7 of the most memorable goalkeepers

After making this weeks video about goalkeepers of NYC Footy I thought it would be fun to make a list of 7 of the best goalkeepers (err, my favorite goalkeepers).

The list in no particular order, since it’s not really a “top goalkeeper” list. Well, except for No.1. He’s in that spot because I actually feel he is the best keeper of my lifetime.

Without further ado, “the list”:

7. Bruce Grobbelaar: Bruce Grobbelaar was a Liverpool keeper in the 80s and early nineties. He stood out for his cat-like agility. He would stop shots in a style I have rarely seen a goalkeeper do since. As a kid, I thought Grobbelaar had a funny look to him - he seemed small for a goalkeeper - round head and a stand out mustache to go along with that iconic green jersey. Grobbelaar’s life has been full of drama too. Here is a video on his story:

6. Packie Bonner: A proper emotional choice here and someone I have already referenced in previous articles. Packie Bonner became my first football childhood hero after his penalty kick save v Romania that put Ireland into the 1990 World Cup Quarter Final. After that moment I had to get the jersey and the gloves. I would then try to mimic Packie in every way - from his kick out style to angry gestures. In later years, Packie struggled with the back pass rule which only came into effect in 1992. Whenever the ball was passed back to him, I would almost have a heart attack in hope he wouldn’t mess up. Scroll forward to 11:40 here and relive Packies greatest moment:

5. Thomas Ravelli: An obscure choice. I first saw Ravelli play for Sweden in Euro 92, the first major tournament I could sink my teeth into. Ravelli had a peculiar scruffy look to him. He was a bit like a Swedish Grobbelaar in his movements. But what I always remember most about Ravelli was his curious and risky habit of juggling the ball behind his back before he would launch goal kick out of his hands. I’ve had to watch a lot of videos to try and find an example of him doing it. Here is a good doco piece about Ravelli, and you can spot his ball juggling at the 7:20 mark:

4. Rene Higuita: Top of the nutter list - Colombian keeper Rene Higuita. You know when you are playing 5-a-side, and your keeper decides to recklessly go on a run up field while leaving the goal empty? Well Higuita would do that during a World Cup match. Here is a fantastic montage of his antics (excuse the awful choice of music). But for me the stand out moment by Higuita will always be his ‘scorpion kick’ save he pulled off v England in a friendly in 1995. I was lucky to watch the save live. The next day the UK news was telling how kids were in danger of getting badly injured in attempting the stunt. It’s a classic football moment:

3. Andy Goram: As a Celtic fan in the mid and late 90s, Andy Goram of Rangers broke my heart over and over pulling off what seemed to be impossible saves. Rangers at the time were the dominant force in Scottish football. But Celtic were getting closer and closer to over taking them. And when things got so close, it seemed like literally only Goram was getting in the way. Goram was another keeper who didn’t seem like he had quite the right look for the role - short, stocky and scruffy - but despite this he got in the way of everything. As he played for Glasgow Rangers there really is not much more I wish to say about him.

2. Jorge Campos: Mexican goalkeeper Jorge Campos had a few claims to fame. Through his career he would often play as striker and scored a hatful of goals doing so. But what stood out most about Campos to me were his incredible jerseys. My friends and I were such football nuts growing up, that we would often draw our dream football kit designs. So due to this - Campos jerseys were the stuff of our childhood fantasies. What was even cooler was that Campos actually designed his kits himself. My dad would tell me the crazy designs were to put the strikers off during one on ones. Decent logic if true.

1. Peter Schemeichel: I first saw Peter Schmeichel when he played for Denmark in Euro 92. During that tournament he seemed taller and more impressive than any keeper I’d seen. With his blonde hair he brought back memories of Ivan Drago in Rocky 4. Schmeichel had unique attributes as a keeper in ‘92. He would come out far and fearlessly, and pull high crosses out of the air. He would then launch a long throw out. We would marvel that Schmeichel could throw the ball out as far as most other keepers could kick it. After Euro 92, Schmeichel moved to Manchester United where he had a sparkling career. Specialising in the starfish save, and with agility he got from handball, Schmeichel is the all round best keeper in my memory.

Till next time…

A Brief History of Soccer Injuries

My personal history with injuries

My worst football injury was a leg break that occurred when I was about 10. I’ll never forget it. Inspired by the goalkeeping heroics of Irish shot stopper Packie Bonner in World Cup Italia’ 90, I had already set my life's ambition - I wanted to be the man between the sticks - screaming at defenders, and marshaling the troops.

My budding career got off to a good start. In games at the local green, I would pull off miraculous save after miraculous save. I was Gordan Banks in the making.

