Written By Justin on Monday, August 29, 2011 | 9:18:00 PM
It happens. Your keeper gets injured, sent off, or just doesn't show up, and there's no reserve on the bench. Sometimes there's an eager volunteer, someone who has always wanted to give it a try, but more often, everyone develops a sudden interest in examining the ground, or explaining why they shouldn't be picked. Someone has to make a decision, and then someone has to go in goal. Here's exactly how to handle this tricky situation....
Ha. Sorry. There is no one, perfect way to deal with this. For managers, if you do have a willing volunteer, don't ask questions, just give them the gloves. Don't worry if they're "short" (lots of managers seem to feel that 6'4" is the absolute minimum height for a goalkeeper; my feeling on this would be easy to determine if you could see the disdainful curl of my upper lip). A willing volunteer is always going to work out better than someone stewing with resentment who was forced to go in goal, even if he or she is a better athlete.
If it happens to be you who volunteers, or draws the short straw, allow me to steal a line from Douglas Adams: don't panic. Here's the thing about goalkeepers: we deal with a lot of pressure. People expect us to never make mistakes, and when we do, it's the end of the world. But remember this: you aren't a real goalkeeper. Nobody is going to hold you to this standard. In fact, your teammates are probably less concerned about the game, and more worried that you're going to crash into the post and kill yourself (you won't kill yourself, but it does hurt).
So, to the game. Don't feel obligated to do the things you've seen real goalkeepers doing, like coming out and catching crosses. Real goalkeepers practice that, you don't. Unless you're absolutely sure you can get to the ball ahead of the crowd, just do everyone a favor, stay planted on your line, and shout "Away!" If you go for it and decide to punch, it's probably best if you do so with both fists together. After you punch it, retreat back to your line as quickly as possible.
Impromptu goalkeepers are often caught out of position. As you're intently following the play, you don't realize you're wandering around your six-yard box, until a shot comes in and you find yourself standing two feet from one post. How do you avoid this? Quick glances at the penalty spot. It's right in the center of the pitch, ergo the center or your goal. Use your peripheral vision to check your positioning against it. If it's right in front of you, you're in the center of goal. You should move side-to-side in a small arc, from post to post, as the ball is moving from side-to-side, but don't overdo it. The idea is to have equal distance to cover no matter which side of you the opponent shoots. You've probably seen diagrams explaining how proper goalkeeper positioning works, but this isn't something you want to have spooling through your memory banks during a game. Just try to stand where you feel comfortable, and where you feel you have the best chance of reaching shots struck to either side.
Finally, use your outfield skills and experience as an advantage. Watch John O'Shea, manning Manchester United's goal in emergency duty:
Player through on goal, not sure how to handle it? Just go tackle him the same way you would as an outfield player. This won't always work, of course, but then players often score when through on real goalkeepers, too. Sure, use your hands whenever you can, but if you see the opportunity to handle a situation in a way that's familiar and comfortable to you, as O'Shea did, then by all means, do it.
You may not have always appreciated your goalkeeper yelling at you, but go in goal and you'll see why we do it: the entire pitch is in front of you, and you can see every run being made. So share this information, in a loud, direct, but not panicky voice.
In the end, just remember that nobody is expecting much from you. Do your best, try to enjoy it, and who knows -- you may even catch the bug. For those of a 'certain age,' goalkeeping is a great way to extend your years playing the beautiful game. I'm looking at you, Neebs.