CRAIG PRIEST’S STAGS BLOG: Heroes or villains - the tough life of goalkeepers

Mansfield Town v Portsmouth on Saturday March 19th 2016. Mansfield keeper Scott Shearer saves a penalty. Photo: Chris Etchells
Mansfield Town v Portsmouth on Saturday March 19th 2016. Mansfield keeper Scott Shearer saves a penalty. Photo: Chris Etchells

Since the dawn of football, people have always said that to be a goalkeeper you must be a raving lunatic. When you think about it, it’s true.

Who in their right mind would happily throw themselves every which way going with the danger of smashing their heads on the post? Especially when you could be at the other end stealing all the glory!

Keepers might be barmy, but they can also hold heroic status as demonstrated by Scott Shearer on Saturday as he kept out another spot-kick, this one softly given away by Daniel Alfei.

Some say saving a penalty is luck, others (me included) say it’s an art form – hours of methodical studying of DVDs of other teams, practising mind games and being able to react to either side in an instant.

It’s not just saving the odd spot-kick that makes keepers become elevated to heroic level. Reaction saves, commanding presence and chipping in the odd goal can also have the same effect.

I always wanted to be a keeper, I’ve referred previously as to why!

From the point of that rain-soaked bully-beating PE lesson accidental penalty save, I’ve craved to be the man between the sticks.

I’d say it had a lot to do with far less running and being able to wear gloves – but it wasn’t - being keeper ignited a spark.

Running was never a particular favourite of mine, granted, but when the days got shorter I used to leg it home (no mean feat as I lived at the top of a massive hill), do a quick change that a magician’s assistant would be astonished at, and head onto the field to cram in as much football as I could with my friends.

I always kept goal. We’d play until nobody could see.

One night we were having an epic game which went onto into sheer darkness.

It came to an abrupt end when someone was belted in the delicates at point blank range.

I digress. For me the real backbone to any successful team is the keeper.

Often pundits have this horrible habit of referring to a defence (say for example in a standard 4-4-2) as a back four. Does the keeper not exist?

For me a defence without a solid keeper is like a table with no legs.

Glovesmen are the unsung heroes of the game, yet sadly not only do they carry a reputation for being madder than a box of frogs, they are also (wrongly) on a knife edge between being the hero, and the villain.

You could ask everyone in the ground if the keeper is solid and you’d fail to find a tighter survey.

Kevin Pilkington was the keeper when I first started watching. He’d throw himself at everything going and make save after save after save.

He was a vocal leader too and captained us all the way to the play-offs in 2003-04, yet more will remember his more questionable kicking – hard hats all round if you were sitting at a certain point in the West Lower.

He then went from cult hero to villain when he joined Notts County.

Kevin Pressman was one of most vocal keepers I’ve seen. He’d make some steady saves but being an old team mate of a certain ex-manager who I have the unfortunate honour of sharing initials with, he was always going to be a villain.

Carl Muggleton was a decent shot-stopper, yet he’s probably remembered without fondness too, as part of the relegation side and as the man responsible for the coaching of Jason White – a young keeper who could never do right for doing wrong.

Paddy Gamble in the Conference, another young inexperienced head with little senior game time under his belt, was bound to make errors. He did and was another ‘curse of the keepers’.

Alan Marriott, naturally, is at the other end of the scale - a championship-winning keeper who nobody wanted to see leave, could score (all right one, but what a goal) and make pink look fashionable!

He had some understudies who were actually half-decent, yet a lack of game time (and trust from Paul Cox) put them into the villains’ corner - Shane Redmond, et el.

Sascha Studer was another case altogether. Away from home and family and clearly unsettled – some loved him, some loved to hate him.

It’s fair to say it’s hard to get two quality keepers in one term, yet somehow Adam Murray has managed that this time around.

Scott Shearer hasn’t been part of so many promotion winning campaigns for no reason and Beast (Brian Jensen) played at the very top level, is an excellent coach, and can still put a shift in.

One thing a keeper must have, though, is a tough mindset.

It’s a lonely place between those sticks, and the banter from the crowd can sometimes go a bit far.

Mind you there have been one or two occasions when the crowds banter came back to bite them on the bum.

It was a cold Tuesday evening back in 2007, Mansfield had been condemned to the Conference and were taking part in the Setanta Shield away at York City.

A certain Michael Ingham was keeping goal for City and with his side 1-0 down was taking some right stick throughout the second half.

Mansfield conceded a corner in the 89th minute and Ingham, in crowd banter just moments before had agreed should a thing happen he wouldn’t go forward (something about catching the Eastenders re-run).

Alas the call came from his management to go forward, he did and set up the equaliser!

He trotted back with a grin and said to the Stags’ support ‘sorry lads’.

Mansfield would go onto lose on spot-kicks with Ingham the City hero, afterwards he again apologised and shook the hands of Stags fans! The life of a keeper eh?

That’s it for this week, however, before I sign off I’d like to wish my partner’s Grandad Derek a happy 80th Birthday for today (Monday). Thank you for making every home game as entertaining as the last.