It’s really not that complicated. Their job description is right there in the title. Goalkeeper. As in “Keeper of the goal.” The keeper, the “Netminder,” the last bastion and bulwark of the defense. You know, the guy who keeps his goal-area clean of goals. Or at least that’s the theory. In practice life can sometimes be a little bit different for a keeper. In practice, it sometimes seems we celebrate keepers for their mistakes just as much as their big saves.
And why not, after all? The closest thing you’re going to find in sports to a goalkeeper is perhaps a MLB closer. Both positions demand unique concentration and, yeah, a set of brass balls. Both positions feature guys thrown out on an island to fend for themselves. So when they crash and burn it’s almost always spectacular. A soccer goalkeeper’s clean sheet is an impressive accomplishment but even the great ones (perhaps especially the great ones) are remembered for their gaffes, blunders and general incompetence when they’ve let in a bad goal. Of course, ask any collection of keepers and they’ll say there’s no such thing as a good goal- they’re all terrible to a keeper. But to us watching, the truly bad goals, the ones that hurt a team’s chances the most, are always remembered over the great save.
15 Bjarte Flem (Tromso, 1988)
We wanted to put good ol’ Bjarte’s gaffe higher but fortunately for him, there’s a keeper on this list who made the same mistake before him and more memorably. So we guess playing in Norway ended up being a plus for Bjarte, at least notoriety-wise. Anyway… there’s an old saying in soccer- “Don’t throw the ball into your own goal.” OK, we made that up but there should be ‘cause keepers seem to keep doing it. In Bjarte’s case, in a game against Sogndal, it looks like he couldn’t decide to clear the ball downfield or distribute it to a defender. So instead he heaved it backward. Whoops.
14 Artur Boruc (Southampton, 2013)
OK, OK, this one wasn’t totally and completely Boruc’s fault (don’t worry- he’s got plenty of other bad goals to choose from) but it is memorable and that’s why we’ve included it. That’s because the goal in question was scored by Stoke City’s keeper Asmir Begovic on a wild, wind-driven kick that sailed across the field and over Boruc’s head. Yeah, Boruc probably should have paid a bit more attention and played it better. Oh well, now we have a funny video of it.
13 Massimo Taibi (Manchester United, 2000)
Man, Taibi was so embarrassed by his awful play that he actually knelt down and checked his cleats after the Manchester United gave up a through-the-legs goal against Southampton in EPL play. Like his boots were the reason he got "nutmegged" on a 30-yard shot… This one is just ugly to watch, especially as Taibbi realizes that the ball he thought he had is still rolling at a glacial pace into his goal. Taibbi made a few more mistakes his next game and Man U said “See ya!”
12 Scott Carson (England, 2007)
This list could probably be stocked with errors made by only English National Team keepers. In fact we could most likely make two lists of that material. OK, we jest a little but not much. Carson’s blunder came in a 2008 Euro qualifier against Croatia (in 2007) and it is an absolute "doozy". On the other hand, at least he didn’t misplay an easy bounce. At least the shot wasn’t from about 40 yards away. At least he didn’t cost England a chance to qualify for Euro. Oh, wait.
11 Dave Beasant (Chelsea, 1992)
Maybe we ought to rank Beasant’s mistakes a little higher but, since it was only a league match for his Chelsea club against Norwich, we’ll cut him some slack. Notice we said “mistakes,” though. That’s right, Beasant managed to give up two terrible goals in one game, both what the British commentators, with good reason, like to call “Howlers.” Although the game was a nightmare for Beasant, the aftermath was even worse as his manager publicly announced (without telling Beasant privately before) that the keeper would never play for Chelsea again. Now that’s why goalkeepers live in fear of being noticed.
10 Dominique Thiamale (Ivory Coast, 2015)
We suppose we could rank this one higher but, poor Dominique, it’s not really all her fault. Her overmatched Ivory Coast team met the top-ranked German women in the Group stages of the 2015 Women’s World Cup. Ten goals later(10!) the game was finally over. Thiamale didn’t make many obvious mistakes but she was out of position and on her heels all night. It was so bad that she had to take two injury timeouts that seemed more to catch her breath than for a significant injury. It’s an indication of how badly Ivory Coast played that there was never even a hint of Thiamale being replaced by her back-up.
