I think you’ve got to have the ability to
keep the ball out of the back of the net but I think being crazy can help. It’s hard for me to liken it to anything else. You’ll always be the guy who decides if you win or if you lose. You have to have a different sort of mentality, almost that villain mentality. You’re literally an individual in a team sport. If you make a mistake, you’re there on your own. Goalkeeping chooses it’s victims. They do not choose the job and when you read the job description it’s easy to understand why there are so few applicants. You stand on your own, cut off from the rest of the team. Taking abuse from the opposition fans. Your job is to prevent the very reason
supporters come to games: goals. You voluntarily put yourself in the way of flying balls and no matter what you do, you always get criticised. So why on earth would you want to be one? Yeah, when you put it that way I’m not quite sure myself. In all seriousness, I think it’s for that reason to be different. You either have it or you don’t. The majority of people like
the glory of scoring goals and being the main focus of attention. Whereas us goalkeepers,
we’re different. I get a kick out of stopping the goals. Denying a striker from scoring
a great goal and seeing the look on his face when he’s devastated. The crowd being disappointed a goal wasn’t scored. My immediate draw was – I just loved diving
around. Banned from diving around on the sofas at home, so diving around in the mud and playing football. I like just simple things like playing catch – cricket, being a fielder – they all kind of tied in when I was a kid. Yeah, I think initially when I got into goalkeeping it wasn’t necessarily by choice. So, for me it was – we didn’t have a goalkeeper. I remember my first few games as a kid when I was seven years old, eight years old and I saved a penalty in my third game and we ended up going onto win the game by a single goal and I remember the feeling that I got. Even now I’m getting hairs on end but I remember the feeling I got. I felt I was naturally quite good
for the position. Probably first, the motivation of getting beaten very hard. The challenge of facing good strikers, good opponents who tried to beat me. Sometimes they were successful
but sometimes I was better. It was the kind of motivation I liked. I used to play centre-back for my under-12s team. The keeper who was playing was too old so when he moved up, we didn’t have a keeper. For some reason, I got chucked in goal and been there ever since. I wouldn’t say destined, but it’s where I’ve ended up. I was born be to a goalkeeper because of my genetics from my father. When I started to play, I wanted to be a striker like everyone else. They said, ‘No, no your father was a keeper, so just go into goal’. So very early it was decided for me. And once you get into that position – it’s the most unique, for me the best position you can play in professional football or in children’s football because you are someone who always – the guy who decides whether if you win or if you lose. And when you make a save that helps your team earn a victory, the rush is comparable to hitting the back of the net. My first memories of saving shots was always great. I remember, even from an early age, Whenever I was able to save a shot or do the impossible and then everyone thinking, ‘How on earth did he do that?’ It’s always nice to make saves. If you go onto win the game, it’s very satisfying. But equally, there could be games
where you might not have too much to do but you really have to battle as a back four. You take so much pleasure in keeping a clean sheet and walking off at the end of the game without conceding because you work so hard during the week to do that and you always feel like you’ve done your job if you come off and you’ve not conceded. I think patience in the moment is critical.
I think you have to read the game really well. You have to be in the right spot as you mention psychically. The best saves I’ve made have been at crucial times in the game. I can always remember just being patient. And patience could actually be a split second. It’s nice making pretty saves, big dives, big blocks but saves which impact the match are the most important ones for me and give me the greatest pleasure. Even if it’s a simple cross taken
at 1-1 and you end up winning the game 2-1 or the game finishes 1-1 – they give me the
biggest buzz because they affect the match. You want to protect the team, especially when you’ve got a team that you see working hard, putting challenges in, pressing. They do a
lot more running for instance than a goalkeeper. The modern day goalkeeper has to be able to do so much more than just save shots. From the introduction of the back pass rule to the development of balls that move like a plastic bag in a hurricane, there’s always something making their lives that bit harder. For me, the goalkeeper’s position has changed
in the last 15-20 years the most of all [the positions] in professional football. The position has became a lot more complex. If you’re looking at goalkeepers like Manuel Neuer or ter Stegen from Barcelona. They’re such unbelievably good football players with their leg. They’re probably at the same level as a decent first or second division player in England or Germany just
simply their feet. The speed of the game I think as a goalkeeper, shots are coming
at you much quicker. You need to be more agile, obviously the ball can deviate in the air with the way the ball is now. You need to be able to react as fast as you can. To do that, you need to be in the best shape you can be. You need to be as strong as you can to deal with the power of the ball coming at you or contact with other players. You need to be strong.
