The Goalkeeper

Football without a goal is like capitalism with bankruptcy or religion without hell. This is according to Tony Schumacher, the German goalkeeper who was condemned by the world when he knocked out the teeth of Patrick Battiston, a French player, during the 1982 World Cup. Goals are indeed inseparable from football, for it is goals that determines who wins and who loses. A new rule, only implemented for a few years, is that of the sudden death goal: making a goal even more valuable, and increasing the tension within games. If needed, penalty shootouts determine the final outcome.Screen Shot 2017-06-08 at 4.18.49 pm

“Penalties are torture. We have to control our reflexes and only move at the last hundredth of a second. Our body must be open and receptive to every sensation and stimulation. Our mind must be free of thoughts. When the moment arrives for the penalty to be kicked, for other players, the keeper is a madman. He moves like someone trying to catch lightning. As soon as the referee blows the whistle, he is like a magnet which must pull the ball towards his body”, says Schumacher in his autobiography, Blowing the Whistle (1987).

It is not strange thus if Peter Handke has written the novel, Die Angst des Tormanns beim Elfmeter (The Goalkeeper’s Fear of the Penalty) and the famous film director Wim Wenders turned it into a film in 1970. In the figure of a goalkeeper, Handke and Wenders found a metaphor which shows the phenomena of an absurd feeling towards the world, which suddenly makes the person feel insignificant – what is described as a moment of truth. It is a decisive moment which shows who one really is. We create a new sensitivity towards a keeper, we have to decide which way he will go when the other player takes his shot from the penalty spot.

In the history of goalkeeping, however, the most important hysterical moment which showed the essence of a keeper, was not during a penalty. No one who saw it, can forget what Gordon Banks did, when he was faced with the Brazil during the 1970 World Cup in Mexico. The moment came only ten minutes into the game.

The strong-bodied Pele, received a pass from Jairzinho, and took a strong shot. The ball went leftwards, meaning to the right of Banks, who had already anticipated to go right. The English defenders heard Pele shout, “Goal!” But a kind of miracle happened. With incredible speed, Banks turned his body in the opposite direction, flying to the right, stretching lowly to the bottom corner of the goals, and hitting the ball out with his fist. Until this day, commentators are unable to explain how Banks could go against the earth’s pull (the sun to the earth) and change his direction in the manner he did.

Jean Paul Satre, the philosopher, said, “a good keeper is a player who is always in position, during a number of seconds throughout the game in order to save his side. Through his individual effort, doing something beyond his ability which is an action that is his intention.”

He is not mistaken. As such, keepers feel incredibly alone whenever a goal is scored. Indeed, losers are lonely in amongst the hullabaloo of a victory, every player on the losing team is alone. The 11th person, the keeper, an outsider to the game, once more, is alone with himself.

There is nothing lonelier than the work of a keeper. There is nothing more absurd than the work of a keeper. The essence of the keeper’s existence is to save. “Attackers play like the devil incarnate. Quick as a flash. Their shots are always aimed at my corner,” Schumacher remembers. He bitterly reflects on the 1986 World Cup final against Argentina. Toni Schumacher had trained himself thoroughly in the event of a penalty being taken. He’d practiced hundreds of times. It was dedication such as this that enabled him to remain as Germany’s national keeper for ten years. But, at that moment, he wasn’t able to save a penalty. Maradona’s genius pass from the centre of the field, when the score was 2:2, destroyed Germany’s hopes. “The ball that escapes is an opportunity that is lost forever,” Schumacher reflects.
Screen Shot 2017-06-08 at 4.22.43 pmWhen a goal is scored, we hear the cheering. In the hysteria of victory, who cares about the losers? When the ball shakes the net, and the scorer is swamped by hysteria, tens of thousands cheer. The TV camera doesn’t just show it, but, doubles it in a moment through slow motion and from various angles so that happiness in place, that instant, immediately  is like an investment that creates interest. The job of a keeper is absurd because he must withhold the desire for victory, the desire that makes someone else a victim.

Translated by Andy Fuller, 2017.

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