Maybe it was Pele (A Short Story).
MAYBE IT WAS PELE?
When I was sixteen years of age I was selected to play football for my country in the FIFA U-17 international youth tournament being held in Italy that year. That made me very happy because I like Italy. The only problem was I had been selected to play as the goalkeeper and back then I wasn’t sure how much I liked that. When I was at school I was always being made to play in goal because I was the tallest boy in the class and that apparently was the only qualification you needed. They told me it was because I was good but they didn’t fool me. Everyone knows that the goalkeeper is the poor relation of any team because nobody wants to be a goalkeeper; not even goalkeepers. Football is all about scoring goals. The star player in any team is the one who scores all the goals. He is the hero of the team and everyone loves him. But no one loves the goalkeeper and he can never be a hero. You tell a girl in a bar that you are an international footballer and she will be impressed but see what happens when you tell her you’re a goalkeeper. And how many times has a goalkeeper won “World Player of the Year” award? None, that’s how many.
Being a goalkeeper is boring because for a lot of the time in a game you are only a spectator. And yet you cannot relax because you always have to be on your guard. You are always waiting for something bad to happen. It’s like walking through a dark forest that is full of wolves. You can’t see them but you know they are there and you know they could leap out at any moment and you have to be ready to fight for your very life when they do.
And obviously conceding a goal is the worst thing about being goalkeeper. For one thing I know that my team mates always think it’s all my fault. And for another I can’t help but agree with them. I feel responsible; guilty even. I can’t stop myself from thinking there was something more I could have done. And it’s of no comfort either to be told that there was “nothing you could do about it” when you let one in. What is the point of even being in goal then “if there is nothing you can do about it?” You can play absolutely brilliantly but you let in just one goal and it will all have been for nothing if your team loose 1-0. And if you make a mistake you can’t do anything about it. At least if a striker misses a sitter he knows that sooner or later he will get another chance to put that right but goalkeepers never gets a second chance. The difference between a striker and a goalkeeper is that if a striker does everything right he will score even if the goalkeeper does everything too. It’s not fair but it’s something a goalkeeper has to learn to live with. And if you don’t; you’ll never make it.
So if there is one thing I have learned it is that if you are going to be a goalkeeper then it has to be on your terms. Your team mates are always quick with advice on what you should do and waste no time in telling me what they think I’ve done wrong. Well, I’m not having it. It’s my head that’s on the chopping block and no one is going to tell me anything. There’ve been a few sharp words and scuffles in the changing room over the years after a match because of my attitude but I have made it clear to my team mates in no uncertain terms on numerous occasions that I’m the goalkeeper and it’s my rules. And if I tell them I don’t want to see any of them in my six yard area; then I bloody well mean it. And if I want to come out for a cross then I will come out. And, oh yes, if I make a mistake and the ball rolls into the net because I fumbled a shot or dropped a cross they will just have to grin and bear it. And if they don’t like it they will have to bloody well lump it. It took a while but in the end everyone got the message and I think that is why I was picked to play for my country in this FIFA U-17 tournament.
So here I was in sunny Italy. I remember on the first morning we were all out on the pitch having a bit of a kick-a-bout as officials and photographers and reporters milled about. There was quite a bit of interest – this was Italy after all. Anyway, all of a sudden there were loud sounds of excitement from everybody and I look up to see what’s going on and it turns out that some of the Brazilian players from the 1982 World Cup team had suddenly appeared. Everybody went mad; “Brazil! Brazil!” they cried and mobbed them; the officials, the photographers and reporters and the sprinkling of spectators who’d been hanging around on the touchline. I recognised Socrates and Zico, and Falco, and there were one or two others I wasn’t sure about. Everybody wanted to have their picture taken with them and get an autograph and even my own team mates got in to the act. Not me though I stood in the goalmouth with my hands on my hips staying out of it. They weren’t gods just footballers who’d failed to win the World Cup because they’d managed to get themselves knocked out by Italy. So I couldn’t see what all the fuss was about.
Then some one had the bright idea of letting them have a few shots at me so that the photographers could get some pictures. I wasn’t keen on the idea, I didn’t fancy being made to look an utter fool in front of everyone so that they could be made to look good. But I didn’t have a say in it did I and before I knew it half a dozen footballs were lined up along the edge of the area while the photographers took up their positions behind my goal.
The Brazilians started to pepper me with shots and for the first five minutes or so all I did was pick the ball out of the net. But that was only because I refused to play along and I just stood there and watched as one shot after the other flew past me into the net. But I quickly got tired of that and when one of them took a shot I suddenly dived to my left and tipped it round the post. Then I tip the next one over the bar. They could see I was starting to take this more seriously and they started to take it more seriously too. Shots rained in on my goal and quite a few beat me but I was pleased to see that I was saving my fair share. This must have gone on for about twenty minutes or so before a halt was called and everybody mobbed the Brazilians again crying; “Brazil! Brazil! We love you! We love you!” The reporters wanted an interview, the photographers wanted more pictures, the boys wanted autographs and the girls wanted a kiss.
I was left standing on my own in the goal mouth panting like a dog covered in sweat and dust. And since no one was paying the least bit of attention to me I decided that I might as well make myself scarce and go back to the changing rooms. So I walked off the pitch and was in the tunnel when I heard someone behind me shout; “hey! Hey!”
My first instinct was to ignore them but they kept on shouting “hey! Hey!” so in the end I had to turn round. I couldn’t see them very clearly because they were standing in shadow but it looked like there was some old black guy at the entrance of the tunnel.
“Hey,” he called out again “you did well.” It sounded like he meant it.
“What’s you’re name.”
“Well Peter, you’re pretty good.”
“Good luck in the tournament.”
Then he was gone and I opened the door to the changing room and went inside.
We didn’t win it but I had a good tournament if I say so myself. Since then I’ve gone on to play for top teams all over Europe and I’ve had a great career with many great moments and great memories. I’ve won cups and championships and I even have a world cup winners medal. (I’ve never won “World Player of the Year” award though; surprise surprise!) and I am recognised as one of the best goalkeepers of my generation. But the highlight of my career was that day in Italy. I’ve always wondered who he was. People who I’ve told the story to reckon it could have been Pele. I don’t know who it was but it wasn’t Pele I’m sure of that. But I wish I did know who it was because I want to shake his hand and thank him.
The Art and Theory of Goalkeeping
- Spotlight Books
Set in 1971 it's a story about an ordinary fourteen year old schoolboy who doesn't want to be ordinary. He wants to be a hero. The only trouble is he has no idea of how to make this happen. That is until he learned the art and theory of goalkeeping
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