Sometimes I get asked why I take so many photos of goalkeepers. My stock answer is always the bit that’s easy to explain quickly and happens to truly be a significant piece of the puzzle – I don’t have $12,000 to spend on a 400mm lens. And if I did I would probably spend it on a month in Italy. I usually sit behind the goals because that’s the closest I can get to the action with a maximum zoom of half what the pros use.
There is another important piece to it though – one I don’t often include in my standard response – and that is I’m yet to meet a goalkeeper I don’t like. I hate generalisations but, like everyone else, that doesn’t stop me from making them. And call me a glovelessist (or something) but goalkeepers seem to me to be universally good people and always great fun to be around, especially but by no means limited to when you’ve got a camera in your hand.
What makes them so good? I’ve been giving that a bit of thought and I think I have identified some key aspects of their role that make them worthy of admiration and in some ways make me a kindred spirit of theirs, if not a paid up associate member of the Goalkeepers’ Union.
I like to think about things, and I like other people of an analytical persuasion. And from my observation, goalkeepers need this trait to shoulder the responsibility that comes with their unique perspective. They alone, on the pitch, have the luxury of seeing the whole board in order to weigh up the strengths and weaknesses of both their team and their opposition.
They lead from the back. A lot of people can lead from the front where everyone can see you and follow your example while you just make it up as you go along. True leadership is conducting an orchestra that’s facing away from you.
They also tend to be… How can I put this… A bit different. Goalkeepers need to have big personalities because when you’re a bit different it’s a case of stand out or be left out. It’s a lonely role both on the pitch and off it. You train by yourself, warm up by yourself, get left behind while everyone else is on attack, and then there’s nobody around to celebrate with when your team’s efforts culminate in a goal.
I imagine it feels a bit like being an only child who isn’t hardened by sibling rivalry in a schoolyard full of people from big families who think your name sounds funny. You have to be brave or miss out. And goalkeepers have to be brave. Because when an enemy is heading straight towards you, one on one, there is no other choice but to rush forward, make yourself big, and if all else fails – hurl yourself at them.
But, regardless of all that, above all else comes item one on my list of criteria for choosing friends and judging everyone else who crosses my path. When there’s a choice between joining the union and not joining the union – always, always, always, always, ALWAYS join the union.