Archives » Kenny Dalglish

Ray Clemence and Des O’Connor

I was sad to hear of the death of Ray Clemence, one of the best goalkeepers of my lifetime, with a medal haul it would be difficult to surpass. About the only one misssing from his collection was a World Cup medal. Had it not been for the presence of Peter Shilton as a contemporary his total of 61 international caps would have been substantially higher.

England goalkeepers have not habitually been prone to error but Clemence is probably best remembered in Scotland for exactly that. In a game against Scotland he misjudged a weak Kenny Dalglish shot, allowing it through his legs for a goal. I noticed that his obituary piece on the BBC news featured a clip of that incident. Perhaps the compiler was a Scot with a sense of irony.

Judge for yourselves:-

Raymond Neal Clemence: 5/81948 – 15/11/2020. So it goes.

A day earlier, Des O’Connor, butt of many jokes from the mouth of Eric Morecambe, had passed away. O’Connor first came to my attention via his chart success with Careless Hands and I Pretend, not songs to my taste. His comedy was perhaps on the bland side and, contrary to Morecambe’s jibes, which he took in good part, even playing up to them, his singing was perfectly acceptable. He made a successful career out of them in any case and the attention from Morecambe may in fact have boosted it.

Desmond Bernard O’Connor: 12/1/1932 – 14/11/2020. So it goes.

The Outsider: A History of the Goalkeeper by Jonathan Wilson

Orion, 2012, 351 p

If football is symbolic, if the ball is a substitute sun requiring to be buried (in the goal) to ensure fertility, what then are we to make of the one player in the team whose primary object is to prevent that desirable consummation? Such is the question with which Wilson starts his history of the goalkeeper, who in this context can be seen as the outsider, an anti-footballer.

While not denying the goalkeeper’s essential difference I immediately started thinking, what about the stopper centre half, the holding midfielder, the midfield destroyer? Aren’t their roles equally anti-football in that sense? Of course these players may advance into the opponents’ half, even score the odd goal or two, but the goalkeeper generally isn’t expected/permitted even to do that. Except what, then, to make of the Paraguayan great, Jose Luis Chilavert, who took penalties and free-kicks and scored 62 goals, 8 of them for Paraguay and all while playing as a goalkeeper? (Brazil’s Rogério Ceni has since overtaken Chilavert as the highest scoring keeper.) The South American attitude to goalkeepers has tended to be less restrictive, though. In Europe keepers generally only charge upfield in desperate circumstances.

In any case Wilson’s title partly goes against the thrust of the history. When football was first codified it started with all players able to handle the ball in certain circumstances. That dispensation quickly became restricted to the designated one, who was detached from the team – and made to stand out by virtue of wearing a different coloured jersey/shirt. A gradual process of goalkeepers playing beyond the penalty area – the change of rules in 1912 which forbade handling outside the box (up till then they had been allowed to anywhere in their own half) delayed this process – by intervening with their feet or initiating attacks has reduced this difference. Arguably the keeper’s reintegration into the team was finally more or less institutionalised by the back pass rule. (Even before that, though, the custodian was not totally estranged, was a vital component of retaining possession. I remember reading elsewhere that Liverpool’s long domination of the European Cup was predicated on passing the ball back to Bruce Grobbelaar as much as possible during away legs. The sweeper-keeper had evolved even prior to this, though.) In Jose Luis Chilavert’s case the reintegration of keeper with team was surely at its most complete.

Wilson mentions that the first ‘Prince of Goalkeepers’ was Dumbarton’s James McAulay. Another Sons keeper to be mentioned in the text is Joshua Wilkinson, whose father was convinced his death from peritonitis in 1921 was due to a blow he’d received in a game against Rangers the previous Saturday.

In the very early days it had been almost open season on goalkeepers. The famous William ‘Fatty’ Foulke – reputedly 28st (179 kilograms) when he played for Chelsea – often took his revenge on physical forwards, turning them upside down and depositing them on their heads. Despite the obvious dangers – Celtic’s John Thomson (to whom a section of Kirkcaldy’s newly refurbished museum is dedicated – he came from nearby Cardenden – there was also a tribute to him there before the modernisation) received an accidental but fatal knee to the head in 1931 also against Rangers; Sunderland’s Jim Thorpe died in 1936 after several blows in a physical game in 1936 prompted a reccurence of a diabetic condition – it was not until after Bert Trautman’s broken neck and several other injuries to keepers in FA Cup finals in the 1950s, though, that British goalkeepers began to receive extended protection from referees.

Goalkeeping is not, in the end, a simple business. He/she is not necessarily only a shot stopper; there is a difference between the reactive keeper and the proactive. The former expects to make saves (spectacular or mundane) the latter’s best game is the one in which she/he has no saves to make at all, because the way he/she has organised the defence ensures, in an ideal world, that no danger occurs.

There are even national differences in approach. Both Brazilian and Italian defences tend to play deeply and so breed reactive keepers. In other countries a higher line is adopted, a goalkeeper’s play has to be more attuned to that. In Russia, Soviet Russia in particular, goalkeepers have been the subject of a reverence that borders on love.

Africa is represented here by the Cameroonians Tommy Nkono (who inspired Gianluigi Buffon) and Joseph-Antoine Bell, the Spanish, German, Italian, English, Brazilian, Scottish and US traditions are covered in detail. From Asia only Ali Al-Habsi gets a mention and that in passing. Oceanian custodians escape Wilson’s purview completely. Maybe no notable keepers have as yet been bred there.

