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A goalkeeper
In association football, the goalkeeper occupies a position that represents the last line of defence between the opponent's offence and his own team's goal. The primary role of the goalkeeper is to defend his team's goal and prevent the opposition from scoring a goal. The goalkeeper is the only player who is permitted to touch the ball with his hands or arms in open play (within his own penalty area). Each team is required to have a goalkeeper on the field at all times during a match. If a goalkeeper is forced to leave the field due to injury or being sent off, another player must occupy the post, even if the team has no substitute goalkeeper available and/or has used up its allotted substitutions.

Goalkeeper is often abbreviated GK in lineup cards, match reports, and TV captions. The terms keeper and goalie are also commonly used. This position is colloquially referred as 'custodian' or 'the man between the posts'.

When assigning numbers to players on the team, if a squad number system is not in use, the number 1 shirt is usually reserved for the goalkeeper. Notable exceptions include Argentinemarker Ubaldo Fillol, who wore the numbers 5 and 7 at the 1978 and 1982 FIFA World Cups, respectively, and Vítor Baía, the Portuguesemarker keeper who wore 99 in the latter part of his career.


Football, like many sports, has experienced many changes in tactics that have generated positions, as well as made positions disappear. Goalkeeper is the only position which is certain to have existed since the creation of the rules of the sport. Even in the early days of organised football, when systems were limited or non-existent and the main idea was for all field players to attack and defend, teams had a designated member to play as the goalkeeper.

The earliest account of football teams with player positions comes from Richard Mulcaster in 1581; however, he does not specify goalkeepers. The earliest specific reference to keeping goal comes from Cornish Hurling in 1602. According to Carew: "they pitch two bushes in the ground, some eight or ten foot asunder; and directly against them, ten or twelve score off, other twayne in like distance, which they term their Goals. One of these is appointed by lots, to the one side, and the other to his adverse party. There is assigned for their guard, a couple of their best stopping Hurlers". Other references to scoring goals begin in English literature in the early 16th century, for example in John Day's play The Blind Beggar of Bethnal Greenmarker (performed circa 1600; published 1659): "I'll play a gole at camp-ball" (an extremely violent variety of football, which was popular in East Angliamarker). Similarly in a poem in 1613, Michael Drayton refers to "when the Ball to throw, And drive it to the Gole, in squadrons forth they goe". It seems inevitable that wherever a game has evolved goals, some form of goalkeeping must also be developed. David Wedderburn refers to what has been translated from Latin as to "keep goal" in 1633 (however, contrary to media reports in 2006 he does not refer to the noun "goalkeeper". This is important as being a goalkeeper implies a fixed position throughout a match, whereas "keeping goal" suggests a temporary, fluid position accorded to whichever player or players find themselves nearest the goal. Wedderburn provides no evidence of such a fixed position on the field. It is not clear that what he meant by a goal was the same as modern usage; his word "metum" in the original Latin means the object to mark the end of a chariot race).

Initially, goalkeepers typically played between the goalposts and had limited mobility, except when trying to save opposition shots. Throughout the years, goalkeeping has evolved, due to the changes on systems of play, to be a more active role. The original Laws of the Game permitted goalkeepers to handle the ball anywhere in their half of the pitch. This was revised in 1912, restricting use of the hands by the goalkeeper to the penalty area and goal box.

In the mid-20th century, goalkeepers like Amadeo Carrizo pioneered a playing style that involved more mobility. He also helped introduce new techniques and strategies that would become a standard for the position. Carrizo was the first goalkeeper to wear gloves, the first one to leave the penalty area to defend his goal, and the first one to use goal kicks as a strategy to start counter attack plays.

In 1992, the International Board made changes in the laws of the game that affected goalkeepers – notably the back-pass rule, which prohibits goalkeepers from handling the ball with their hands when receiving a deliberate pass from a teammate that is made with their feet (the pass can be made with all the others parts of the body except hands). As a result, all goalkeepers were required to improve controlling the ball with their feet.