Wanting to push forward I tried out for a local 11-a-side team - Cambridge Boys in Ringsend Park, Dublin. Cambridge Boys were a tough bunch. The players had a hard edge. But once I showed up, I immediately displaced the current regular in nets. He was not too happy being demoted to the sidelines. He would chew gum and look at me with dagger eyes which made me a tad nervy I’ll admit.

All was going well, until the fateful day arrived. It was sunny if I recall. The grass was green, the manager was shouting on the sidelines. I should point out that in Ireland, we played our u11 games on full adult 11-a-side pitches - with full size goals. Absurd really. But it might help you paint a picture - a bunch of diminutive kids chasing a ball around a giant field.

A ball was played through to an on-rushing striker. It was a classic one-on-one scenario. I knew instinctively what I needed to do. Come out. Make myself big. Narrow the angles. After that it was just a blur. All I remember next was screaming in agony. I wouldn’t be surprised if my screams are still echoing somewhere today.

My Dad came to pick me up, and brought me to a local hospital. I had broken my leg so severely I had to spend days in the hospital. If I recall, I even needed an operation to realign the bones in my leg which were verging off in different directions. To this day, my right shin can be a bit sensitive (or it could just be in my head).

After recovering from that ordeal I returned to the number one position undaunted. But no sooner was I back on the pitch when an older kid with a Roberto Carlos style thunderbolt managed to fracture my brittle wrist bone. I saved the shot, but damage was done.

I have luckily managed to avoid any significant injury since then. I suppose I should count my blessings. It’s been a good run.

I should be more sympathetic to others with injuries. But playing in a 5-a-side league with some of my best friends when I was 22 or so, I became hugely frustrated with my injury-prone teammates. These players were not going down after heavy collisions either. They were blighted by knee issues, joint issues… you name it. The would run, and next thing you know, they’d be on the ground.

I was the self appointed manager of the team, and took the job responsibility with that of the Champions League elite. So to see my players on the deck hobbling off with regularity began to drive me nuts. These players were useful. We needed them. But I began to wonder why they were going down so easily. When it becomes so repetitive, you begin to think that perhaps, just maybe the players are a bit ‘soft’ (this coming from the biggest scaredy cat in town, let me assure you).

Injuries in the world of football

Often real managers wonder about their injury prone players too. Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp shared his feelings about the constantly injured striker Daniel Sturridge. When Klopp took over Liverpool in 2015, Klopp said the striker must learn "what is serious pain and what is only pain."

As a fan, nothing is as upsetting as when an important player of a team you support falls injured at a crucial time - such as in the lead up time to a World Cup. That time unfortunately always coincides with the most intense time in the football season.

England, in particular, have had its share of bad luck over the years. I recall both David Beckham and Wayne Rooney being stuck down by the dreaded metatarsal in the weeks preceding a World Cup. The metatarsal injury, it would seem, was fashionable in the nineties. Some blamed lightweight boot design for the reason so many metas were causing strain.

Becks and Rooney. were both were struck down in the prime of their careers, and when England expected more than ever. Both injuries came with inadequate time to heal for the World Cup. The updates on Becks and Rooneys metatarsal status was as prevalent in the UK then as Donald Trump is on CNN today, such was the desperation of the Three Lions.

With national pressure requireing both stars suit up for their respective World Cups, suffice to say both players returned in time for the competitions. But, certainly in Rooneys case, nowhere near the level expected.

Imagine the frustrations for players that wait their entire lives to perform on the global stage, only to succumb to a performance-reducing injury. Think Ronaldo in the 1998 World Cup Final. Ronaldo suffered a mysterious seizere the day of the Final, leaving fans bewildered at what was going on with El Fenomeno..

Speaking of phenoms, I always feel Messi is carrying knocks by the time each World Cup rolls around. He is constantly accused of under performing for Argentina on the biggest stage. But surely, after a 60 game season for Barcelona, the toll has been taken on him. For Argentina on the big stage he often looks like he has a ball and chain attached to his foot.

Avoiding Injuries

But how does one avoid injuries and mishaps? Well, ironically one would say that to best avoid disaster is to be fully committed. If you second guess yourself and look to pull out of a challenge you stand a risk of getting caught. It’s like crossing a road and changing your mind half way. The tiniest pause to check yourself might be the split second needed for disaster to strike. It’s also a bit similar to changing your mind in a run up to take a penalty. That rarely works out well. One must have conviction in their movements and conviction in their tackles or you risk coming off second best, and perhaps minus a leg. It’s all down to confidence.