You need to be flexible. You need a good spring when you’re dealing with crosses or shots. There’s more and more aspects of the game you need to work on. I’m not a visionary. I don’t see the next level, the improvement. It’s always a great bonus to me when someone tells me they’ve done something new and exciting. And I feel it and I say ‘Yeah, I didn’t know I needed that.’ The way that especially my company Nike look into things now and the way they’re trying to evolve it. They’ve got a specific goalkeeper section now. They’re always trying to look for the best ways of helping you, the best ways of grips. It’s great for me and really interesting to meet up with them and see what they’re thinking. First of all when you want to become a top goalkeeper it’s mostly important that you can heavily concentrate and that you try to completely put the fear out of your game. It’s a mental set-up and still very hard. What separates the good goalkeepers from the top goalkeepers is dominating your area. Coming for crosses in every environment. The technique you need is catching put also punching with both your right and left fist. It’s a show
of dominance as well. If I show you that I’m not that scared as you are, it’s a big advantage already. There are some really special athletes in goal now. It’s not as uncool to be a goalkeeper anymore. It was almost the athletically blessed lads would look to try and play in every other position
and use what they’ve been given. But now a great athletic build would be directed in goal. You can really do great things. You can make an impact on the world stage as a goalkeeper nowadays. As the goalkeeper’s job description has radically changed over the years, their
training has evolved. No more aimless running in a session with the outfield players. Specialist coaches are devising bespoke programmes for the gym and the pitch to build athletes fit for purpose. Physical strength will help you do your job as a goalkeeper. But mental strength will help you survive. Yeah, I nearly quit on the back of a mistake. I would have been 25/26, probably had my best ever season and we had a Championship play-off game against Hull City. We lost the first leg, we were winning in the second leg and we looked really, really strong and I made a bad decision. The ball went up, I thought I could get it, I didn’t, they scored a really soft goal and they went onto win comfortably and they made the Premier League. The toughest thing was that it was the last game of the season. That game finished, we then had the four hour drive home, I had six weeks summer break and you can imagine, every single day, I’m beating myself up. Especially in the world of Twitter and Facebook, people were quick to let me know their thoughts. I found that really tough. I remember the following season, I had a bit of a niggling injury I actually pulled myself out of the team for a while.
My career took a downward spiral and that’s when I heavily got into the mental side of I because I knew it was either a case of you learn to deal with this, or you don’t. The motivation for the book itself was having gone through everything that I’d gone through and being very close
to quitting the game to then have the best season of my life. I thought it was a really nice platform. I wrote my book all on my Blackberry which they’re dying out now – I think I’m
one of the last people with a Blackberry! It was almost by accident. It started out as a cathartic
way of looking back over the season because it was such an extraordinary season and before I knew it this blog that I’d written was quite good so I carried on with it and two weeks in Florida and by the end of it I had a book on my hands. You are literally an individual in a team sport. It’s one of them where if you make a mistake, you’re there on your own. You can make other saves but it’s not like you can go up the other end and score. If you’re playing for one of the best teams and maybe you don’t get as much work, mental strength is being focused for 90 minutes and making that one save when called upon. Mental strength is also if the team isn’t doing so well but you are. So, you’re not winning as much as you want to but you’re playing well so you
have to continue to do your job. There’s many different ways you have to be mentally strong as a goalkeeper. I think that is part of the appeal. There are different scenarios and you have to be stronger and wiser than everyone else. It’s fun. I do find it fun. I would say 95% of the battering you get is all quite light-hearted. It’s people trying to be clever and witty. You can actually isolate the people who genuinely – some people absolutely lose their mind with you. They want to kill you. All you’re doing is standing there in goal. If you make eye contact, you can see the people around them and you can almost say ‘Come on, what is this clown doing?’ That’s football and that’s our position. Yeah, I’m going to say it, it’s our job to take the good and the bad. It’s mad because it was kind of like
a derby in fairness. Our local derby was against a team called Lokeren, but Antwerp were probably 10km from where we were based. There was the odd bottle, the odd coin, the odd lighter. In the end, I think I’ve just picked one and thrown one back. We were winning 3-1 but what I didn’t realise was that there was a fella doing the game and he must have been 80-odd. I thought, ‘That was a bad move.’ Looking at this gate, it was a steel gate. I’m thinking, ‘There’s not a chance the gate is coming through.’ It was the old fashioned barbed wire on the top. I just thought, ‘There’s no way they’re getting through here.’ And then the next minute, the game
is still going on at this stage and I’ve just seen this fella – he was like a Transformer – he was massive! Leather jacket on, he’s walked through and I’ve thought, ‘I need this’. And then his little mate run behind him and he wanted a pop as well. So I thought I would give him and dig and hopefully that would settle it down and thankfully it did. I got hate mail. I got death threats. Only a unique individual would choose to put themselves through all of this for very little credit which is why the old adage says, ‘All goalkeepers are mad.’ Jens was definitely, without the question, the maddest I worked with. But he was probably the most professional.
