Date: 28th September 2020 at 12:06pm
Written by:

I was a goalkeeper when I played football, to a very poor standard it has to be said, so I feel like I can relate to the plight of world record goalkeeper .

It happened by chance really, playing for my primary school football team, I was the striker and agreed to switch for a game with my best mate who was the goalkeeper.

After the game one of the dads approached me and asked me to join his Sunday league team, Gander Green United.

Little did I know but my first season with them would be the peak of my footballing career at just 10-years-old.

We won the league winning every game, scoring over 100 goals and conceding just 5 (eat your heart out Petr Cech!).

The next season we got moved up five divisions and found things weren’t quite as easy as we thought.

We struggled against the better teams and I remember one cup game, making a mistake and then us losing on penalties.

Then a few weeks later, a new goalkeeper turned up, out of the blue (to me anyway), and that was it for me.

Sunday league football was my level, I wasn’t the best, under 6ft, no command of my area, not very vocal and struggling with distribution but I was a shot stopper and that was me.

Being replaced hurt at 11 years old and when it happened again when playing for Epsom Eagles B team aged 15, it still hurt.

The feeling of not being good enough, not being wanted, being felt to blame for defeats is something unique to the goalkeeping position.

Strikers miss chances, midfielders misplace passes and defenders miss tackles but any goalkeeping mistake means a goal.

Looking back, I think having an arm round my shoulder, someone to tell me I am good enough and I am wanted and perhaps some advise or coaching but that’s a bit of stretch at Sunday League level.

For Kepa, I think a similar approach would’ve had better results for both the player and the club.

23 is still young, and coming to a new country with a hefty price tag isn’t easy.

Yet his first season was good, so good in fact he was nominated for the Lev Yashin award.

Last season, something changed and his confidence was shot.

Whether that was the rumoured split from a long term girlfriend or just a couple of mistakes had him questioning himself.

Did Kepa need to be dropped and taken out the team or did he need his manager to take him to one side, say that he’s his goalkeeper and believes in him?

I know what I would’ve wanted.

And just because he’s at the top level doesn’t mean he’s not human. People think just because you’re a rich footballer you should be immune to the abuse online.

Comedian and Manchester City fan Jason Manford used to do a routine about it, saying if he was a footballer he’d stay longer to take the abuse.

“Your mums a nob head”

“yeah I know but you should see her house”

Kepa’s received far worse than that, which is a shame. The trolls of football twitter are a stain on what can be an otherwise great platform.

No support from the fans, no support from your manager and no support from your team mates (on the pitch) can make a very lonely place for a goalkeeper.

New season new start? Not quite, another poorly conceded goal and then a new goalkeeper, hand picked by the clubs greatest ever goalkeeper.

Staying to fight for his place might feel like a bit of a lost cause.

For me, the only way out of this for Kepa is to move, which is a great shame because I believe there is a great goalkeeper there.

Ok he’s not the biggest, but with good coaching and training programmes, you can create a goalkeeper who knows the right moments to command his box and have the strength to do so.

However, as we’ve seen, coaching and ’s defence don’t seem to mix.

Kepa needs to be a club where he feels trusted and that his manager and team mates have faith in him, wherever that may be.

It’s worth remembering the story of Robert Enke, a promising goalkeeper who signed for a top European club, things didn’t work out and he was left out in the cold by the management.

Sadly, Robert took his own life.

Mental health in men has been a taboo subject for some time but recently things are starting to change and there’s lots of amazing charities doing amazing work in that field.

But it’s worth remembering that your words can have consequences and footballers are not immune to abuse.

Kepa needs our support, not our vitriol. The harsh reality of top level football though means it’s gone to far to allow Kepa the time needed on the pitch to recover the goalkeeper he really is.

It might not be at Chelsea, but from one goalkeeper to another, I hope you find your happy place.