But even with the best will you can find yourself in trouble. I’ll wrap this up by showcasing arguably the most famous collision in World Cup history -

A colorful evolution of the football boot

Back in my day everyone wore black boots. When watching football on TV at the beginning of the 90s you barely ever saw a player with boots other than the color black. When you did, that player stood out like a sore thumb. White boots running around a field just looked so unnatural. They screamed… look at me! It took a certain type of arrogance to make the decision to wear them.

To show how uncommon the trend was - look at this photo from the 1995 Champions League Final. In the AC Milan team photo you can see Marco Simone wearing white boots. A couple of the other players have flashes of red, and green which I think would even have came across a tad garish back then.

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I can’t emphasize how much white boots stood out when watching football back then. When just one player out of 11, or 22 decides to go with a white boot, you notice.

Jumping forward to last years Champions League Final - in this photo of Liverpool lifting the cup, it’s hard to spot one player wearing black boots.

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Funnily enough when watching football now, I personally notice the colors much less now everyone is wearing different colors. They don’t pop like that one player who went rogue wearing a pair of white boots.

What’s the point? Times change. Trends change. Individuality is in. Perceived individuality certainly. In a time when you can pick your color iphone, or Nintendo Switch, I suppose it makes sense that you can pick your color boots.

In saying that, if its a team game, where it is good to represent yourself as a team, is there something to be said for uniform? Lets talk about uniforms.

When I went to school in Dublin, we had to wear a uniform. Grey trousers, grey socks, grey shirt, grey jumper, black shoes, blue tie. Exciting right? I hated it, but in hindsight at least it gave you one less thing to think about in the morning. Also and pretty crucially kids couldn’t actually compete with each-other over who had the best grey shirt. Nobody cared. We all got our grey shirt from the same place.

Individuality in my school years was when a kid decided to go for the bleach blonde look. That was The Beatles mop top of my era. The individual trend didn’t last long, as pretty soon every kid started bleaching their hair blonde. I always found that a bit odd and slightly ironic that the way you end up being an individual is to not go along with a trend.

Attempting to mitigate peer pressure in school is surely a good thing? It puts huge pressure on parents when kids come home complaining that the others have the latest video game or the like.

What is clear is that the changing face of football boot color is less to do with us craving to express ourselves as we may like to think, but rather a clever way for manufacturers to market to kids. Where once upon a time a standard pair of black boots would have been adequate, I suppose a kid these days will want the exact boots worn by their hero. And if that hero changes his boot color every year/ every month, then it only follows that said kid will want the new boots too.

But why don’t people gravitate towards the classic black anymore? Outside of the fact that we are not being marketed black boots...it it because people no longer like black as a boot color? In what other situations might you choose illuminous orange over black? Would you wear an neon green suit over a classic black suit or dress?

Most people wouldn’t wear a striped pink outfit if they wanted to be taken seriously. Can you imagine James Bond in anything other than a classic dark suit?

It’s a matter of taste I suppose. Have we become tasteless?

Let’s look again at the classic black boot...

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What does this say about me? Am I destined to become a crusty conservative - watching on as the kids go out of control with their freckled hair styles, sparkly iPhones and neon orange Pumas.

The legendary football manager Alex Ferguson was known for being a strict disciplinarian. He didn’t want individuality getting out of control. But towards the end of the 90s superstardom of certain players began to go into over drive. There was the mercurial talent of Eric Cantona. His flamboyant style trend was to play with his shirt collar up. It seems harmless enough, but it stood out at the time.

But Cantona's collar was nothing compared to the constantly changing hair styles of David Beckham. I kid you not when I say a new David Beckham's barnet became front page fodder in the UK.

Ferguson eventually had enough with Beckham’s celebrity. Ferguson wanted players main focus to be on the game. And so in one of the last great examples of true managerial power Ferguson offloaded Becks - but not before ironically kicking boot at him as he made his way to the exit door.

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We now live in an age of unparalleled player power. Using Manchester United as an example of where this has lead, see the example of Paul Pogba. A talented player who seems to have something different going on with his hair style every time you see him. Pogba, despite his 100 million price tag has been accused of not caring as he should. His characterful persona is perfect for a marketing man to latch onto. Pogba appears to be a better player in FIFA video game than in reality.

Here is an interesting video showcasing Pogba’s changing boots over the years.

You may notice in this video that in the early days Pogba went often with a classic black look. But as the years passed and his fame grew that the colors became more outlandish. I suppose it only makes sense from a marketing perspective that if you want to sell some boots, you need to stick the players in boots that stick out. But perhaps more it speaks of the time we are in. Perceived individuality is in. But is it any wonder with all this individuality that Manchester United have not been able to get it together?