I don’t know where I lie in that. I wouldn’t say I’m crazy – I’ve done some stupid things. The maddest goalkeeper? I was working together with Graham Stack, my first goalkeeping partner at Arsenal. He was Irish. He was kind of mad in his lifestyle. He was Irish and he was a very funny guy. But the Irish sometimes they like to drink so when I was lying in bed sleeping, sometimes you could smell that he’d had one or two drinks. He was so funny and he was a good goalkeeper as well. I remember I raced Jens Lehmann. All the first
team were coming out and were watching us. We used to do relays on the Friday. Gerry Peyton was the goalie coach, so he’d say a country. Let’s say Peru. He would go ‘Chile, America, Belgium,’ and then on Peru, you would have to sprint. It was first to three and I was winning 2-0 against Jens. He wasn’t the quickest Jens. I was young and I was fit and I remember on the last one, I’ve turned round and beat him backwards. All the other lads in the first team had seen it and they started hammering him and Jens kept chasing me. I’ve stopped and he’s carried on past the finish line to try and catch me. I thought he had wanted to kill me because he just hated losing. I don’t think you’ve got to be crazy to be a keeper – I think you’ve got to be brave. I think you’ve got to be strong mentally and I think you’ve got to have the ability to keep the ball out of the back of the net, but I think being crazy
can help. I played for 25 clubs in 13 countries on all six FIFA continents which makes me the only player so far to have ever achieved that. I love animals more than anything else and I had a fable for having exotic pets at home. I had some monkeys in Singapore, I had some lizards. You name it, I had it. When I played in New Zealand and saw the beautiful penguins, I thought ‘Why not?’ and maybe I can cultivate him into a nice pet. Within a few hours, I realised it wasn’t going to work out. I gave the penguin back to his normal life.
This story follows me all around. When you’ve had a nightmare and you’re getting it from
the press, the fans and your teammates, there’s a select group of people who understand
your pain. The Goalkeepers’ Union. In this fabled brotherhood, everyone sticks together. Don’t they? Until you play the position, I don’t think you really do get it. That’s why keepers are like that. They understand how hard the position is and it’s one of them You just have that bond with other keepers because of that. You really know how tough the position is and what you have to go through to be a goalkeeper and the highs and the lows that you experience. I’ve never understood the GK Union. Coaches used to say, ‘Look at the goalies, look at the Union’ but I’ve never been on that. I’ve told players and goalies openly that the Union ain’t for me because I respect you and I’ll train and I’ll do what’s right by you, if I’m not playing, I’ll warm up properly I’ll make sure I’m out there on time and the balls are ready and I’ll make sure everything is spot on for you to
have a good game. Which even in itself is stupid because I want to play. But it’s what is right and that is right principally. And that is what you should do. I think with the GK union, there
is a sense of brotherhood. Just purely for the fact that you know what each other is
going through. Even now when I see a mistake on TV, I know it’s a mistake, but it winds me up when ex-goalkeepers giving a lot of stick. I think there’s a lot of sympathy for other
goalkeepers. I think the Goalkeepers’ Union was born because goalkeepers understand that it is a different position. We are isolated in our work and in our criticism. And so there’s probably some sympathy there and that’s where if another goalkeeper doesn’t have a great game – you’re happy you won but at the same time, you can also look at them and go, “I’ve been there, I understand what that feels like.” Other than that, it is a made up type of social club. For 90 minutes, the goalkeeper multi-tasks, switching from shot-stopper to sweeper-keeper integrating themselves into the team both tactically
and psychologically. They play on the edge. One save away from being a hero. One mistake
away from being a villain. Is it the hardest job in football? Doubt it, probably being a striker, but I don’t know. I’d say it’s one of them because you can made nine worldies but you make one mistake and people just remember you for the mistake. So, I would say that goalkeeper is probably the toughest. We have to respect and appreciate each other’s responsibility. Centre halves have to go up and take elbows and cuts across the eye every other game. A midfielder has to literally got to bust his lungs to run up and down the field. I’ve got to be honest, I wouldn’t want to do that. I don’t have the wherewithal be able to run 13km in a game. But I respect the guy who does just in the same way he has to respect me for putting my face in front of a 70mph shot and diving around like an idiot where it hurts. There’s aspects to the game that need to be respected. We have a bigger responsibility. You have to take that on board and you have to be encouraged by taking on that responsibility. We have a bigger leadership role in the team than most players. Listen – sticking the ball in the goal is what wins matches, keeps managers in jobs, gets players promoted, gets players money for bonuses and whatever else. That’s probably the most important thing, is scoring goals. But for me, I think the hardest job on the pitch is being a goalkeeper.