Cort McMurray gets to grips with what it must really be like out there on the pitch all on your own, with everyone staring at you, with people waiting for you to drop a clanger....
Nothing is worse than being a goalkeeper.
TS Eliot writes, “What is Hell?
Hell is oneself.
Hell is alone, the other people in it merely projections.”
TS Eliot understood goalkeepers.
In every way, the keeper is kept in a grassy rectangular Hell: he spends most of every match alone, watching while other men sweat and struggle and strive, his heartbeat rising with each thundering foray past midfield, and falling as the anticipated onslaught fizzles. In a maddening instant, he is In The Thick of It, expected to contort himself at impossible angles, with superhuman speed, not so much to ensure Victory, as to forestall Defeat. When he fails and the ball ends in his net, it’s the goalkeeper on his back, or face down in the mud, or tangled up in the netting like some unfortunate sea turtle, silently watching the victors cavort like Jacobins at a guillotining. His teammates abandon him, drifting toward midfield, heads down, hands on hips, where they practice looking solemn and silently plot marketing strategy for the launch of their new line of men's casual fashions.
The goalkeeper is a stranger, an Other. He doesn’t even wear the uniform of his teammates, dressing instead in some garish contrasting color that makes him stick out like a poisonous South African tree frog, the bright markings telling the rest of the world, “Stay back. You don’t want any part of this.”
It is no way to live. We are born to be free, to run, to kick, to score, and if not to score, to feel the deeply satisfying whoosh of air and the low, almost reverent murmur of the crowd as we put a well-placed shoulder to some high flyer’s chest, leaving him flattened and twitching. There is something deep within us that yearns for the approbation of the throngs upon the terraces. We want their admiration, or at least their fear. We want run to the stands, arms outstretched in blessing and expiation, and feel the adoration, to know a little of what it’s like to be Omnipotent. Gods are creators and destroyers; they aren’t deflectors.
Strikers are gods. Remorseless holding midfielders are no worse than Avenging Angels, terrifying and awe-inspiring. Keepers are more accountants or air traffic controllers, one lapse in judgment away from ruining everything.
So if your dreams are haunted by the sight of poor Joe Hart, a helpless half-mile out of position as snakebit Fernando Torres for once had something go his way, if you feel the sick burbling at the back of your throat remembering Mr. Mourinho, working the Stamford Bridge crowd like Eva Peron on an sugar high, buck up. It’s a long season. Norwich is coming. Our Joe will crawl back down into that maddening solitary pit, and he will stretch and bend and do something more amazing than our dulled brains can process, saving the day so we can cheer Kun or David or Edin for leading us to triumph.
Or he could drag us all to Hell with him. This is City, after all…
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