Ruud Gullit reckoned that “a goalkeeper is a goalkeeper because he can’t play football.” But what the hell does Ruud know about it?
Fact is, the goalkeeper is different, that’s all. Take Lev Yashin, perhaps the most celebrated keeper of all time, and the only goalie to have won the Ballon d’Or.
Yashin said of his art: “What kind of a goalkeeper is the one who is not tormented by the goal he has allowed? He must be tormented! And if he is calm, that means the end. No matter what he had in the past, he has no future.”
Say what you like about those Russians, they sure can speak pretty. At the less poetic end of the scale, Pepe Reina once offered this lost-in-translation gem about team-mate Jamie Carragher: “Carra doesn’t like me to fist him before the games, so I give him a high-five instead.” Seems fair enough.
Whatever, if the common or garden variety keeper tends to have a reputation for mild eccentricity, the five examples below are keepers at their most kooky; goalies gone wild, if you will.
In the pantheon of wacky goalkeeping greats, René Higuita is king. Nutty, cuckoo super-king, in fact. What other keeper, faced with an attempt towards his goal during an international friendly would think, “you know what, I’m going to handle this by leaping into the air, letting the ball pass over my head and attempt to save the ball mid-leap with my heels?”
Yes, Higuita’s famous scorpion kick is one of the most unusual and celebrated moments in the history of goalkeeping (or maybe it just feels that way to the British, since he did it at Wembley against England’s Jamie Redknapp), but that moment in 1995 was hardly the Colombian’s first instance of the unconventional.
Known as El Loco for his unusually playful approach to the game, Higuita was not averse to running down the other end of the pitch, scoring 41 goals over the course of his career. His freewheeling approach to life continued off the field, too, not always happily – in 1993, he was imprisoned in Colombia after helping to broker a deal between drug kingpin Pablo Escobar and another man, Carlos Molina, for the release of Molina’s kidnapped daughter. Should have just walked away, René.
A stocky sort of fellow, Higuita was like a more cavalier, South American version of Big Neville Southall. But in 2005, Higuita, tired of being mocked for being Colombia’s “ugliest icon”, according to an unkind survey, decided to undergo a series of cosmetic surgeries, detailing his experiences for a reality TV show. “Bodily, I am perfect,” Higuita declared after his transformation.
John Burridge had a decent career, winning cups with Blackpool, Villa, Crystal Palace and Hibs; he played professionally well into his forties, ending his career as a player manager with Blyth Spartans.
And dismissing “Budgie” as wacky is a little unfair – actually, he was ahead of the curve in many ways, swerving alcohol as a player in order to improve his fitness, and even going as far as to question the traditional diet of the day.
While most English footballers’ idea of cutting-edge cuisine was a plate of steak and chips, Burridge would study the diet of African tribesmen in an effort to eat himself fitter. At 43, he played for Man City in 1994, in the process becoming the oldest player to appear in the Premier League – a record he holds to this day.
Still, the keeper definitely had a few quirks. He would warm up for games by performing somersaults, which seems a little risky, though by current standards it’s hardly scandalous. Less easy to explain is Burridge’s decision to regularly go to bed wearing his goalkeeper gloves.
And when his playing days were over, it’s fair to say there were a few bumps in the road. Burridge wound up at the famous rehab centre The Priory, introducing himself in a group therapy session with the words: “Hello, my name is John Burridge, I’m 45 and I am here because I am addicted to football and I can’t play any more.”
More unfortunately, Burridge was also convicted for dealing in counterfeit sportswear – with the prosecution strengthening its case against the one-time keeper when video evidence of half of Burridge’s team rocking the dodgy sportswear was shown at the trial…
Known for colourful, garish, fairly hideous goalkeeper’s jerseys which he himself had designed, the Mexican played as both goalkeeper and (less often) striker, occasionally beginning a game in goal before relocating to a forward role as the game progressed. Fifa have since banned goalkeepers from playing in an outfield position, incidentally.
Short for a keeper – he stood just 5 ft 7 in – Campos nonetheless won honours in his home country and the USA at club level, and also won the CONCACAF Gold Cup with Mexico in ’93 and ’96.
The player was also well known for being a “sweeper keeper” – often venturing further up field than was generally thought acceptable for a man charged with keeping the ball out. Not that it hurt his career – he made 130 appearances for Mexico, and would go on to work as an assistant manager for his home nation.
Alas, off-field we have to report that Campos seems a thoroughly normal bloke – friendly and self-effacing in interviews, and displaying little of the outlandish behaviour that the other goalies on this list bring to the party. What a letdown!
Grobbelaar is famed for his “wobbly leg” antics at the 1984 European Cup penalty shootout where his team Liverpool overcame Roma – with two of the Italian side’s players missing their kicks against the supremely confident Liverpool keeper.
But the Zimbabwean has racked up plenty of other notable moments – his trophies, for sure, with Bruce winning the English top flight on six occasions in the 14 years he played for the Merseyside team, as well as three FA Cups and the aforementioned European Cup.
It could have been so different, however. In the early days, when Liverpool manager Bob Paisley went to a match to see Grobbelaar in action during a stint at Crewe, the keeper ran out from the changing room carrying an umbrella to protect him from the rain – prompting an unimpressed Paisley to leave before the game had even kicked off, clearly taking a dim view of such antics.
Fortunately, Liverpool’s scouts persuaded Paisley to take a second chance on the keeper. And Grob went on to have a fine career on Merseyside – he was the man between the posts when Liverpool last won the English First Division (now the Premier League) in 1990, and celebrated by walking a lap of honour round the pitch on his hands.
Beyond his enormous success though, there were moments that he’d probably prefer to forget – like getting caught up in a sting operation from a tabloid newspaper, where Grobbelaar was accused of match-fixing allegations (he was subsequently cleared).
Not that this setback appears to have affected Brucie’s penchant for hi-jinks. Just this December, the former keeper says that Liverpool had failed to win the league for the last 30 years because of a curse placed on Anfield by a witch doctor. In Grobbelaar’s frankly bewildering explanation, the keeper says he recently “went down to the Kop, I peed on the posts. That breaks the spell.”
There you have it then. Forget Mo Salah, forget Jurgen Klopp – Liverpool’s current renaissance is down to the former keeper taking a heroic wazz at Anfield.
Crazy name, crazy guy Lutz is one of the less well-known keepers on the list – but there’s no doubting that he qualifies as a true goalkeeping oddball. The German is the first player to have plied his trade in all of the six recognised Fifa football associations around the world, but Lutz isn’t just in it for the travel.
The keeper turned out for 27 different clubs around the planet, spending time at Wimbledon and Nottingham Forest in the nineties, but also playing for more exotic clubs like the Calgary Mustangs, Brazil’s Hermann Aichinger, and Huddersfield Town.
He also spent a short time in prison in Singapore, after being accused of match-fixing, though he was later cleared of the charges. And during a spell in New Zealand, where he played for Dunedin Technical, the keeper abducted a penguin, keeping it in his bath for 24 hours before returning the aquatic bird to its colony. If penguin theft doesn’t mark you out as a world class goalkeeping nutjob, the game’s gone.
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