From the archive ~ Keepers should only ever score long punts up field

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In WSC 308, October 2012, Mike Whalley remembered when goalkeepers only scored in one way – and then lamented the arrival of a certain big Dane

I blame Peter Schmeichel. A couple of years into his Manchester United career, having perfected the art of making star jump saves and bellowing at Steve Bruce, he decided he wanted more from his goalkeeping life – and that he wasn’t going to get it by hanging around in his own penalty area.

So he started going up for corners. Commentators would gasp as he got a head to the ball, maybe claimed an assist. Eventually, he nodded one in, at the tail end of a UEFA Cup away-goals defeat against Rotor Volgograd. Soon, they were all at it.

These days no FA Cup fourth-round replay is complete without a goalkeeper making an injury-time charge into the opposing penalty area. Every now and then, one will bundle in an equaliser and then race away, gloved hands in the air, celebrating like an outfield player with team-mates pawing at his magenta or cyan jersey. More often, they won’t.

It wasn’t always like this. When I started watching football as a boy in the mid-1980s, there was only one type of goal a keeper ever scored: a long punt, aimed towards Keith Houchen or Billy Whitehurst, that caught on the wind and bounced over a bemused custodian at the other end. The scorer wouldn’t so much celebrate as look mildly embarrassed.

Memory plays tricks on the mind, but it felt like the sort of thing that happened once every few years; a rare event to be cherished in the same way as a solar eclipse. The television footage of Pat Jennings scoring for Tottenham against Manchester United in the 1967 Charity Shield was every bit as special, to my eyes, as that of the first Moon landing.

Of course, goalkeepers had scored in other ways. I’d read the story of Alex Stepney being Manchester United’s joint-leading scorer midway through the 1973-74 season on account of two successful penalties. To the young me that sounded like one of many stylistic aberrations of the era. A proper keeper’s goal had always been an overhit clearance.

When a keeper scored, it would be talked about in Shoot or Match for what seemed like months afterwards. If you were really lucky, you might get to see some grainy footage on the news. So precious was such footage that a mere clip could be claimed to have medicinal properties.

This was proved to me some time around Christmas 1986, when Saint and Greavsie did a special edition of their show from the children’s ward of a hospital. As far as I recall none of the youngsters featured was seriously ill. The idea was that Ian St John and Jimmy Greaves would cheer them up anyway with a few of their footballer mates and some jokes about Scottish goalkeepers.

One bed-ridden child had a particular wish. He’d heard about Coventry’s Steve Ogrizovic scoring with a long clearance in a First Division game at Sheffield Wednesday a couple of months earlier, and wanted to know if he could see a clip of the goal. With a bit of help from the research department, Saint and Greavsie made it happen. The look on the boy’s face was of someone who had just received the best Christmas present ever. I’m not sure Schmeichel or one of his many imitators bundling one in from six feet would have the same appeal today..

Still, a goalkeeper going up in the last minute can get the crowd going and make a difference. Ask Carlisle United fans – or Jimmy Glass. But even for Glass, the goal that kept Carlisle in the Football League 13 years ago was a mixed blessing. When he tried to find a new club afterwards, he was dogged with the tag of a novelty goalscorer and found it hard to be taken seriously. “I just wanted to be a goalkeeper,” he said in an interview, years later. He’d have been better off saving Carlisle with a 100-yard punt.

Every so often, the hoof will make a comeback. Paul Robinson did it for Tottenham against Watford in 2007, Tim Howard for Everton against Bolton last season. Howard’s celebration had just the right mixture of surprise and pity for his opposite number. Ogrizovic and Jennings would approve. Mike Whalley

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This article was originally printed in WSC 308, October 2012. Subscribers get free access to the complete WSC digital archive – you can find out more details here