Saturday, February 23, 2008

Goalkeeping for Loonies

How the hell did I become a permanent goalkeeper? Don't get me wrong. I like it. It suits my personality in a perverse way. Perhaps it's the need to be in a team alongside an apparently contradictory need to be alone. But I'm 40 years old and have been playing (including a period of informal Sunday kick-abouts) for about 2 years. Before that I had no involvement in sport and a history of what some might call self-abuse.

With West End United in my first official season ever we were an over 35s team who somehow got conned into being in a young man's comp. We lost every game, but had a lot of fun and I daresay were forced to improve a tight passing game in an attempt to combat the speed and strength of youth. Jamie, our Mexican goalkeeper, was injured for a few weeks. The email went out, "We need a goalkeeper." In my stupid enthusiasm I emailed back, "Call me a desperation plan," and quite promptly received the reply, "Dear Desperation Plan..." I've crapped on about all that in other blogs (there's no links in this post for the technical reason that I'm working without a mouse and having multiple windows open would be just too tedious), but that's a brief.

So when it came to the first game of the futsal team, The Red Eye Pirates, Dorian, the co-manager (with his partner Harmony), basically said to me, "Hamish, you're the goalie because you're the only one with any goalkeeping experience whatsoever." I do like it and I've stayed. Frankly I'd step aside in a second if the team decided they wanted a good goalie, but they won't hear of it. They keep lying and telling me that I'm great, which is very nice. They're a great, fun bunch of folk. Love them all.

Anyway that's the answer to the first question of how I became a goalie. The rest is some notes on what it means for a 40 year old novice to attempt to become a good goalie. Occasionally I try to talk about this with people and it's inherently boring, because it's so personal, but here I can write about it with the knowledge that noone need read it or apologise for not doing so. This blog is part-diary sometimes and to those who read regularly, my apologies. Indulge me or not - it's not important.

A bloke from another team who I see sometimes in town told me that he thought we had an initial advantage when the opposition shows up and sees us, some of us old and wiry, sitting around smoking cigarettes. We look like easy meat. That first time we beat this guys team and he reckons by the time they'd realised we weren't that easy, it was too late, and we beat them. Needless to say the second time we played them they convincingly bested us.

But for the bunch of party animals we are, we've started doing ok. We've won four of the last five and last Tuesday we played a team that beat us 1st time 10:8, and did them 6:3. I had a good game - maybe one of my best - but there are still glaring reasons why I'm not a real goalkeeper but more of a committed reflex machine.
Next question is, 'How do I improve?'

My limitations are many. My footwork is relatively hopeless, especially as it's now firmly out of practice. So even for kicks from close to the box or from our end of the sideline, someone else takes it. There's no goal kicks in futsal, and I think my goal-throws are fine and improving. But that's a big disadvantage as it takes one of only four outfielders out of the place for options. Kicking back to me is risky as since I can't catch it (yes, I did that once), I will often stuff up the trap and/or redelivery. And only when I spot a very nervous, poor attacker will I take them on outside the box (I will come out, but not try to tackle or dribble past them unless they're clearly pathetic). Actually taking bold runs with the ball as some goalies do (to a very interesting effect I think - it's disconcerting and often players see the empty goal and forget that they are still defending) is out of the question.

So obviously I should work on my footwork, but I don't much except for an occasional kick with Jacob or a little before the games with the team. Whatsmore it will take a lot of work on my footwork to bring it to a point where it could make me a more useful goalie - ie where I could take on kicking roles that others now are doing for me.

So it's back to this nervous, hyped, strangely focussed reflex machine. I'm steadily improving my timing when it comes to running out, I have no fear for my life which is handy on the ground in my area, and I do have ok reflexes. Probably my biggest asset from the perspective of the rest of the Pirates is that I actually want to do it.

This wouldn't even apply to last Tuesday's game because I made my best saves with my feet (oh, and one with my face from about 2 meters which had me off stinging for a few minutes), but my biggest frustration, which I think is eminently improvable, is that I often get my hand to a ball but the ball goes straight through to the net. These are the saves I reckon I can get better at, in two ways.

First I've got to learn, and make it a reflex knowledge, when to use my open hand and when to punch. I've practiced punching a bit with Jacob (we sort of drill each other at goalkeeping sometimes, as he does a bit of goalkeeping in Indoor), and I reckon I'm even quite accurate, but it's yet to become a fluid reflex in the heat of play. The second thing is to just work on strengthening my fingers, hands and wrists, which I've been doing. It just seems like the most immediate way I can work on stopping some extra goals.

Meanwhile, in my first game this season I did something to my right pinky, in the third game I took a similar sprain to my left pinkie. Then about 4 games ago I did this to my right thumb. All of these minor injuries sort of get a bit less tender during the week, but none of them have recovered, so I now go from week to week with three somewhat sprained digits. I'm barely aware of it during a game and I don't think it effects how I play, but I do wonder what the Pirate's physio would say if such a creature existed.

We might be party animals. Look, it is not unknown for us to have a couple of beers before a game or for some to even have a nasty, unidentifiable smoke. Beers after the game is compulsory - that's explicit. But we are still strangely competitive, and we have a great desire to win. We're trying to get regular Sunday training going (have done a couple but shockingly I haven't made it yet), and we discuss tactics a lot - probably much more than teams who have star players they can rely on. (To be perfectly honest, our victory last week was partly because we had Peter as a guest, who is very competent on the ball and can strike - he scored three of our six goals. Peter is, needless to say perhaps, not a party animal.) So we do improve, and we have a hoot in the process.

But keepers apparently peak at about 36. I begun when I was 38. I'm after a sort of sub-curve of improvement, given that I never played before. Maybe I've got until I'm about 42 to peak in my 'skills'. Meanwhile, that strange, focussed, rudely existential place, when I am in goal... well, I wouldn't give it up for anything. There is no other time in my living which compares to that mental and physical experience. For that alone it's worth it. Thank you to the Pirates for having me.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Grand Final Tippng

Well I reckon the Mariners are going to deliver a 3:2 victory. I hope a lot of Australia watches and that it is a brilliant spectacle of sportsmanship.

What do you reckon?

I'll update everything and do a final wrap of the Bloggers Cup after the game. Last I worked it out Mike was still holding a lead, miraculously after going intercontinental for a few weeks, but Eamonn was pushing hard.

Btw, I'm happy with the Roar's season. Better than last year, which was my first. We beat Sydney. Does the rest matter?

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Tipping Newcastle vs Queensland

May the best team win, and the game be grand.

Newcastle 1
Queensland Roar 3

Oh, and next Thursday's matter, for the record:

Sydney FC v Houston Dynamo
Sydney 3:0

Go the Roar. Go Sydney. Now that's an odd couplet of sentences.

Monday, February 11, 2008

World Cup 2010

One of the things I learned as a novice fan following the 2006 World Cup is that the World Cup as I knew it was not the World Cup Competition as such, but merely the finals. This really got me, the very idea of an international competition with over 200 teams. This tickled the political and social chords of interest at least as much as the sporting spectacle.

Since the Qatar game the other night, Australia has entered the fray of the 2010 World Cup, and I've had some fun checking out how the competition is going so far. This is just some random notes.

Of 201 teams who officially began (or are yet to begin) the qualifiers, 31 have already been knocked out.

In October and November last year a preliminary knock out round in Africa claimed Comoros, Guinea-Bissau and Somalia. The rest of the federation has been drawn in 12 groups of four, to begin the round on the 30 May with Cameroon vs Cape Verde Islands and other games. They play for 5 places in the finals, including South Africa which has it's place as host guaranteed.

New Zealand has all but won Oceania but definitely out in that Federation are American Samoa (remember them), Cook Islands, Tuvalu, Samoa, Tonga and Solomon Islands. On 23 June New Zealand will most likely defeat Fiji bringing them to 12 points and claiming the Oceania 0.5 chance, knocking out Fiji, New Caledonia and Vanuatu. Then they'll have to wait for the Asian Federation to get sorted before they can play off Asia's number 5. Oh what delicious irony if they have to play Australia.

A lot of teams were knocked out in Asia before we got to play, seeded as we were in the third round of play-offs. They are Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Chinese Taipei, Macau, India, Vietnam, Palestine, Nepal, Maldives, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, East Timor, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Myanmar, Pakistan, Yemen, Tajikistan, Indonesia and Hong Kong. The remainder are in five groups of four, playing for our 4.5 places.

Europe is divided into nine groups of six and their opening match on 6 September is between Albania and Sweden. Europe is playing off for a whopping 13 places in the finals.

Games have already been played in the North, Central America and Caribbean Federation, but teams will not start dropping out until 26 March, when Dominic and Barbados play their second home-and-away to decide who will play off against the USA (good luck to either of them) along with a few other parallel games between minnow hopefuls. They go for 3.5 places in the finals,

South America may be one of the top two Federations but it is the smallest in numbers. They are one big home-and-away group of 10. Everyone's already played 4 games but there's a long way to go. Paraguay is on top with 10 points and Bolivia is trailing on one. The next games are on 14 June, with Argentina (on 9 points) vs Ecuador (3), Uruguay (4) vs Venezuela (6), Peru (2) vs Columbia (8), Paraguay (10) vs Brazil (8) and Bolivia (1) vs Chile (4). They are playing off for 4.5 places in the final, the 5th having to play off against the 4th from Africa.

I intend to maintain at least a watching brief of this meta-competition, and will no doubt stream a few of the games, and more as the stakes in the big federations heat up. I do this with a globe on my desk. Really, this game is cool.

However sparsely, I intend to follow an entire World Cup for the first time.


Sunday, February 10, 2008

Minniecon's Critic

The praises of Tahj Minniecon may appear to be a unanimous chorus, but they're not. Jacob has hated him from the first, and he has a perspective that deserves airing.

"He's a hog. I hate hogs."

And further, upon argument, "Sure he can dribble past defenders but when he's drawn three of them he's done his job. He should pass it then."

That's the gist of it. He's got a point.

Labels: ,

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Mnemonic Miscellanea

Yeah yeah, great game last night. Really tremendous. For good raps of the game itself, see The Football Tragic, Football in the Capital and The Round Ball Analyst. (Later edit: also A Seat at the A-League.) Here's some bits and pieces.

First getting to the game. For the first time I drove, and somehow got a park right next to the Paddo Pub, a mere block from the stadium. We were over an hour early but there was already thousands of people milling about (both the Paddo and the Caxton were packed with Orange), and we felt damn lucky to get the park.

Jacob and I were meeting a friend, Donald, at the Wally Lewis statue at 7pm, half hour before the game. (The game had already been rescheduled from 7 to 7.30 in order to get the expectedly large crowds into their seats.) So we had some food and wandered to the stadium, which took ages because of the crowd.

Almost there and a Sydney contingent of about 20 were marching directly behind us singing, "Oh, oooohh oohh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh.. SYDNEY!" at the top of their voices. They sounded great - a bit too great for me so immediately after they got to the second, "SYDNEY!" I rejoined, "CAN'T PLAY!" at the top of my own not-soft voice. I didn't even look around to see their response. Didn't dare. But they shut up. The little bit of truth in what I shouted comes back in a reminiscence of a shouting Sydney crew after a QRvSFC game last season, "WE'RE SHIT BUT WE BEAT YOU!" It was great humour at the time and I remember Jacob and I laughing respectfully at their militant honesty. But last night they were shit and they didn't beat us.

Ok, we met Donald. It was obviously going to be a huge crowd and I'm glad I bought my tickets on the net, which I've never done before for an A-League game.

Later Donald said he'd seen the ominous clouds in the sky, but I knew nothing. Seemed like great weather for 35,000 people to be milling about in.

The tickets were for the second level - Section 526 - but accidentally we ended up on the top level (eventually in 722). On the way up the stairwell, caged from the open air outside the stadium, we noticed it was raining (the view's great anyway btw). When we got to the top (we didn't dawdle or stop for drinks from the time we entered) we looked out into the stadium into an impenetrable curtain of sheeting water. Jacob and I spontaneously sprinted to the gate - one of those adrenalin-from-nowhere moments. The boys were still training, but there was already a glisten of water across the whole pitch. There were thousands running from the stands to the back areas. A long ball would land on the pitch and stop dead.

It was an extraordinarily timed (potential) disaster. First, if the game had have kicked off at 7pm as originally scheduled it would have had to be stopped, with very little warning, and there would have been a horrible stampede of 35,000 people. As it was the 35,000 people had well-and truly mobilised - they were for the most part in the stadium or directly outside it (there were many waterlogged people in the stands by kickoff), when the torrent hit. As it was there was a brilliant scene of an almost empty stadium (for the front three quarters) with a ring of packed people. Cancellation? Impossible. But if that rain had continued it would have been simply impossible to play. Extraordinary theatre.

