As a field player, my opinion of goalkeepers has molded into a significantly respectful one over the years. The role that a goalie can play on a team varies from team to team, coach to coach, system to system, and even between goalkeepers of the same team.
Some enjoy being the true 11th player on the field; one who is actively involved with play out of the defense (those like Neuer). There are those who are strategists at every level of the game (those like Hope Solo or Gianluigi Buffon). And then the pure shot-stoppers (like Victor Valdes or Peter Schmeichel).
There’s obviously those who are mixes of any of these types, as well as others. Point is, is that keepers come in all shapes and sizes, and adhere to a number of different, ever-changing philosophies while between the sticks.
While “knowing and respecting your keeper” seems like an obvious mantra, it’s not always the most thought-about aspect of team chemistry. This might be a roundabout approach, but while every keeper and player has his or her own philosophy about this beautiful game, there’s a level of understanding that needs to be had between positions in order to truly respect your teammates.
And that level of understanding should go relatively deep. So, I’d like to talk a little about the history of the goalie glove. As attached as I get to my cleats, I know how attached my brother and friends get to their gloves. Kind of weird, I know, but the story of the goalie glove is one that I think every field player (and keeper) should understand.
Bear in mind, there’s so much potential history, that there’s no way I’m going to mention every single key stakeholder in the history of the glove. Just trying to scratch the surface.
The short story is that no one knows exactly when the first pair of goalie-specific gloves were worn. There were most likely people centuries ago who would put something over their hands to mitigate pain from shots – though a literal record is unconfirmed.
Like, I’m sure some keepers wore glove to keep their hands warm in the colder months, or wore gardening gloves or something. But any official record of that doesn’t exist as far as I can tell.
In the original bylaws of the game, created in 1886, there was no mention of gloves for a goalie, or even the wearing of them.
However, a businessman from West Yorkshire named William Sykes was granted the first patent for a pair of leather goalkeeping gloves in 1885, though there was never a market to have them mass-produced and used. Sykes is regarded as someone who was just a few years ahead of his time.
What we can speculate, though, that the first keeper to wear gloves in a professional match was Argentina’s Amadeo Carrizo, shown below. According to The Telegraph, he was the first keeper to wear legitimate goalie gloves designed specifically for stopping shots.
There are some notes that Italian keeper Carlo Ceresoli experimented with some gloves in the 30’s. But we’re just talking some winter gloves over his hands for an international match:
But Carrizo was a player for River Plate and Argentina in the 30s, 40s and 50s, and was known to have started wearing them sometime after World War 2.
Per Squawka, his intentions were summed up pretty conservatively:
“His attempts to find something suitable to give his palms and digits some extra grip and protection, especially in less hospitable conditions, mostly revolved around cotton hand coverings. Unfortunately, in the wet and muddy games that they were supposed to help him, they instead soaked up water and became slippery.”
Today, he is still seen by many as the godfather of the South American tradition of a sweeper-keeper. He was one of the first to really have an impact on the way the game was played, beyond just standing in goal and stopping shots. What he’s mostly credited for, beyond just the use of gloves (which, by the way, were like wearing leather gloves and nothing more), are the strategies and techniques he came up with – like patrolling the area, closing down attackers and restarting play from the back. In turn, he’s inspired countless successors of the leadership ideology out of the defense.
Gordon Banks and Early Adopters
Usage of gloves began to take off, and rapidly increased in the 60s. They were mostly used for wet weather, though their popularity was starting to take shape beyond inclimate weather. Gordon Banks, regarded as the best English goalkeeper of all time, continued this lineage of pioneership.
He didn’t always wear gloves, and particularly early on in his career preferred the use of his bare hands. But as the craze began to spread, so too did the development of safety in using gloves. This meant there began to be a practical use for gloves. Before it had been a way for keepers to keep their hands warm during crappy weather, or so their hands wouldn’t be as slippery on the ball.
Confidence started out low, where keepers were hesitant to use the gloves because of a decreased sense of feel. But with the partnership some companies had with big-name keepers, the money for technology improvements began to pour in.