So many great goalkeepers seem to have had unfortunate debuts, on the end of drubbings of various sorts. What distinguishes them all is that they are liable to be remembered, their careers defined, not for their great performances but for one, or – in the case of David Seaman – two mistakes. (My abiding memory of Ray Clemence is of him allowing a soft one from Kenny Dalglish to evade him in a Scotland-England game at Hampden. Proof if any were needed that there is no national tendency to persistently outstanding goalkeeping.) Poor Moacyr Barbosa of Brazil was forever blighted by conceding the winning goal in the 1950 World Cup final. In 1970 a woman in a shop said to her young son, “Look! There’s the man who made all Brazil cry.” Barbosa himself later complained that in Brazil, “the maximum sentence is 30 years. My imprisonment has been for 50.” That loss to Uruguay was perhaps, though, the single most traumatic moment in Brazil’s history as a nation. It was only founded in 1889 and has never fought a war.* Brazilians apparently are not really football fans. It is winning they like.

Wilson makes the point that the existence of a highly proficient one or two goalkeepers from one country at one time is not evidence of strength in depth, nor any guarantee of continued excellence. The apparent decline of English goalkeeping is a case in point.

The author certainly knows his football history – there is even a digression into the treatments of the sport in literature and film, most of which lean heavily on the goalkeeper; a further nice touch is that the book’s back cover is decorated with a “1” – and he thinks deeply about the game. Having read the book I’ll observe goalkeeping in a different light.

One final note. Even if a book is about football it might be thought a touch insensitive to describe the Spanish Civil War as “perhaps the clásico to end them all” – even more insensitive when Wilson observes that Real Madrid didn’t become Franco’s team till the 1940s.

*Edited to add. I have since found out that this is only true of the Brazilian Republic and not of the Empire which preceded it.

Lawrie Reilly

This is in response to the death of Lawrie Reilly.

I’m too young to have seen him play (plus Dumbarton never were in the same Division as Hibs at any time during his career) but I knew of course of the Famous Five of whom he was the last to leave us.

What I hadn’t realised was he was Scotland’s third highest scorer behind Denis Law and Kenny Dalglish. Not bad going for a man who had to retire through injury at the age of 29 and who played at a time when there were fewer international games than today.

Not many Scottish footballers achieve legendary status, especially non-Old Firm players. Lawrie Reilly certainly did, though.

Lawrance “Lawrie” Reilly, 28/10/1928 – 22/7/2013. So it goes.

Bringing Laughter To The Stoniest Heart?

I think it was Oscar Wilde who said that anyone who did not have the stoniest heart could not read about the death of Little Nell in Charles Dickens’s The Old Curiosity Shop without laughing. (For possible Wildean phrasings of this aphorism see here.)

I confess I feel much the same way about the current position of Liverpool Football Club.

Their supporters bayed for the previous owners to sell up and for the previous manager to go, or be sacked.

Having got both their wishes they immediately set to complaining about the new manager, Roy Hodgson – who had just won the Manager of the Season award, don’t forget – for not being their darling, former player and manager Kenny Dalglish. Effectively they never gave Hodgson a chance.

It is as if they believe they have a divine right to success and to a winning team. Despite their club’s trophy laden history they do not.

I think it is this sense of entitlement that makes me anti-pathetic towards the club – as I am to the similarly deluded fans, and the overweening behaviour, of the Old Firm clubs.

And now Hodgson has gone, in that telling weasel phrase “by mutual consent,” and replaced – for now – by Kenny Dalglish.

Admittedly Liverpool’s results have not been good this season – in the Premier League at least.

Yet how much of this is really to do with the manager? Can a manager really turn around several seasons’ worth of decline in six months? Liverpool’s current position stems in large part from the mistakes made by previous manager Rafael Benitez; mistakes in signing certain players and mistakes in alienating and then in letting go others.

It is evident from the scantiest perusal of their games on television that the present players are not performing. Whatever their affections for the old manager and whatever they may think of the new it is their job to do what he asks of them. Surely some of the blame ought to be placed on them.

Okay, Fernando Torres has an excuse. He has been injured, then not match fit and also probably suffering a reaction from Spain’s World Cup win in the summer.

Steven Gerrard is a more complicated case. He is clearly not playing as effectively as he once did. That may be due to an overall decline in the ability level of players around him. He is also probably trying too hard. And here’s a thought; actually he may not be quite as good a player as everyone made out. Or he may simply be in decline.

There is another problem with him, though. I think he has too much of an influence on the team in that the other players defer to him. When he’s on the pitch they look to him to drive things on – they even get out of his way when they are actually better placed to play the ball. His shadow hangs over them even when he’s not playing as they seem to believe that without him they are not as capable of achieving a win.

Changing the manager is a desperate throw of the dice. My own club Dumbarton did precisely this just before the recent snows interrupted the fixtures. Whether that was a wise move only time will tell. As in Liverpool’s case it may have been too late. It was for Newcastle United two seasons ago when they appointed Alan Shearer to try to avoid relegation; a strategy that did not work. His unheralded successor, Chris Hughton, then performed miracles to restore the club to Premier League respectability – and got the sack for his trouble.

But Kenny Dalglish as saviour?

If I were a Liverpool fan I would not count on it.

free hit counter script