THE thing I really liked about Tim Howard scoring for Everton against Bolton last month was that it was a proper, old-fashioned goalkeeper’s goal: A long punt downfield, catching in the wind and sailing over the hapless custodian at the other end.
I also liked the way that Howard celebrated his Everton goal in the old-fashioned manner of a scoring goalkeeper – with a look of total bemusement.
When I started watching football as a boy, in the mid-1980s, this was the only type of goal that keepers ever scored. Memory plays tricks on the mind, but it felt like the sort of thing that happened maybe one every few years; a rare event to be cherished in the same way as a solar eclipse, or a sighting of Halley’s Comet.
Yes, I’d heard the story of Alex Stepney being Manchester United’s leading scorer midway through the 1973/74 season on account of scoring two penalties, but to the young me, that just sounded like the sort of absurd thing that went on in the 70s, a stylistic aberration to be filed away with tank tops, flares, sideburns and three-day weeks.
A proper keeper’s goal was one scored from the edge of his own penalty area, a clearance that somehow turned into a shot. When it happened, it would be talked about in Shoot and Match magazines for months afterwards, perhaps even with a photo of the keeper being mobbed by his team-mates. If you were really lucky, you might even get to see some grainy club video footage of the goal. In those days, this was a precious thing indeed. So precious, in fact, that a mere clip of a scoring goalkeeper could be claimed to have medical healing properties.
Sometime around Christmas 1986, I think (see my earlier disclaimer regarding memory), ITV’s Saint and Greavsie show did a special edition from the children’s ward of a hospital. I don’t think any of the youngsters featured were seriously ill, but they were all stuck in hospital over the festive period when they didn’t want to be, and the idea was that Ian St John and Jimmy Greaves would cheer them up with a few of their footballer mates.
(Exactly how much cheer this would have brought, I’m not sure. I’ve read St John’s autobiography, and he doesn’t come across to me nearly as cheerful off screen as he used to appear on it. Still, he and Greaves were big TV sports personalities at the time, and when you’re a kid, meeting someone off the telly is a big deal.)
One poor bed-ridden child had a particular wish. He’d heard about Coventry goalkeeper Steve Ogrizovic scoring with a long clearance in a First Division game at Sheffield Wednesday a couple of months earlier, and wanted to know if he could see a clip of the goal. With a bit of help from the research department, Saint and Greavsie made the lad’s dream come true. The look on his face was of a boy who had just received the best Christmas present ever.
These days, it happens differently. When Howard scored for Everton, the footage was all over the internet within about half-an-hour. Even if you don’t subscribe to the relevant TV or web rights package, you can still find a clip of the goal with a bit of careful Googling. (Not every search result promising a video of the Howard goal actually delivers it – but you knew that, right?)
But, more significantly, the way in which keepers score goals has developed. And it’s all Peter Schmeichel’s fault.
When Schmeichel went upfield to score with a late header for Manchester United against Rotor Volgograd in the final seconds of a 1995 UEFA Cup tie, we couldn’t have imagined the long-term impact it would have.
The goal wasn’t even enough to save United from a rather embarrassing European exit against a team who promptly lost home and away to Bordeaux in the next round. But it inspired a whole new method of scoring for keepers.
And so now, when a keeper finds the net, he is more likely to have done so by charging into the opposing penalty area to bundle in a late corner. Instead of looking bemused, he will race away, gloved hands raised to the air, team-mates pawing at his magenta or cyan jersey. It will almost be as if the keeper expected to score.
Goalkeepers need to have outfield skills. The back-pass rule requires them to be able to kick with both feet, and they might need to act as a sweeper and make the odd headed clearance too. So the fact that they feel able to join the attack in the last seconds of a game is just an extension of that. And there is something thrilling about seeing your keeper head upfield at the end of a crucial game, when you need another goal. Ask Carlisle United fans. Ask Jimmy Glass.
All the same, I’d hate to see the over-hit 100-yard booted clearance disappear completely from the keeper’s scoring armoury. And so I’m very grateful to Tim Howard for keeping it alive, however lucky he was.
Of course, what luck gives with one hand, it takes away with the other.
Last on MOTD: Wigan 1 Everton 1
Commentator: Guy Mowbray
Howard is one of the Premier League’s top goalkeepers. And after a spell at Manchester United that wasn’t always straightforward, he has become one of Everton’s most important players.
He can’t afford to let many in, because Everton don’t score that often. To prove the point, Howard has scored exactly the same number of goals for the club over the last 12 months as Tim Cahill. When Howard makes a mistake, it’s as much of a shock as . . . as . . . well, as a keeper scoring a goal.
The back-pass rule brought a new type of own goal into football – the one that really, really wasn’t the scorer’s fault. The most famous example, the one that gets played on clip shows over and over again, is the one scored by Norwich’s Robert Ullathorne in the last few minutes of a derby at Ipswich in 1996. Ullathorne plays a gentle pass back to keeper Bryan Gunn, who misses completely with his attempt to kick the ball, then watches it trundle into the net.
Phil Neville’s own goal at the DW Stadium yesterday fits into the same category. When Neville deflected a harmless Jean Beausejour cross towards his own goal, Howard could almost have wafted it away. Somehow, he misfielded, and the ball bobbled past him and in. It was a goalkeeping howler, but the record books will suggest it was Neville’s. Them’s the breaks.
It wasn’t the decisive goal, though, as Victor Anichebe equalised with a lovely near-post header from former Wigan full-back Leighton Baines’ cross. With Cahill netting around once a year these days and Louis Saha exiting for Tottenham, Anichebe’s scoring form – three goals in 2012 so far – is perhaps a sign of encouragement.
David Moyes has indicated more than once that the Nigerian striker might just be the long-term answer to Everton’s scoring problems if he can steer clear of the injuries that have troubled him over the last three years. The fact that Anichebe is finding the net more frequently than his goalkeeper has got to be good news.
1. Fulham: 5 (2L: 1, 3L: 2)
2. Swansea: 4 (2L: 4, 3L: 4)
2. West Brom: 4 (2L: 4, 3L: 4)
4. Aston Villa: 4 (2L: 4, 3L: 3)
5. Norwich: 4 (2L: 3, 3L: 3)
6. QPR: 4 (2L: 1, 3L: 1)
7. Wigan: 3 (2L: 7, 3L: 4)
8. Sunderland: 3 (2L: 5, 3L: 0)
9: Wolves: 3 (2L: 2, 3L: 5)
10. Stoke: 3 (2L: 2, 3L: 4)
11: Liverpool: 3 (2L: 1, 3L: 4)
12. Blackburn: 2 (2L: 2, 3L: 3)
13. Tottenham: 2 (2L: 2, 3L: 0)
14. Chelsea: 2 (2L: 0, 3L: 3)
15. Newcastle: 2 (2L: 0, 3L: 0)
16. Everton: 1 (2L: 5, 3L: 4)
17. Bolton: 1 (2L: 3, 3L: 5)
18. Arsenal: 0 (2L: 2, 3L: 1)
19. Manchester United: 0 (2L: 1, 3L: 0)
20. Manchester City: 0 (2L: 0, 3L: 1)
2L = On second last (Stoke 0 Sunderland 1)
3L = On third last (Norwich 2 Bolton 0)
(Teams receive one point every time they are last on Match of the Day. Teams level are separated by the number of times they are on second last, then by the number of times they are on third last. MOTD2 not included.)