9 Fabian Barthez (Manchester United, 2000-03)
Like Peter Shilton (#3 on our list), Barthez is one of the all-time greats. He was one of the heroes of France’s improbable 1998 World Cup victory and also won Euro with France and a Champions League Cup. And just like Shilton, sometimes even the great suffer goalkeeping brain cramps. There’s more than a handful of Barthez blunders to choose from but we best like the ones when he was playing for Man U and seemed to think that Arsenal legend Thierry Henry (former France teammate) was still his team. Why else would he keep sending his goal kicks to Henry and then watching him score???
8 Alan Knight (Portsmouth 1984)
Oh how we wish we had the video for this one. It’s almost too good to be true but we promised it happened. Back in ’84, Portsmouth keeper Knight was over by the side of his goal, after a Wimbledon goal, apparently self-doctoring an injury. After the Portsmouth kickoff a teammate passed back to him. But since Knight wasn’t where the entire stadium though he should be (you know, in goal) the ball just kept rolling and rolling and rolling. Well, you get the idea.
7 David James (Portsmouth, 2008)
It’s a really, really big deal when your club makes it to any UEFA League play. For Portsmouth, who captured a little bit of glory in the late 2000’s, playing in the UEFA Cup (now called Europa League) was a dream come true. But their keeper James decided to play just a little bit too fast and loose, just a little bit too casual with the ball during a group match with VFL Wolfsburg. Before you could scream “bad pass” the ball was stolen, James was on the ground and Wolfsburg had one of the easiest goals in UEFA Cup history. Portsmouth did not make it out of the group stage.
6 Rene Higuita (Columbia, 1990)
Higuita is, of course, best known for the most stupidly successful play in soccer history. That play was the infamous “Scorpion Kick” save he made for Columbia against England at Wembley in 1995. But for a guy like Higuita, living on the edge could often hurt his team as well. Like today’s Manuel Neur, Higuita played a “sweeper-keeper” style on the back line, but that backfired for him against Cameroon at the 1990 world Cup when Roger Milla stole the ball from him near midfield (a keeper at midfield…) and scored. Cameroon advanced, Columbia did not.
5 Gary Sprake (Leeds United, 1967)
When you’re in the top division and playing Liverpool at Anfield you want to try to limit your mistakes. Throwing the freaking ball into your own goal does not fall into that category. This is not the only blunder Leeds United backstop Gary Sprake ever made. If you play keeper long enough you get yourself a nice little collection of own goals. But it sure is the most entertaining. Perhaps the big moment gave Sprake a case of the yips, a laChuck Knoblauch.
4 John Lukic (Leeds United, 1992)
Well this one wasn’t as bad as throwing the ball into your own net but still… perhaps a Champions League showdown hyped as “The Battle of Britain” is not the best venue to make a boneheaded mistake and wind up punching the ball into your own net. But that’s just what Lukic, keeper for English First Division champs Leeds United, did against Rangers (The Scottish Premiere League Champs) in their huge 1992 showdown. It was a brutal if well-intentioned mistake. Yes, Rangers went on to win and be “crowned” champions of Britain.
3 Peter Shilton (England, 1990)
It’s amazing how often bad things seem to happen to England’s goalkeepers. It’s not that the keepers themselves are necessarily awful. Sometimes bad play by great players hurts a team just as much. A case in point, Shilton played in more games for England’s national team than any other player. Ever. He played in two Euro’s and three World Cups. Unfortunately, one of those World Cups was the 1990 one when Shilton allowed the incomparable Roberto Baggio to score an easy strike after lazily handling the ball in his box. You’d think he would know there were a bunch of Italians all over the field trying to beat him.
2 Artem Gomelko (Zhodino, 2011)
Yeah, the Belarussian First Division ain’t exactly Champions League or the World Cup. But seriously, this is an all-time epic disaster in goal… See Torpedo Zhodino goalkeeper Gomelko watch a Dnepr Mogilev defender take a 75-yard ‘gimme” shot. See the ball arc across the field for about an hour. See the ball slowly start to curl out of bounds across the end line. And then see Gomelko stick out his hand and let the ball bounce off it and into the goal. Was this guy paid off by the Belorussian mob or what? ‘Cause this is crazy bad.
1 Robert Green (England, 2010)
This is why at goalkeeper’s camp for ten-year olds they’re taught to put that knee down and get in front of the ball. Who knows? Maybe Green never went to a soccer camp. We doubt it but what else could explain his bizarre choice to sort of half-kneel from the side and watch Clint Dempsey’s shot rattle off his legs and hands and into the net. The fact that he did it in a crucial group qualifying game at the 2010 World Cup just makes it all the worse. We told you the keepers for England had a habit of not showing up in big games! This mistake allowed the USA to win the group, England came in second and had to play Germany and then England went home. Yay.