Every Scot who has ever kicked a football on a public park will remember the situation where teams were picked – anything up to twenty-odd a side – and the last one selected ended up in goal.
Usually the ‘goalie’ was chosen, not for his cat-like agility but because he was absolutely useless in any other position. Often the logic was that in goal the person could do least damage to the team, and there was always the chance he could stop a shot merely by standing still and hoping it hit him.
Even in organised youth football – real teams, real games – it used to be the case that the goalkeeper was often the forgotten man.
Training for the keeper was exactly the same as for outfield players, with the only recognition of his different role being that he played in goal during the kick-about at the end – usually the other keeper in the bounce game would be an outfield player who ‘went in’ for a laugh.
All of that began to change in the 1970s, when keepers like England’s Gordon Banks showed the distinct and vitally-important role super-fit and highly-trained goalkeepers could make to the overall performance of teams. It was finally being recognised that a goalkeeper wasn’t just there to make up the numbers but, instead, could deliver saves as vital as any goal scored by a star forward, and could even start counter-attacks through quick and targeted distribution of the ball.
Incredibly, even on Scottish public parks, this new reality produced a situation where youngsters actually wanted to play in goal. Suddenly, someone who was known as a good keeper became one of the ‘first picks’ when teams were being chosen.
In Scotland, the new ‘cool’ status of the goalkeeper was enhanced by the emergence of Alan Rough, the young Partick Thistle keeper who was dating one of the Tennent’s lager ‘lovelies’ – for your average Scottish football fan it just didn’t get much better than that.
However, on a more serious note, Rough was also to feature prominently in what became a favourite pastime of English (and some Anglo-Scottish) television football pundits, who took great delight in rubbishing Scottish football in general and Scottish goalkeepers in particular.
The fact some Scots were willing to accept the jibes at the competence of their own goalkeepers was just one more manifestation of the ‘Scottish cringe’, which sadly still pervades much of Scottish life – most notably today in the field of politics, where the campaign to retain Scotland as part of the British Union relies heavily on creating the perception that alone amongst all the peoples of the world, only the Scots are too wee, too poor and too stupid to successfully govern their own country.
Over his career, Alan Rough was capped 53 times for Scotland, playing in two World Cups (1978 and 1982) and was a squad member at a third (1986). If anyone doubts Rough’s goalkeeping ability, have a look at some of the saves he made after coming on as a half-time substitute for Scotland against Wales on September 10 1985 at Ninian Park in Cardiff.
The game will forever be remembered for the tragic and untimely death of Scotland manager Jock Stein, and for the penalty converted by Davie Cooper that kept the Scots on track for the 1986 World Cup Finals in Mexico. However, without some fantastic saves from Rough, Wales would have won the match and Scotland’s World Cup dream would have been over.
Following in Rough’s footsteps were Jim Leighton and Andy Goram, two of the best goalkeepers ever to have pulled on a Scotland jersey. Of course, to English (and Anglo-Scottish) television pundits, Leighton only became a really good keeper when he moved from Aberdeen to Manchester United, while Goram took a step down by leaving Oldham Athletic and signing for Hibernian (then Rangers).
Today, Scotland’s two principle contenders for the number-one jersey – Alan McGregor and David Marshall – both ex-Old Firm keepers, ply their trade in the English Premier League, while back home in Scotland, even in these financially-straitened times, little more than half of Scotland’s 12 premiership clubs have Scottish goalkeepers regularly playing first team football (58%).
The distinct role of a goalkeeper in a football team is now long-established. Keepers require and receive specialised training to allow the development of their particular skill-set. With European clubs now appearing on our televisions on a weekly basis, young Scots are inspired to play in goal after seeing top-class performances from the likes of Iker Casillas, Victor Valdes and Manuel Neuer.
As a result, the Scottish pro-youth league and organised football for younger age groups are developing and bringing-forward young Scottish goalkeepers with great potential. So, why is it that little more than half of Scotland’s top-flight clubs have Scottish goalkeepers?
What is happening in the period between pro-youth and the professional game? Do our young goalkeepers lose their skills when they turn 19? Why are managers paying money to sign keepers from England, Northern Ireland, Poland and Slovakia rather than giving an opportunity to young Scots?
Is it really the case that Scotland has not produced a goalkeeper to match the abilities of Radoslaw Cierzniak, Alan Mannus or Marian Kello (some would include Fraser Forster in that list)?
Over the last few years I have seen the quality of young Scottish goalkeepers playing in youth football. I have watched the Scottish Pro-Youth League and been impressed by the skills and abilities of the youngsters in goal, yet very few continue into the professional game. Some are now turning out in Scottish Junior Football.
Is the problem that our young keepers are unable to progress beyond a certain level or is it the case that Scotland’s professional clubs are unwilling to invest in ‘potential’? Is it easier just to pay for journeyman keepers from other countries who will come in and ‘do a job’?
Whatever the reason, the result is a loss to the Scottish game. Scotland is producing young goalkeepers who could make it to the highest level, yet it seems some Scottish clubs are not willing to give them the chance.
Campbell Martin is a Scottish journalist and politician who served as the Scottish National Party MSP for the West of Scotland. You can read more of Campbell’s stuff at his blog at http://campbellmartin.blogspot.co.uk/.
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