This is becoming an Esquire article. Hope you enjoy this weeks video.

Where does soccer passion come from?

Where does soccer passion come from?

After seeing last week’s video where I asked players in Chinatown about their preferred 5-a-side formation, a friend of mine suggested I ask NYC Footy players how their love for soccer (well, being from Ireland, I said football) came about. So visiting the 11-a-side games on Saturday at East River Park, I was excited to hear what great soccer moments the players would recount. What soccer moments lit their passion?

But what quickly became apparent, is that, aside from a few select players, many of the American born and bred players didn’t have a moment that instigated their love for soccer. It was simply a case that when they were young they started playing soccer. They were brought up to play soccer. This created a slight issue for me making this week’s video, as the response “I just started playing when I was young,” didn’t really make for the video I was imagining.

This highlights what I think might be a cultural difference to other countries.

In the States (again, that’s what we Irish call the U.S.), what appears to be commonplace is that parent's enroll their kids to play organized soccer. Whereas in other countries, a passion for the game is passed down by elders out of a love for a particular club. Perhaps the kid is brought to a game, or perhaps they are made to watch it on TV. The kid has no choice in the matter. But they are often seduced by the loud crowd, the smell of the grass and the grand drama of it all.

Prior to the age of 7, I had no interest in soccer. I distinctly remember saying to other kids, rather pompously, “It’s just a bunch of people chasing around a ball.” In truth, I had absolutely no idea.

Then in 1990, the Republic of Ireland qualified for its first World Cup, which was taking place in Italy. I remember being made to sit and watch Ireland's opening game v England in my grandmother's apartment with my parents and various uncles and aunts. My family were not football mad in the slightest, but the country was all in on Italia 90 hysteria. Ireland saw that World Cup as one of the first times we were represented on a global stage. There was a huge sense of national pride for the Boys in Green.

During the course of the first three group games Ireland played, I quickly got swept up in the madness. I think I was surprised by how easy the game was to understand. “You mean it’s just about getting the ball in the goal? And whoever gets the most goals wins?” I mean what a simple (yet brilliant) concept.

By the time Ireland drew 1-1 with the Netherlands to progress out of our group, I was spending every waking (and most likely sleeping) hour thinking about soccer. Not just thinking. When I was drawing, I was drawing soccer pictures. When I was making Lego, I was making soccer stadiums. When I was reading, I was reading absolutely anything to do with soccer. And, of course, I was out in the garden endlessly kicking a ball against a wall. And too often kicking the ball over the neighbor’s wall, driving them nuts in the process.

After the World Cup I got sucked into following football in the pre-Premier League era. At the risk of sounding like an old man, it all seemed to carry more of a mystique back then. Less globalized. More exotic.

Watching soccer just made me want to play. Whenever something exciting would happen in the rare televised game (you might get one a week in the early 90s) I would run to the phone and call my best friend.

“Did you see that goal!”

Which would be quickly followed up by…

“Do you want to play.”

My feet would literally tingle with excitement to play when I watched games.

When we would play, we would just go out on the street. We would play till it got dark and we could barely see the ball. Our parents would have to demand that we come back inside.

Those were the days when there was no fear at all about letting your kids just go out and do their own thing.

Here is yet another difference between the U.S. and other countries. The U.S. is often frowned upon by foreigners for having such a heavy pay to play model. I think many of us would agree that this limits access and opportunity for people that might otherwise become soccer superstars. That said, while the rest of the world gets distracted by social media and the like, the US may just be ahead of the game in creating the next generation players. That’s another story.

For all my soccer passion though, I have to admit, the best thing about soccer, is that feeling of having a ball at your feet. And I think to truly love soccer is to know what that feels like. As the game has become commercialized to death in recent years, there is a lot to be said for getting right back to what it’s really all about - and that is simply the joy of playing.

In saying that, here is a great clip showcasing the action and national hysteria created by the Boys in Green at Italia 90.


Hope you enjoy the video. If you have any feedback, opinions, or ideas for future content just drop us a line.

The best formation for 5 a-side (5v5) soccer

On my way to NYC Footy’s Friday night games in Chinatown last week I pondered to myself what would be a good question to ask players during my weekly coverage of Footy happenings.

I confess that I consider myself as a bit of a diminutive Pep - that is a tactical genius. A wannabe anyway. 

So the question that came to mind was simply - what is the best 5 a-side formation?

The response I got from most was the 1-2-1 formation. Not taking into account the goalkeeper, the 1-2-1 might otherwise be known as the diamond. The thinking with the diamond is that there is a defensive player, an attacking player, and then two players on the sides that can move up and down. These two wing players should, if they do their jobs correctly, get up to support the attacking player, and then they should get back to support the covering defender.