General play and technique

The goalkeeper position is the most specialised of all positions on the field. Unlike other players, goalkeepers may touch the ball with any part of their body while in their own penalty area. Outside of their penalty area, goalkeepers have the same restrictions as other field players. They are also "protected" from active interference by opponents within their own goal area, an action punishable by fouling.

Perhaps the most spectacular move a goalkeeper routinely performs is the extension dive. To execute this maneuver properly, the athlete pushes off the ground with the foot nearest to the ball, launching himself into a horizontal position. After making the catch, the goalkeeper brings the ball to the ground before his body, so as to cushion his landing and avoid injury.


The tactical responsibilities of goalkeepers include:

  • To keep goal by physically blocking attempted shots with any part of their body. The keeper is permitted to play the ball anywhere on the field, but he may not handle the ball outside the penalty area.
  • To take free kicks from deep into their own territory and goal kicks.
  • To organise the team's defenders during defensive set pieces such as free kicks and corners. In the case of free kicks, this includes picking the numbers and the organisation of a defensive man wall. The 'wall' serves to provide a physical obstruction for the incoming ball. Occasionally, goalkeepers may opt to dispense with the wall. Some goalkeepers are also entrusted with the responsibility of picking markers while defending at set pieces.
  • To pick out crosses and attempted long passes either by punching them clear or collecting them in flight.

Although goalkeepers have special privileges under the laws of the game, they are otherwise subject to the same rules as any other player. Due to the increasing importance of crosses and set pieces that put the ball in the air, the goalkeeper is often the tallest member of the team, and most stand over 183 cm (6 feet) tall in professional competition, with many well-known keepers standing particularly tall at over 193 cm (6 feet, 4 inches).

Goalkeepers in playmaking and attack

Goalkeepers are not required to stay in the penalty area. They may get involved in play anywhere on the pitch, and it is common for them to act as an additional defender during certain passages of the game. Colombia's René Higuita, Mexico's Jorge Campos, and Zimbabwe's Bruce Grobbelaar were notable for their foot skills and their constant play outside the penalty area. Goalkeepers with a long throwing range or accurate long-distance kicks may be able to quickly create attacking positions for a team and generate goal-scoring chances from defensive situations, a tactic known as the long ball.

Some goalkeepers have even scored goals. This most commonly occurs where a goalkeeper has rushed up to the opposite end of the pitch to give his team an attacking advantage in numbers. This rush is risky, as it leaves the goalkeeper's goal undefended. As such, it is normally only done late in a game at set-pieces where a single goal would have a major effect, such as avoiding elimination from a tournament. As goalkeepers are tall, often taller than all the outfield players, they can be successful at connecting with headers.

Though this action rarely succeeds, it is regular enough to have occurred a number of times in professional football: goalscoring goalkeepers include Michelangelo Rampulla, Peter Schmeichel, Mart Poom, Marco Amelia, Andrés Palop, Jens Lehmann, Brad Friedel, Massimo Taibi, Jimmy Glass, Adam Federici, Paul Robinson, Federico Vilar and Mark Crossley.

Some goalkeepers, such as Rogério Ceni and José Luis Chilavert, may also be expert set-piece takers. These players may take their team's attacking free kicks and even penalties. Ceni, São Paulo FC's long-time custodian, has scored over 80 goals in his career, more than many outfield players.

In some even rarer situations, goalkeepers have even scored goals unintentionally, when a ball kicked downfield has caught the opposing goalkeeper out of position. Paul Robinson, Palatsi, Andrew Lonergan, Dragan Pantelić, "Neco" Martínez, Michael Petković and Pat Jennings are also examples of goalkeepers who have scored under such circumstances. On notable example came in the final of the 2003 CAF African Champions League, in which El Ahly goalkeeper Essam El Hadary scored a goal by driving a free kick from near his penalty box into the post of opponent's goal; the ball then hit the back of the goalkeeper and flew into the net.

