The role of the keeper is extremely well-defined in today’s version of football (soccer) and is an essential part of every team’s lineup. But it wasn’t always like that and the history books show us some quite interesting and quirky things about the way the game was played even less than 100 years ago. It’s really amazing how fast things have changed as the game has become so much more popular.
In this post we’ll look at 5 of the things you didn’t know about the history of the goalkeeper, back when everything was in black and white, men had huge ‘staches and everybody looked like an extra from a silent film sketch.
Goalies used to be able to handle the ball anywhere on the pitch.
Keepers weren’t just restricted to the penalty box back in the day - they could pick up the ball from anywhere on the pitch. The rules were eventually restricted to allow handling only in the keepers own half. Could you imagine that? It wasn’t until 1912 that keepers were finally restricted to using their hands in the penalty box.
Any player could handle the ball by making a “fair catch”.
Yes that’s right, you read that correctly. Any player on the pitch could legally catch the ball. But they weren’t allowed to run with the ball in both hands or score by throwing the ball into the goal. Catching the ball allowed them a free kick if they immediately made an impression in the pitch with their foot after catching the ball. I’m not really sure what would happen if they didn’t make the impression. Maybe they’d have been sent home?
For a long time there was no standard goal size.
Some goals could stretch the entire width of the pitch, others were defined by a single tree or even a door! It was pointless having a dedicated goalkeeper in these situations as they either wouldn’t have been effective at stopping a shot, or it was already hard enough to score a goal that it wasn’t a necessity. However in some games, there could be as many as 15 people in goal - these were generally the less athletic people and was considered a punishment for their lack of skill. Sounds fun...
Goalkeepers didn’t exist for a long time.
Because for a long time any player on the pitch could handle the ball and because there was no standard goal size, goalkeepers didn’t even exist as a dedicated role within the team. In fact, whichever player was closest to the goal at the time could effectively play as the keeper. It wasn’t until the 1860s which goalkeepers had a defined role on the team and by 1912 they were required to wear a different color shirt to everyone else on their team.
Most early keepers didn’t wear gloves.
Every keeper these days wouldn’t dream of stepping between the posts without their pair of trusty GK gloves but back in the day, nobody wore them. Maybe it was considered a sign of weakness or it just simply wasn’t practical but the first keeper to ever wear gloves was Argentina's Amadeo Carrizo when he played for River Plate in the 1940s & 50s.
From there, the trend grew quickly into what we know it as today. Many keepers even experimented with household items such as gardening gloves or rubber kitchen gloves.