Without giving it much thought, this formation should work well. That is, unless the opposing team use all 4 outfield players to put the pressure on when they get the ball. If they do that well, especially on a quick counter attack, you can quickly find yourself easily outnumbered, especially should your attacking player be lazy getting back. And let’s face it, we have all been guilty of that at times. 

See, five a-side tactics/ formations only work well if all players know and carry out their responsibilities well. But since many of us just come along for a kick about, things can become unwieldy pretty fast. 

Things are thrown off even faster when substitutions are coming on and off with good regularity. In one of my games last week, my team literally got caught out as we were trying to work out positions in defense as a substitution was coming on. The question of when is a good time for a substitution might be a subject for a future article 🤔. 

Other five a-side formations might include the 2-2. That is two defensive players, and two midfield/ attacking players. Again, if people adopt their responsibilities well, this is solid enough. It feels like it should be more solid than the diamond if the team plays together as a strong unit. But playing as a unit appears to rare enough in 5-a-side.

With the diamond formation there is a bit of an obsession with wing play. Which is rather impractical when you consider how small the fields are. Wing play even in the professional game has been a dying art for some years. The main idea of wing play - in the sexy sense - is that some player with great skill and speed goes by a player on the side before ultimately whipping a ball into the box for the striker to nod in. But if you go by a player on the wing on a 5 side field, your more than likely hitting the by line. Also, I rarely see crosses of any type in 5 a-side except at corner kicks. All a defensive player has to do in 5 a side to protect against wing play is stand back a bit from the attacking player. The attacking player will be forced then to come inside and shoot or pass inside. This can still be effective, but again, it makes the focus on wingers a bit futile. 

Then there’s the ultra defensive formation, The 3-1. In practice, it should be good at preventing you conceding. But in the end I think it plays out the same at the diamond. Eventually you have to try go forward, sacrificing the wing backs in defense.

There are so many permutations that play into your success in 5-a-side. Quality of player with game understanding being the most key. An intelligent player should know the players around them, know when to cover back, and know when to step forward. Football intelligence is pretty rare actually. Some players may have the skills, some players may be great goal scorers, but that doesn’t mean they have any football intelligence. 

At the Footy Fest this past June, I played alongside an incredibly skillful and powerful player. He blew my mind with what he was capable of. But he shared little in terms of responsibility towards his team. He was your traditional glory hunter. The type of player that infuriates managers in the professional game (5-a-side managers are more forgiving…because there are none). Anyway, they are often considered to be a luxury. A famous example of the glory hunter was David Ginola. Ginola was spectacular going forward but not much use to the team at large. Some say that Cristiano Ronaldo in his heyday was this type of player. Though he got away with it because of how extraordinary his skill was in attack. 

Anyway, I went off on a little tangent there. Let’s get back to some Pep like thinking. 

What everyone is discounting here is the goalkeeper. In 5 a-side the goalkeeper should be considered almost like an outfield player. Think about the Bayern/German goalkeeper Manuel Neuer. When Germany had the ball he would come far out of his box , sometimes as far as the halfway line. The whole defensive line of Germany would push far up and and press the opposing team back into their last third.. The opposition team would be so hemmed in by 10 oppressive Bavarians. They would be suffocated. Often the best an opposing team  could do was clear the ball long, in which case Neuer was often there to sweep it up with no one there to pressure him. Neuer was the classic sweeper keeper. 

In 5-a-side what you really want then is the whole outfield team attacking together as a unit, and once you lose the ball, the whole team needs to get back and pressure the opposing team to get the ball back. Barcelona under Pep were masters at this. They attacked together, but when they lost the ball, everyone bust a gut to get the ball back as fast as they could. No one abandoned that responsibility, including Messi. Opposing teams never had time to breathe against Barca. 

Peps Barca were marveled for their ability to attack, but in truth, it’s how hard they worked to get the ball back once they lost it that was their main strength. 

This plan is the most courageous in 5-a-side. But any other formation usually takes two players out of the game itself, and sometimes 3 - the goalkeeper, the holding defender, and the sit up top striker. This only allows 2 players to be flexible. The question is, why take 2 or 3 players out of the game? 

After interviewing players and pondering further, I’ve concluded that the most effective strategy is when everyone moves up together, and everyone moves back together. That includes the keeper sweeper. You must avoid getting spread out, avoid getting stretched. Short quick passes are the order of the day to unlock the opposing team.

It goes without saying that any of these formations only work if players know their responsibilities, especially when the team loses the ball.

Do you play 5-a-side? What say you?