Equipment and attire

Goalkeepers must wear clothing that distinguishes them clearly from other players and match officials, as this is all that the FIFA Laws of the Game require. Some goalkeepers have received recognition for their match attire, like Lev Yashin of the Soviet Union, who was nicknamed the "Black Panther" for his distinctive all-black outfit; Klaus Lindenberger of Austria, who designed his own variation of a clown's costume; and Jorge Campos of Mexico, who was popular for his colourful attire.

Most goalkeepers also wear goalkeeper gloves to improve their grip on the ball, and to protect themselves from injury. There are now gloves that have features designed to prevent injuries, such as sprained fingers. Gloves are not mandatory; however, due to the increased grip they give, it is very rare for a goalkeeper to play without them in professional matches. At UEFA Euro 2004, Portuguese goalkeeper Ricardo famously took them off during the quarter-final penalty-shootout against England and became the first goalkeeper to save three successive penalties in a World Cup.

Czech republic and Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Čech wears a head guard, after having fractured his skull in an English Premier League game against Reading, and a few goalkeepers, most notably Miguel Calero, wear baseball style caps to shield their eyes from the sun. Calero has also worn a bandana while keeping goal for Club Pachuca.


The most expensive goalkeeper of all time is currently Gianluigi Buffon (following his 52.29 million transfer to Juventus from Parma), followed by Angelo Peruzzi (€17.9 million from Internazionale to Lazio). The British record is held by Scottish goalkeeper Craig Gordon, who signed for Sunderland from Scottish club Heart of Midlothian for £9 million on 7 August 2007.

Goalkeepers are crucial in penalty shoot-outs. The record for most penalties saved in a shoot-out is held by Helmuth Duckadam of Steaua Bucuresti who defended four consecutive penalties in the European Champions' Cup Final against FC Barcelona, on 7th May 1986.

The quickest goal scored by a goalkeeper is Nottingham Forest's Paul Smith after 23 seconds, on 18 September 2007, when Leicester City agreed to give Forest a "free goal" in the Football League Cup second round after the original tie was abandoned when City's Clive Clarke collapsed at half time when Forest were up 1-0. Forest ended up losing the game 3-2.

A few goalkeepers have become notable at taking set pieces; for example, José Luis Chilavert is the only goalkeeper to score a hat trick (three goals in a game), doing so through penalty kicks. He also was a free kick-expert. Rogério Ceni has scored the highest amount goals for a goalkeeper, having scored 83 times (as of 3 December 2008) through free kicks and penalty kicks.

Notable goalkeepers

IFFHS' Century elections

The following are the top 20 goalkeepers on the IFFHS poll for "The World's Best Goalkeeper of the 20th Century."

  1. Lev Yashin
  2. Gordon Banks
  3. Dino Zoff
  4. Sepp Maier
  5. Ricardo Zamora
  6. José Luis Chilavert
  7. Peter Schmeichel
  8. Peter Shilton
  9. František Plánička
  10. Amadeo Carrizo
  11. Gilmar dos Santos Neves
  12. Ladislao Mazurkiewicz
  13. Pat Jennings
  14. Ubaldo Fillol
  15. Antonio Carbajal
  16. Jean-Marie Pfaff
  17. Rinat Dasaev
  18. Gyula Grosics
  19. Thomas Ravelli
  20. Walter Zenga

IFFHS' World's Best Goalkeeper of the Year

The following is a list of goalkeepers selected by the IFFHS every year since 1987 as "The World's Best Goalkeeper."

See also


  1. The Survey of Cornwall by Richard Carew
  2. The World's most successful goalscoring Goalkeepers of all time, IFFHS, October 23, 2006
  3. The World's best Goalkeeper of the 20th Century, poll by the IFFHS - - retrieved October 29, 2006.
  4. IFFHS' World's Best Goalkeeper of the Year - by José Luis Pierrend, RSSSF - retrieved May 2008.

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