Written By Justin on Sunday, April 10, 2011 | 8:33:00 PM
I had fun writing the 'Gloves I've Loved' series, but it didn't compare to the opportunity I had recently to actually handle and wear a pair of the Uhlsport 023, the very first proper goalkeeper glove I ever owned. Here they are, above, modeled by the obligatory 80s grinning fool. Uhlsport kept them in their product line for a few years starting in the late seventies. They featured Uhlsport's own 'three-level' latex on the palm and backhand, and a sumptuous velvet polyurethane body.
The three-level latex didn't perform as well as Uhlsport's smooth latexes, but the 023 was much cheaper than either the 031 or 025, the premium choice for professionals in those years. I could buy a pair of 023s after mowing a couple of lawns, and I went through at least five pairs from 1980 to 1983, using them mostly in training and club games.
Sadly, goalkeeper gloves, even when cared for, are not built for the long run, so it's very rare to find a perfectly preserved pair from the early 80s. Happily, though, my friend Rob from The Glove Bag visited New York recently, and he brought his pristine pair of 023s along. He got them from Dave Holmes, the sole purveyor of Sukan Sports in England, the company that introduced modern gloves to goalkeepers all across the UK. I could (and eventually will) write an entire post about Dave and his importance to goalkeepers, but today let's keep it to the 023s. When I pulled them from the box, the smell of that velvet polyurethane took me back in time thirty years. I was amazed by their condition. Apart from the velvet being slightly sticky, they seemed brand new, and the latex felt surprisingly grippy.
As romantic as the reunion was, it was also a reality check: keepers today have it so much better. The three level foam is at most 1.5mm thick, so forget all about shock absorption. The two gloves lying together palm-to-palm were thinner than one single modern glove, and of course, the 023 has no wrist strap.
Still, there's no point comparing a 30-year-old glove with today's gloves. The thing to remember is how much of a quantum leap it would have been in the late seventies, when many keepers still went barehanded or wore plain cotton gloves.
My thanks again to Rob for the brief but memorable reunion. I only hope that there are other classics out there somewhere, perfectly preserved in their boxes, just waiting to be discovered. And I hope that whoever discovers them then moves into the apartment next to mine, and I save them from a fire, and then they have to give me the gloves. That would be great.
Uhlsport catalog picture courtesy of The Glove Bag.