Trust Your Keeper

“Never trust anyone, Daniel, especially the people you admire. Those are the ones who will make you suffer the worst blows.” Carlos Ruiz Zafon; The Shadow of the Wind.

A successful team starts at the back. You build from defence and those clean sheets are all important. These are phrases churned out by manager after manager. A solid defence is the way forward. You may be one of those who considers a goalkeeper as part of that defence, I am not. A goalkeeper is special. Strikers get the plaudits when they score. Even Danny Graham heard the roar when it bounced off his fleshy parts and he scored his first goal. Jozy was offered more chances by supporters despite his inability to seek out a bovine derriere with a plucked stringed country instrument. Goalkeepers however… well life is different for them.

During our cup run in 1985 Chris Turner came on to my radar via VHS videos sent through to us in our far-flung home. My father declared him the greatest keeper since Monty. We seem to have a thing for keepers at Sunderland. Chris Turner was the first player I watched with awe. In 1973 James Montgomery walked to his goalmouth at Wembley. He placed a cap in the goal. He turned it over. He was ready. That superstition of Monty’s was present in every game and it served him well in the cup final as he went on to make the greatest double save of all time. I never saw him play though so I can’t admit to being struck by keepers on the back of that save.

Similarly, I can’t admit being struck by Siddall’s tash or his ability to strike fear into the hearts of any attacker brave enough to approach his area. I do remember Turner though, and after him I remember Norman. I remember that hand reaching out in 1992 to deny a Tim Breaker worldy. I also remember sitting in the home end at Hillsborough as the ball looped over for Tony Norman to catch. He did. But as he brought the ball down from his leap it slipped and fell immediately on to the head of Mark Bright and we were out of the cup. The trust from that moment had gone irretrievably. An easy one for Norman. To paraphrase Lady GaGa if the mirror breaks you can fix it, but you always know that crack is there.

At Sunderland we have had some great keepers, world class keepers. Monty is still a huge part of the matchday experience and has a corporate lounge named in his honour in which he devotes time to talking to fans. Craig Gordon was the British record signing for a goalkeeper. He was superb. THAT save against Bolton displays the natural talent our Celtic keeper possessed. When Sunderland fans sang “England’s number 1” there was only a small hint of irony. We believed he was the best keeper in the league at that time.

Tommy Sorenson saved Shearer’s penalty amongst other great feats. We believed he was indestructible. Then Rio scored in the World Cup. Trust is a very fragile thing, it takes years to build and seconds to destroy. The rather odd thing about Sunderland is that while we might not entirely trust them we can still build up an unusual amount of love for them. Lionel Perez was never the greatest goalkeeper. He saved more with his feet than he did with his hands. There was something about his short sleeves and Bon Jovi hair that made him a fan’s favourite. There were two things that ruined that. The first was coming out flapping wildly as Richard Rufus headed a late goal in at Wembley; the second? Well, he kind of blotted his copy book with his next contract.

There are also the “almost goods” and “could have beens”. Jurgen Macho had one great game. He was a rock at Anfield and produced a performance of absolute incredulity. It bounced off limbs and posts and crossbars. We drew 0-0. Kelvin Davies was highly rated. He performed incredibly well for Ipswich and was in the mix for England caps. He came to Sunderland and did not enjoy the best of times. The less said about Shay Given the better, but he was class when we had him. When Thomas Myhre came through to first team action he was solid, trusted. If only he had come to us sooner his career may have been different.

And then there was Jordan. The Fatfield Finisher. Thrust into first team action in a trouncing from Spurs where he performed admirably while Kirchhoff floundered; our Weshy lad had arrived. His geography no doubt played into our love for him but so too did his edge, his character. The back stories of his preference for happy hardcore. The sight of seeing a young man facing up to Premier League greats as though he was playing Sunday league. One of our own. There will always be a special part of our hearts devoted to Jordan Pickford. What followed him… less so. We struggled through the Championship with a succession of goalkeeping errors. We no longer trusted or believed that our keepers would save us. The rotation probably didn’t help but Steele, Camp and Ruiter took it in turns to display inadequacies. The rave was dead.

And then we fast forward to Southend at home. A familiar song strikes up from the South Stand. The tune is familiar, but the words aren’t. Duh duh duh duh… I know what follows here. Those words etched on Jordan Pickford’s shin-pads. Duh duh duh duh… hang on, that’s Jordan’s song. Duh duh duh duh Jon Mclaughlin. We have trust in our goalkeeper again. We have a goalkeeper that saved the first penalty at the Stadium of Light in ordinary time. We have a keeper who we actually believe in again. He’s our keeper, our Scottish keeper, and Jon likes Hogmanay.