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The Loneliness of the Long, Distant Goalkeeper

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I realise that it was a miss by Daniel Sturridge - or to put it another way, a save by Lee Bum-Young (no sniggering at the back, please) - that played the biggest part in football's Team GB losing on penalties on Saturday night. But as I watched Ki Sung-Yueng shooting the ball past Jack Butland (no sniggering at the back, please), it got me thinking again about something that's fascinated me for years.

Namely: who'd be a bloody goalkeeper?

You rarely get praised, and you're bound to get blamed. Is it any wonder that David Icke went a little bit bonkers, that Albert Camus was a goalkeeper, and that David Seaman wore a ponytail?

By definition, goalkeepers do a job that's different to everyone else's around them - well, except for the one other person on the pitch doing the same job as them, but they're not exactly going to be pally with him/her - and as a result, it must surely be utterly alienating. You're completely vital to the team, you're a trained sportsman/woman too, and yet everyone else is doing something completely different from you. And they're normally doing it some distance away, to boot.

I'll admit that I know very little about football, but I don't think you have to know that much about 'the beautiful game' (that's what everyone calls it, right? Sorry, I'm feeling my way here) to notice 'the goalkeeper phenomenon' in everyday life.

For example, I was once a cinema manager. In fact, I managed two cinemas (in total, not at the same time - that would be film exhibition madness), and after a while, I realised this phenomenon was alive and well among the staff. Because every cinema had a goalkeeper type. The one person whose job was completely different from everyone else's, and who was slightly crazy as a result.

That person was the projectionist.

This was back in the pre-digital, old-school days of projection, of course. When projectionists were engineer-types who would sit in their lonely little box for hours, splicing together films from reels, projecting them, and then splicing them apart again.

I worked with several projectionists and they were, to a man (and they were always men), odd sorts. Like goalies, they were isolated, their job was different from everyone else's, they held a certain power that was theirs alone - and as a result, they were all slightly bonkers. So bonkers, in fact, that their love of power - and it took me a while to realise this - sometimes led to them deliberately sabotage things technically, because they were the only ones who had the knowledge and skill to then fix the situation. The rest of us knew how to sell tickets, serve popcorn and cash up at the end of the day - but only the projectionists knew how to save it.

I found it utterly infuriating at times, of course, but also strangely fascinating. And I remembered learning that Albert Camus, the outsider who wrote The Outsider, was a goalkeeper; and, like all of us, I watched former goalie David Icke go from sports presenter to harbinger of lizard overlord doom. And suddenly, the strange behaviour of these isolated projectionists seemed to make some sort of sense.

As the Wikipedia entry for Icke notes about his boyhood:

"He played in goal, which he writes suited the loner in him and gave him a sense of living on the edge between hero and villain."

The projectionists I worked with were loners, villains and - sometimes by their own making - heroes. Look around you: I bet there's a goalkeeper in your workplace, too. He's probably the one with the ponytail.

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