny is the last of a dying breed… unless there’s one at your club?