As a footballer in London, my services are heavily in demand. At present I play three games a week and have had countless offers from clubs wishing to add me to their team sheet.
To any reader who just skims over that first paragraph, it might seem that the want for my talents has rather gone to my head and that I am using this article as a means to brag.
The best way to describe my particular brand of football is distinctly average. I rarely put in match-winning performances and am liable to make the odd mistake. Why on earth then do I receive calls literally every week from a new team hoping to coax me into turning out on a Sunday afternoon for them? I just happen to be a goal-keeper.
At present goal-keepers are like gold dust in London. If you wished you could play every day of the week and still have further options. This is excellent news for me but it does raise certain questions about the future of goal-keeping in England.
The decline of goal-keeping in England has been much lamented. It was once a source of national pride that there would always be one of the world’s great keepers in the England side.
It was noticed as far back at 1998 that the talent pool has been shrinking. Ex-England goalie Ray Clemence said “We have to realize that we have to develop goalies better than just expect them to grow on trees”. It hasn’t improved. In fact now it seems, after a series of mistakes, that (although Joe Hart shows promise and may argue) the England side would take anyone who could just provide some stability at the back. What has happened?
This cause has been championed by ex-professional keeper Ray Newland, who runs the website Just One Keeper. He notes that while running his goal-keeping school that the amount of children wishing to be goal-keepers has dropped over the last couple of decades. He places the blame at the importing of a huge amount of foreign stoppers into the top teams in England, meaning that English goal-keepers are not getting a chance and therefore youngsters do not see keeping as a viable means of becoming a professional.
I think this is somewhat true but it also symptomatic of a larger trend. I don’t think people like me would have been put of goal-keeping at a young age because the goal-keepers were foreign. The entry of Henry and Cantona (who must have kept English players out of their respective teams) in the Premier League has not put children off wanting to score goals.
For me the main reason – and perversely one of the reasons I enjoy it – is that in England the goal-keeper has become a prohibitively unglamorous position. You once gained a little leeway by playing in nets. Errors would be forgotten because people realised that it was a tricky position.
The media’s fascination with pointing out goal-keeping errors has meant that this is no longer the case. Young goal-keepers will see their professional counterparts being constantly persecuted despite every footballing kit development (except gloves of course!) over the last few decades making keepers lives more difficult. In a society where most people like to appear ‘normal’ and not stick out, this will be enough to mean that potential goal-keepers will switch to alternative positions where they have less chance of being blamed.
This has not just made an effect at the top level with less top quality English goal-keepers but in that there is a dearth of talent across the board, including the low levels that I play at. This is an ingrained problem that needs addressing. The upside is that until it is, I will continue to be able to fill my footballing schedule!