Gordon Banks tried a pair on for the first time as an experiment during the 1970 World Cup in Mexico. And it started to really spread the brand. It made sense: big name players wearing gloves? It made the up-and-comers think “oh, maybe I should try too.”
I should note: when I write “development” of new glove technology, I hope you understand how low-tech it started as. I mean, former Everton keeper Neville Southall, one of the early adopters, admitted to pretty much using oven mitts during a game. If you look at the image of Gordon Banks above, he’s pretty much just wearing gardening gloves.
Gebhard Reusch and Latex Foam
The soccer world reached a point in the 1970s where some began to realize a practical use for gloves. Meaning that prior, most had understood gloves as a means to cope with the bad weather conditions, or keeping one’s hands warm.
For the most part, experiments were nothing more than arbitrarily trying homemade gloves that might help stop a shot while still giving a keeper the feel of the ball – that was very important. Practicality, with control, started to emerge as the name of the game.
The real problem, was that “technology” wasn’t tweaked properly. Keepers were using oven mitts. That’s not new tech – that’s reusing old stuff. There needed to be some application of technology for the specific development of goalkeeping gloves.
In 1973, a ski gear manufacturer named Gebhard Reusch designed the first pair of oversized, rubber-palmed, reinforced modern gloves, seen below. Those who play soccer today might recognize that last name.
Reusch worked with West Germany’s legendary goalkeeper Sepp Maier (my father’s idol growing up), to help develop them. By ‘74, Maier would wear Reusch gloves in the final of the World Cup. Within years, they rapidly had become a standard piece of equipment, ushering in a new era of goalkeeping.
This was the start of the “modern” goalkeeper glove we know today, beginning in the early-mid-70s, and garnering attention quickly into the 80s and today.
The biggest draw was the use of supporting foam, similar to what tennis handles use, that would cushion the blow of a ball coming in at high velocity, but still give the keeper control.
So this solved the problem of wet/dry conditions that made many hesitant. It also solved the controlling of the ball issue. Latex foam itself is used and treated in a number of ways to actually give each glove a unique quality. Some, for example, are designed to offer a high level of grip; whereas others are designed to offer maximum durability. So keepers who are afraid of breaking both thumbs can be comforted, as can those who want the best grip possible, in crappy or nice weather.
Today, there are thousands of types of gloves that can be bought for a variety of goalkeeping styles. David De Gea, the Spanish and Manchester United goalie, is known as a top keeper today. His ability to control the ball in the air is unmatched, even with pressure on him. De Gea has his own line of gloves that are designed specifically for him:
For those running net security, there’s enough research out there for any style of play. Those who want grip vs. versatility vs. protection, it’s all available. With the advent of the modern-era style of soccer we see, there comes with it the notion that the goalie is one of the most important positions on the field. A commander, of sorts. Manuel Neuer, Germany’s No. 1 between the posts, has won several awards for his prowess in net, and can always be seen flashing his gloves at the very sight of a shot on target. He commands his team from the back – everything flows through him.
Now, it’s commonplace. You don’t play in goal without gloves. You wonder how the pioneers of the early 20th century would feel now knowing that the modern-day goalkeeper is protected, while able to be involved in the game in ways it hadn’t before. That the role of the keeper has become much more important and integrated into the game.
Before? Carrizo was a poor schmuck who agreed to be in net, but was only expected to stop shots. Now? Keepers have the ability to do that, but also direct from the goal, see the field and analyze it real-time. Things coaches can’t even do from the sideline. They have protection now.
They’ve truly become the 11th player on the field. With the revolution of the keeper glove, also truly invited the evolution of the position itself. Those gorgeous, “fingertip” saves we know and love today as fans, wouldn’t be possible without the gloves they have, without that technology and advancement.
Every player should appreciate his or her keeper, and I think understanding the history and development behind it goes a long way in soccer education. For now, and as fans, let’s just enjoy: