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.


Blogger PC said...

Hi, I hope you don't consider this spam but I just did an article on youth players in the A-League, a must read as they are the future of Australian football:

A link to my blog would be highly appreciated.

February 25, 2008 11:45 pm  
Blogger john said...

Hi Hamish

I recommend really expensive goal keeping gloves.

Sorry I missed the Grand Final tipping - I though newcastle would win 1-0 OK?

February 29, 2008 10:42 pm  
Blogger The Round Ball Analyst said...

hamish, not sure if you saw the article in the business pages of the smh last week saying the govt may be reviewing the anti siphoning list (including socceroos games)...

March 25, 2008 8:38 pm  
Anonymous football said...

Great for him!!

May 31, 2008 4:04 pm  

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