The icing on our spectacle from above (where we were dry incidentally, apart from light spray from the lashing winds, and I'm sure we weren't the only ones to permanently migrate to the very back) was the home and away hardcore crews at each end. Many of them stuck it out, leaving a blue and an orange front section full at respective ends, dervishly dancing and chanting in this outrageous torrent of water (it was too heavy to be called 'rain'), knowing, so I think, that to break and run was to allow the other side's fans to win. The players had gone off, the world had evacuated the cyclonic zone, except for these fans. In ones and twos members of each crew fled, having had enough, but as groups they held out until the end of the inclement. If anything, my report is that the Sydney fans won the contest. At the end their group was bigger, until the stands were reoccupied of course.

The next piece of Miscellanea is brought to you by the letter M: Matty McKay, Massimo Murdocca, Moore, Miniecon, McLaren, McLoughan, McMaster, Michael, Mitch and Marcinho. If we still had Milicic we could put out a fit, fairly coherent M11 to maul Melbourne and mince the Mariners. I've left out injured Matthew Ham.

Finally, with no bearing on last night at all because Reddy had sweet F to do, I think it is time to tribute Roar coach Fernando vas Alves. We've heard about how great Frank Farina is and we hear about how great many of the players are. But when we hear about how good Reddy is, and he has improved enormously since I've been watching him, and now how good McMaster is when he had to step up, surely it's time to mention the Goalkeeper Coach.

For example, we heard of how last season McMaster as number two was snubbed for import Tando Velaphi, as if this, and the subsequent faith in McMaster this season, was all Frank. Surely Alves would have had a big part in these decisions, as he is the one constantly working with McMaster. But more broadly, this Alves bloke can obviously spot and develop young goalkeepers. I've never heard about the international market for goalkeeper coaches, but I reckon Alves could get ambitious if he wanted.

Have a good weekend. And good luck to the Mariners. I haven't got any really strong feelings about who I want to win, and neither is this post especially mnemonic, but I'm moving with the letter M.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Oh yeah!

Well we won. Of course I'm talking about the Red Eye Pirates futsal team. We won 5:2 last night, which after a terrible run of losses, was the third win in a row. I don't think my keeping is improving much, but our strikers certainly are, and we have a good structure now, completely mobile, with the single defender often running up if they have space with the ball but someone always doubling back, and one always seeking out the space up front no matter what. That's it. There's only four outfielders, so it just has to be simple and coherent. We've got that now. Hope I didn't jinx our next game by writing about it, but we're definitely feeling more confident.

Of course I really sat down to write about the Socceroos vs Qatar game. I don't have much to say about it, but I'm pretty high on the win and need to say the little I do.

Over at the World Game site the headline is, "Socceroos do it easy." It's an understandable headline and this is not a dig, but upon consideration it's not entirely accurate.

They didn't look like they were 'doing it easy' in the first half. They played like they were playing Brazil in a grand final. It was very mobile and creative, but the important observation is that they did not take Qatar for granted. They played like they could lose if they didn't give every single thing.

Whilst the less inspiring second half performance was no doubt the result of jet lag and exhaustion kicking in, and some tactical adjustment from Qatar, it could easily be a picture of what things might look like if the Socceroos started the game like it was going to be easy.

If both teams played a game out in the manner of the second half, either team could get the points. That's why, quite aside from the China and Iraq games, which are much harder even on paper, we have to treat Qatar with exactly the same respect the second time. This time they had the support of the media and the commentariat in developing this respect. Next time, after the "Socceroos (doing) it easy,"
it is going to be a greater spiritual challenge. Verbeek will have to lead in this though, and I think he is too clever to be as arrogant as Arnold was before the Asia Cup.

Only other thing is about the announcement by Moore that this was his last game for Australia. I say, "Nooooooooo!!!!"

Now mate... maaaaate, your country needs ya buddy. You're good - up there with the best in central defense. It's an important position mate. Goals get conceded there and games get lost. If you're not getting enough games, go do a bit of marquee work in Europe or somewhere in the off-season. I'm sure something could be organised. But you are also one of the very few who have this wonderful advantage of actually living in Asia. Ok, close to Asia. I don't want to argue about geography. We're gonna need ya.

But sleep on it. Help the Roar trash Sydney on Friday, then play the A-League Grand Final. Have a rest for a couple of weeks, then get back to us. Please mate?

Friday... ah Friday. Can the universe deliver a sweet hat trick of wins for the week? Of hat tricks, it would be sweet indeed. Go the bloody Roar.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Tipping Semi-Finals Round 2

Tip away. May all the games be brilliant, starting tomorrow night. Go the Socceroos!