Being a Football Goalkeeper Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Being a Football Goalkeeper

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People often refer to the long distance runner as being the loneliest of all athletes - but such people might never have played in goal in a football1 match. So, before you don the expensive latex gloves and the colourful padded top, take a few moments to consider the issues discussed below.


Playing in goal can be a fairly thankless task. First and foremost, every mistake you make has a bearing on the result. If the ball gets past you, that's a goal. If the ball gets by an attacker... well, that's a missed chance - and guess which shows up on the score sheet! In addition, you don't get to run around as much as the outfield players, so if the weather turns cold, you will suffer the most.


Every cloud must have a silver lining, and so it is with being the keeper. If you have a good game you can save the match pretty much on your own, and you will get the praise to go with it. It is also a fairly spectacular position to play in. In a non-professional game the glory goes to the striker and the keeper first. A keeper also gets a little extra protection from the referee2 and has extra height - by virtue of being able to use their hands - so should win most aerial contests.

Extra Rules for Goalkeepers

In addition to this, there are a number of extra rules in football specifically intended for the goalkeeper. These are extracted from FIFA's3 official rules as of 1999, in the order which they appear therein.

  • Any of the other players may change places with the goalkeeper, provided that the referee is informed before the change is made and the change is made during a stoppage in the match.

  • Each goalkeeper must wear colours which distinguish him from the other players, the referee and the assistant referees.

  • The keeper may handle the ball provided that this is done in the keeper's own penalty area.

  • An indirect free kick is awarded to the opposing team if a goalkeeper, inside his own penalty area, commits any of the following five offences:

    1. Takes more than four steps while controlling the ball with his hands, before releasing it from his possession4.

    2. Touches the ball again with his hands after it has been released from his possession and has not touched any player.

    3. Touches the ball with his hands after it has been deliberately kicked to him by a team-mate.

    4. Touches the ball with his hands after he has received it directly from a throw-in taken by a team-mate.

    5. Wastes time.

  • A penalty kick is awarded if, while the ball is in play, the goalkeeper, inside his own penalty area, strikes or attempts to strike an opponent by throwing the ball at him.

  • The goalkeeper is considered to be in control of the ball by touching it with any part of his hand or arms. Possession of the ball includes the goalkeeper deliberately parrying the ball, but does not include the circumstances where, in the opinion of the referee, the ball rebounds accidentally from a goalkeeper; for example, after he has made a save.

  • The goalkeeper is considered to be guilty of time wasting if he holds the ball in his hands or arms for more than 5 - 6 seconds.

How to Be a Keeper

Still not put off? Fancy a spell between the sticks? Well, there's a few things which will make you a better keeper in next to no time:

  • Narrow the angle: When a player is running towards you with the ball, the nearer you are to him the less of the goal he will be able to see, either side of you, and therefore have less goal to aim at. If your defence lets a man through and he is coming towards you, dash out screaming like a madman and throw yourself down just in front of his feet. If he's actually brave enough to take the shot in the first place, chances are he'll knock it straight at you and you'll make the save.

  • Marshal the defence: You are the only player who can see the whole game in front of you at all times, and are therefore in a unique position to tell when any of your defenders are neglecting their duty. You need to let them know when a player is unmarked or when they are shirking their duties.

  • Stay on your toes: As well as metaphorically keeping alert, if you lean forward and bring your weight onto your toes, rather than your heel, you will be much quicker off the ground when you dive.

  • Know where the goal is: You need to know where the goal is relative to you and the ball, and yet can't afford to take your eyes off the ball for long enough to get a fix on the posts. The solution is to draw an imaginary T - or a real one if the referee isn't looking - through the penalty spot and navigate relative to this.

  • Block with the palms, grip with the fingers: When faced with a fearsome swinging shot put your palms behind the ball to take the pace off the shot and allow this to bring your fingers around the curve of the ball for grip. If you take the full force of a shot on the fingers you may well be out for the rest of the season.

Enjoy it - and above all, good luck. There's nothing makes a better keeper than a bit of luck.

1In some countries called association football and in others, soccer.2Though this is not an official stance, so you will get less protection as you move up through the grades.3Fédération Internationale de Football Association, based in Zurich, Switzerland.4This seems to have been replaced by the rule stating that the keeper may not hold on to the ball for more than six seconds before releasing it into play.

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