The Poisoned Chalice of the England Goalkeeping Position

If MTV are in need of a new reality TV series, they should give serious consideration to England’s search for a goalkeeper. Their hunt since David Seaman’s retirement has been a comedic yet despairingly dramatic affair. More than ten different goalkeepers have come and gone, all playing pertinent roles in what has been a hilariously breath-taking series of events.

Their pursuit reminds me of a typical Friday night. You set off pursuing only the best, refusing to bat an eyelid at anyone who doesn’t meet a certain criteria. Standards are high and intentions are good. The drinks are flowing and the nights going well, but bar a few hopeful smiles you’ve had no joy. All your friends have found someone. You lower your standards a touch or two. You see a few girls alone at the bar. They all seem decent until you notice that one flaw. Their teeth, their nose, their jaw. Whatever it is, you can’t take your eyes off it. You decide to try your luck elsewhere but the night’s almost over. The DJ yells last orders. You frantically inspect the dancefloor one more time. You see this one girl, wearing next to nothing, dancing as seductively as she can but struggling to draw any attention. She’s by herself and has evidently enjoyed her fair share of kebabs over the years but fuck it, you’re desperate now and she’d clearly appreciate the opportunity. You go for it and the rest is history. You wake up the next morning, with a pounding headache and look over your shoulder. There she is. You gag, grab your clothes and run like the hammers of hell, vowing never to do it again. But you’re the England national team manager, and of course you do it again.

That’s the story behind Chris Kirkland’s solitary English cap. You almost tangoed with Joe Lewis and Scott Loach as well but came crashing to your senses after third base. The English goalkeepers union, much like any given night club, boasts a broad range of talent, varying from that elusive perfect 10 to the nightmare one-night-stand.

Tom Heaton’s the girl you always see around. She’s really nice, works hard, a bit bland but you still would if there was nothing better there. You’ve gone for it on the quieter nights. You know it’ll never become anything too serious. You don’t let her get too attached. She’s a decent option, worth keeping onside, but destined to only ever be a backup.

There’s that girl who’s in one of your classes. A closed book by day, too shy to say hello but after a few vodka martinis she’s the life and soul of the party. She throws herself around the dance-floor like Shakira herself. You’ve gone there a few times before – loving it at first but the novelty wore off each time thereafter. That’s Fraser Forster. You don’t know what to expect. It can be brilliant on occasion, but usually isn’t and there’s better fish in the sea.

You had a fling with Ben Foster. She fell head over heels for you. She became obsessed and kicked off regularly. Then she claimed she wasn’t interested. She’s not the worst looking but despite her drunken texts you’ve learned your lesson and she’s off the table. 800_600_Paul_Robinson_stares_at_turf_Croatia__598567

Then there’s your exes. There’s your first ever girlfriend. You used to kiss her on the lips on the basketball courts after school. You thought you’d be together forever. It was your first proper relationship and you both made some mistakes. Now, you cringe whenever you see her. You don’t necessarily resent her but she brings back some awkward memories you’d rather forget. That’s Paul Robinson.

David James is the girl you were on and off with for years. She changed her hair every day. You loved it at first but by the end it just got in the way. She was always there for you. She gave you everything. But you always thought you could do better, you didn’t treat her right and eventually it fizzled out. You’ve both matured now and moved on. You still see her around but you look at her differently.

You fell for Rob Green. It moved quickly but she broke your heart. She turned out rotten anyway, bullet dodged.

The club is full of girls. Scott Carson was the hottest girl in school at 18 but her boobs never developed. You always thought John Ruddy would turn into a worldie but puberty hit her hard. Carlo Cudicini had a boyfriend. The list goes on.

Then there’s Joe Hart. She looked like she had it all. Proper wife material. She had the rare combination of unshakable confidence and arrogance complemented by a relentless willingness to learn. Hart wasn’t like the other girls. She spoke well, had a good education and remained an avid worker. They say goalkeepers are an eccentric breed. Much like girlfriends; if they don’t scare you that tiny bit, they’re probably not the one. Hart had the winning mentality all others lacked, conveniently he was the most talented too. Now though, Hart’s found himself in that dreaded relationship comfort zone. She’s stopped going to the gym, she’s stopped keeping you guessing. She’s making you buy her tampons. She went on a year abroad as part of her university programme. You were skeptical at first but figured it’d do her good. Give her a chance away from the limelight. A chance to find herself again, rediscover her love of the gym, maybe learn how to seduce you in Italian. But all she found was a love for the Italian cuisine. She’s come back and things have only gotten worse. You’re scared you won’t find anyone better but you know deep down you’re flogging a dead dog.

Fabio Capello’s hesitancy in asking Joe Hart on a date was a critical factor in England’s failure at the 2010 World Cup. Hart was the new kid on the block at the time but hadn’t been given a chance to prove himself on the international scene. Gareth Southgate must avoid a repeat of this situation. With Jordan Pickford and Jack Butland waiting in the wings for their chances to impress, Southgate must escape the comfort zone and give the pair their deserved shots at becoming England’s number one.

Jordan Pickford, or 30 million Jordan Pickford as he has been christened by the English media is the new girl. She’s just moved schools and is the talk of the town. Her reputation precedes her. She was the Regina George of her local school but now she’s at the State University. It’s a different ball game where everyone wants to be Queen B and any foot out of line will be mercilessly ridiculed by those gunning for the title of head cheerleader. England v Switzerland: UEFA U21 Championship Qualifier

Pickford spoke following his big money move about how the pressure has been alleviated and he can enjoy his football again. The former Sunderland man can tell himself that all he likes, but the reality is a stark contrast. There is no pressure keeping the score down in a struggling side. If the goalkeeper makes a mistake, chances are it’ll be insignificant, they’ll ship 2 or 3 more anyway. For £30 million, Pickford needs to be the difference between winning and losing games. He may only be needed once a game, but he’ll have to be up to the challenge when it comes.

As a goalkeeper, ability only gets you so far. A ruthless winning mentality is a pre-requisite for any keeper with high aspirations. I’ll never forget Manuel Neuer landing a right hook on the goalpost after Andy Keogh headed past him in the 90th minute. The game finished 1-6 and the goal was totally irrelevant but you’d be forgiven for thinking it had cost Germany the world cup final. (Neuer is the sexy foreign exchange girl you fantasize over but would never even consider talking to). That’s par for the course for the world’s top goalkeepers. That clean sheet is everything, regardless of how many saves they’ve made in the game. Any hint of psychological frailty between the sticks at a big club is usually the difference between success and failure. Pickford has proven his ability, his reactions are second to none and his long-range distribution could prove a dangerous asset for the Toffees. But the jury is out on his mentality and only time will tell if Pickford can get going when the going gets tough.

England’s keeper search, with the exception of Joe Hart, has been fruitless so far. Despite numerous girls looking the part in the dark nightclub lighting, they’ve all been exposed by the end-of-night lights, a harsh reality also known as international football. Pickford seems a typical, down-to-earth young lad, as yet unfazed by his transfer fee. He’s a likable kid and has earned a chance in the English national team. Here’s hoping Gareth Southgate has a thing for gingers.


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