The buses got stuck in, what can only be decribed as, a complete bastard of a traffic jam on the way back from Bielefeld last Friday. Sitting on the Autobahn there was a lot of time for thinking, and none would have been doing it more than Jan Glinker whose uncharacteristic error had handed Arminia Bielefeld a lifeline to equalise and jeopardise 1FC. Union Berlin‘s chances of a first away win in over a year and counting. It wasn’t much, these things happen all the time and Union did get the elusive win, but it’s hard for a ‘keeper, and especially so when it had been the third big mistake in the last three games. The pressure had been mounting on everyone, and the last thing they needed was for these errors from one of their most consistent performers to turn a corner and simply become characteristic.
It can happen. In cricket (and golf for that matter, but that is a sport only played by businessmen and retired footballers so doesn’t count) they call it the yips. The seemingly simple repetitive action you have relied on your whole life deserts you and the ball just won’t come out of your hand right, the movement is all shot and seemingly anything can happen to it. The bowler gets more terrified with every delivery. What used to be an easy, oiled motion becomes a nightmare as the panic shrouds the brain. Goalkeepers are naturally more prone to similar tortures. It is their mistake that concedes the goal.
Two weeks ago Glinker had ninety minutes against Aue knowing that he’d ballsed up in the first minute. Every save after took on new import. Every missed cross became a life sentence. Mistakes can become a self-fulfilling prophecy as the ball comes closer and closer. I remember watching Richard Wright, playing for Ipswich Town, concede a bizarre goal at Wembley that came off the bar, bounced on the back of his head, and went in. Town won that match, and Wright was one of the best regarded ‘keepers in the Premiership the next season, but as he returned to Wembley for his England debut in a friendly he conceded almost exactly the same goal. It was weird, and looked almost predestined. It wasn’t, of course – that would be mental, not to mention proving the existence of a higher being who, while not only actually being, gave two shits about football.
The ‘keepers are the drummers, they have a thankless task, but without them everybody else is just pissing in the wind. They may well be the butt of the jokes (what do you call someone who hangs around with football teams?) but they set the rhythm of the game. It’s not just stopping. ‘Keepers are at the start of everything, too. One of the reasons for England’s dreadful World Cup was that, in the absence of Rio Ferdinand (and you can ask Rob Green about howlers), David James would just lump the ball as high and as far as he could every time he got it. It would, invariably, come back immediately with interest. The rhythm was lost like Philly Joe Jones at an E.N.T. gig.
Glinker had just let in a couple of goals (fuck it, he will be OK), there are more important things – but he will feel the pressure. The fans adore him, but are getting a bit sniffy about the league position. Marcel Höttecke, the guy brought in pre-season to provide Glinker’s competition will feel that his chance is coming, despite the fact that his mistake against Middlesboro had the ranks of the Alte Försterei crying out for Glin-ker, Glin-ker. Still, like Gabor Kiraly’s trousers, some things never change. Fans are fickle idiots, goalkeepers feel pressure and we all want a magical cross between Oliver Kahn and Jose Luis Chilavert between the sticks.