Redefining What It Means To Be a Star

Me getting into goalkeeping is sort of an oddball story, and I would lie if I said that being a goalkeeper has ever been a dream of mine. It hasn’t. Like most kids I wanted to be up the field where things were happening, dribbling away, hitting those longballs into the box or being the one that finished them. Not be the one that has to stay behind and watch, to then have everything hinge on you if the opposition break through the defence. There’s an attitude around goalkeepers from a young age, they’re usually perceived to be the most unfit and least talented players on any team, and being forced to go in goal was a pain, every time. Well, that’s until this summer happened.

They’ve proved that it is most definitely not the unfit and less talented players that go in goals, nor that women need smaller goals

This year the goalkeepers in the World Cup have risen to the occasion and showed the world exactly what a goalkeeper is, in 24 different editions. They’ve proved that it is most definitely not the unfit and less talented players that go in goals, nor that women need smaller goals (it is a healthy discussion nonetheless). They’ve redefined what it means to be a star player, proving that ‘boring’ defensive players can pull off exhilarating moves. There’s been a lot of new influence to adhere to in this tournament, not the least the introduction of VAR (which was being used for the first time ever in a women’s game with no previous test-tournaments being held) which put a lot more pressure on the goalkeepers and whipped up a huge penalty controversy. The rules state that the goalkeeper needs to keep at least one foot on the line when the penalty is being taken, which has always been the case. But with the introduction of VAR, it’s become easier to examine the extent to which the goalkeeper abides by the rule, and even an inch off the line means that the goalkeeper gets a yellow card and the penalty is retaken.

This happened several times during the group stages and proceeding into the knockout rounds, the International Football Association Board and FIFA decided to change the rules, and that there would be no cards given if there’s an encroachment by a goalkeeper in a penalty shootout (as you’re not allowed to make substitutes at that time and can, therefore, be left with no keeper), but that the rule still stands in normal time. IFAB states that they still: “fully supports goalkeepers being penalized for not conforming with the Laws of the Game and gaining an unfair advantage.”

It is very debatable whether a goalkeeper gets that much of an unfair advantage going one inch off their line facing a penalty, like one of the best goalkeepers in the world, Hope Solo, argues. It’s also funny talking about unfair advantages for the goalkeeper in penalty circumstances, considering that the shooter has a lot (like, a lot) more advantage.

Still from video with Glasgow City
Watching aspiring goalies over at the Glasgow City practice. See whole video here

But all the controversies aside, it’s just been so fantastic seeing goalkeepers getting so much attention, and a lot of good press. We’ve had the privilege to see close-up saves, top-corner saves, penalty saves, reflex saves and countless others. We’ve seen Nigeria’s Chiamaka Nnadozie, 18 years old and still a teenager, step up between those posts, as we’ve seen 39-year-old Ingrid Hjelmseth do the same for Norway, both of them putting in superb performances. We’ve seen Vanina Correa, the 35-year-old who had retired from football in 2012 after appearing for Argentina in the 2007 and 2011 World Cups but returned six years later on the request of manager Carlos Borellos, to go on and help Argentina secure their first-ever point at the World Cup, with their draw against Japan. She also gave birth to twins during her time off. Chile’s Christiane Endler was widely accoladed as the best female goalkeeper in the world and she pulled off some absolutely stunning saves, silencing everyone.

Hedvig Lindahl makes a magic penalty save
Hedvig Lindahl – not all heroes wear capes

Hedvig Lindahl showed why she’s still an integral part of the Swedish national team, her crucial and spotless penalty save against Canada being a complete masterpiece. Scotland’s Lee Alexander had a great tournament and did a great job saving a crucial penalty against Argentina in their last group stage game, only to have it retaken and receiving a yellow card for having been one inch off the line. England saw two of their keepers, Karen Bardsley and Carly Telford, both have big games and manager Phil Neville chose to rotate in the group stages, only to be forced to go with second-choice Telford for the semifinal and the third-place match, as Bardsley injured her hamstring. Finalists Netherlands saw their keeper, Sari van Veenendaal, who’d been a doubt for first-choice before the tournament kicked off, have an amazing time and she was awarded the Golden Glove for her performance throughout the tournament.

Thank you for your tireless work that is so unthankful so many times, for all the hours put into self-improvement on and off the pitch, away from all the fancy shot-stopping and all the superman saves, with so few resources available to you

Seeing goalkeepers take centre stage just makes me down-to-my-core happy. For me, finding goalkeeping after over 10 years in the game has been so liberating, it’s like being set free when I’m in between those sticks. I can enjoy playing football again, and with my Capricorn personality, I’m striving when I get to work hard and commit to the practice which has brought me so much in terms of confidence, joy and strength, physical and mental, even as I’m not a ‘promising teenage talent’.

So thank you, goalkeepers of the World Cup 2019, as well as the rest of you out there working away on yourselves at this moment. Thank you for your tireless work that is so unthankful so many times, for all the hours put into self-improvement on and off the pitch, away from all the fancy shot-stopping and all the superman saves, with so few resources available to you. Behind that is a lot of willpower and a wish to do better but also just a huge love for the game. With your dedication, you are not only paving the way for our future goalkeepers but you’re also giving current goalkeepers hope and inspiration.

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