Footy Books: The Outsider

The Outsider - A History of the Goalkeeper

The Outsider by Johnathan Wilson is a deep-dive into the enigma-wrapped-in-a-riddle that is the goalkeeper. Wilson, as he so often does, masterfully weaves a story throughout the common thread that all of his “characters” hold, their shared experience as the crazy one at the back, the goalkeeper:

Goalkeeper kid being a keeper

Goalkeepers, weird from day one?

“Outsider” is a very apt term for this position, one that – unbeknownst to me prior to reading this – went through a multitude of permutations and evolutions to come to the position we know it as today. From the famous, and quite literally nicknamed, William “Fatty” Foulkes during the late 19th Century (no bonus points for picking him out of this lineup):

William Fatty Foulkes - largest goalkeeper

Obviously Mr. Foulkes is the large lad smack dab in the middle of the photo…


to his contemporaries, Wilson recounts not only the achievements of the greats but the indelible marks that each one of them – Bank, Shilton, Yashin, etc. – have left on the position as well as the game. Whether they were the one to pioneer the use of gloves, come off their line to involve themselves in play, or bring handball tactics to the soccer pitch:

goalkeeper schmeichel star jump

Peter Schmeichel shows off his “star-jump”, a common tactic used by handball goalkeepers to make themselves big in attempting a save. Based on this photo, it sure looks like Peter made the save, but it looks like he’s had his bait & tackle well and truly rattled in the process…ouch!

the one we see taking up position in front of the goalmouth is not the same goalkeeper that was first introduced into the sport.


While the posited notion that goalkeepers might be overly intellectual, loners, loons, or social outcasts is a bit heavy handed and not always applicable, especially amongst the contemporary ‘keepers noted in Wilson’s book, it’s interesting to learn how these poor souls were summarily thrown to the wolves on the football pitch in early versions of the beautiful game. The vitriol and brutality aimed at goalkeepers in soccer’s early days will open your eyes even more to the seemingly over-protected nature they enjoy today. While some keepers trotted out in Wilson’s prose were truly a few crayons short of a full pack, what the reader takes away from this work is the misunderstood, pigeon-holed place that the modern-day goalkeeper has been shoved. Stay on your line and shout a bit too much and you’re branded as a nutter a la Artur Boruc (well I guess he is just a nutter), come off your line and out of your area to support a high defensive line and the uninitiated will again, think you’re crazy.
These varying techniques and the stories behind them are all cataloged in The Outsider, a book not just for those of us who have played goalkeeper, but for anyone who endeavors to understand the beautiful game on a deeper level and better understand the most unique position on the pitch.


My Rating:

3.5/5 Jules Rimet Trophies – As I played the majority of my competitive soccer life playing this position, I think I may have enjoyed this more than the average fan might, but Wilson’s writing and the detail of research that went into this compendium of goalkeeping is enough to satisfy any soccer-head!

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Next up….

There's Only Two David Beckhams


A bit of a departure, this one! This time ’round I’ll be delving into a bit of fiction with John O’Farrell’s acclaimed There’s Only Two David Beckhams. With all the craziness surrounding FIFA these days, sometimes the news sounds more like fiction than reality. This book takes that idea and runs with it…let’s see where it goes!

This one’s in honor of the titular subject of our next Footy Book, David Beckham…Hands clasped we pray for olé!