the square ball week: some goalkeepers i have seenBack
I was very young, so it was a mystery to me that Leeds United’s goalkeeper should be so old. Hey! he’d point out. He wasn’t so old; and grey hair can be distinguished. I’m now of an age and a hair colouring where I can begin to agree with him, although I’d contend that so far the amount of silver streaking my hair is more ‘start of play-offs 86/87’ than ‘end of promotion season 89/90’ when compared to the Day chart. And arguably as agile. For 200 games and five years Day kept diligent goal for Leeds United, with one aim: to get back into Division One, where he’d started his career as a swoony teenage sensation with West Ham, and show that he was still good enough. And no sooner had he made it, than Howard Wilkinson went out and bought John Lukic for £1million. Day did finally get his top flight games again, in 1992/93, in the Premier League; Leeds lost 4-0 at Manchester City, and 2-0 at Everton. He deserved better. But he was a goalkeeper. Nobody is nice to goalkeepers.
I was very young, so it was great for me that a top flight athlete should have the same Lego man haircut as me. Lukic wasn’t as friendly looking as a Lego figure, though; much too intense and stern. I was once given a team photo, signed by all the players who had been present at a hotel the night before an away game; Lukic’s signature came on a separate piece of paper. That’s what you want from a goalkeeper, though; someone strong and silent, who would meditate in a bath for hours before a match, speaking to nobody, and conceding only 37 goals in a Championship winning season. The errors, they’ll say: punching wildly, bedazzled at Ibrox, that was the one. Sure, but what about Maine Road in 1991, the way he reached that dipping volley from Mark Ward? Or the blue Umbro top with yellow and grey flashes, that he and Day sometimes wore? Or the title-won game against Norwich, when he dolphinned the ball back into his penalty area, like a clown in civvies? It doesn’t matter, after all these years, what he did or didn’t do with a backpass.
I never actually saw him, but he was fascinating to me. He was signed at the same time as Lukic, from Shelbourne, but never got near the team; because I was very young, I didn’t understand, so I picked him regularly for my Subbuteo team. I finally found a photo of him from his time at Leeds in the last few months. He was wearing that blue Umbro top.
Given special FA clearance to make his debut in the meaningless final game of 1992/93, he played his part in a 3-3 draw, in a misfit eleven alongside Ray Wallace, Mark Tinkler, Jon Newsome, Carl Shutt, and Steve Hodge. I have no idea what the formation was, but David Rocastle, of course, was on the bench. After five games of Lukic at the start of the next season, Beeney was number one for the next twenty-two games, but was anybody really having it? Really? Then when he got eight consecutive games in 1995/96, was it really going to happen? Nah. He did manage two more games that season, but in one of them Lucas Radebe was in goal for seventy minutes, after Beeney was sent off. For that alone he deserves to be remembered fondly, because Radebe going in goal was ace.
If you look at the squad photo for 1996/97, the back row is all sorts of weird, because Mark Beeney is plumb in the centre in a green top, looking as number one as it gets, with four players to his left and four to his right; but then you realise he has five players to his left, because somebody has clumsily Photoshopped Lee Sharpe on there, and to his left is Tony Yeboah and then Nigel Martyn, looking like a reserve in his purple top, and with only Rob Bowman and Paul Beesley to his left. Oh, and Andy Couzens, who seems to be standing on a chair, which makes Sharpe look less of a Photoshop job, more of a cardboard cutout — on a chair. Anyway it’s madness, and in his portrait photo Martyn is wearing some other top entirely, so none of it makes any sense. Nigel Martyn, though; perfect sense. Despite being as mad as a bag of off-brand Doritos. 38 goals conceded in a mid-table finish wasn’t a Lukic dream, but it made George Graham, who sold us Lukic in 1990, happy. And that was what counted while George Graham was here. Once Martyn had been slipped into that suave black-and-two-shades-of-green top that Puma did he looked like what he was: the best goalkeeper in the whole bloody world.
It’s easy, with hindsight, to see what United should have done with Paul Robinson: sold him while he was hot. In fact it was easy to see about ten games after we’d sold Nigel Martyn to Everton. He’d mature and become brilliant, was the theory, but while Martyn had about three years of top level brilliance left, it would take Robinson, like all keepers, about a decade to reach that level, if he was ever going to. In which case we could have always bought him back, Lukic style. As it was Leeds got relegated and Robinson never got that good, although he was kept around the England setup for a long time, more out of hope that anything else. At least he had a better career than Richard Wright, and to still be playing for Burnley after a blood clot on his lung nearly killed him is fair. Also: that goal.
He was really old. He was also really good. Which only proved one thing, and it was about Nigel Martyn.
In goal for Leeds I will only respect one true Casper, the friendliest ghost. Clang! Clang! went his boots against the posts before he took a goal-kick; I swear he wore iron shoes like a shire horse. And then there were the acrobatics while the ball was upfield, and you’d watch him, thinking, he does know, doesn’t he, the ball is nearly — oh, okay, it’s back up their end but no hang on jeez has he seen? — oh god, CASP—! ah, no, he’s on it. At least we knew we were alive.
Andrew Lonergan/Paul Rachubka
One didn’t have the mental strength to be captain and gave it up after two months, the other didn’t have the mental strength to be a goalkeeper but kept the charade going for six matches.
As sure as night follows day and pig follows trough, Paddy Kenny follows Neil Warnock. He couldn’t really move much but he could moan alright; it was like having Neil Kilkenny in goal.
The Cat. As in, go get the cat, and put it in goal. It’ll probably do better. And it’ll respond better to being kicked. (Everybody: don’t ever kick cats.)
Potentially, see the above discussion about Paul Robinson and Richard Wright; think back to the first three minutes of his Leeds career. All the age of a Day, the intensity of a Lukic, but the talent of a Martyn? Or a Rachubka? He didn’t concede a goal at home for more than 600 minutes, but still doesn’t quite inspire the confidence you’d expect from an experienced former England international goalkeeper who hasn’t conceded a goal for 600 minutes. Perhaps a lot really has been to do with the defenders who have stolen the headlines, as Green kinda said himself this week: “Some games I’ve just been stood around for ninety minutes then let in a screamer or something”; or maybe it’s because he says things like he just stands around and lets in screamers, when we all know he’s doing/has done a lot more than that. You wouldn’t get that kind of false modesty from a self-confident keeper like Lukic or Rachubka, but then, you can’t imagine John Lukic sitting down after a game to type a long message into Apple Notes to reassure social media that everything’s going to be okay. I like to imagine Robert Green was still wearing his gloves while he did that, for some reason. And I like that he did it. Jansson, Bartley, Ayling, Wood; they’re hard on the field, but they’re all softies really, preferring the selfie on a quiet night out to a rocking, raucous, rallying cry. And nobody wants to provoke Berardi into telling us what he’s really thinking. So Robert Green it is, to tell us it’s okay, then to make save after save against Bristol City, despite still looking like he’s going to give them the ball QPR style at any moment, almost smuggling a brilliant goalkeeping performance under the radar so that it’s almost over when you finally take stock and realise you’ve stopped shaking every time he goes for the ball and that, in the last half-an-hour, he’s just played as well as any goalkeeper you’ve seen for years. Of course, that’s the exact moment when he conceded. Nobody is nice to goalkeepers.