David Seaman Exclusive: England And Arsenal Legend On 20+ Years At The Top, The Evolution Of Goalkeeping, And The Next Generation

By Sam Hudspith

News • Apr 29, 2024

David Seaman Exclusive: England And Arsenal Legend On 20+ Years At The Top, The Evolution Of Goalkeeping, And The Next Generation

Premier League Nobility. Euro ‘96 Phenomenon. Moustache and ponytail extraordinaire. David Seaman discusses a life in goalkeeping.

Header Image: Adam Butler/PA

‘Sam, please meet possibly the best to have played in the Premier League, David Seaman’, read the WhatsApp notification on my phone early in March. 

The England and Arsenal legend is to this day one of the most iconic goalkeepers to have donned the gloves in the Premier League. Over five hundred appearances for the Gunners. 75 with the Three Lions on his chest. ‘1-0 to the Arsenal’, they would chant from the Highbury terraces, with Seaman keeping watch of the goal down below. 

David Seaman was the iconic, towering presence that kept several goal nets empty for over two decades, in a career that saw him win two Premier League titles, a First Division winner’s medal, four FA Cups, and a plethora more. 

The list would illustrate a book binded by gold thread. But it was from ordinary beginnings that Seaman became ‘the goalkeeper’.

“My dad wasn’t sporty. He was a steel worker. My mum was a bar lady. My brother was an outfield player. He was a ‘proper footballer’, as we used to call it. I was the goalkeeper”, explains Seaman, speaking exclusively to Goalkeeper.com from his home. 

Born in Rotherham, Seaman’s height had determined his goalkeeping fate on the playground at Ferham Junior School. The infants weren’t allowed to join in with the older children playing football. In fact, a literal white painted line marked the ‘no-go zone’ for the younger years. But a momentary kick of confidence and curiosity took young Seaman to boldly ask the older boys if he could play. 

‘You’re tall. You go in goal’, was the response. 

And that was how it began.

It was fellow Yorkshire side Leeds United that won his affiliation as a child over his hometown team, however. Leeds won boyhood fan Seaman’s signature amid interest from a number of clubs across the North East, and it was at Elland Road that he would matriculate into the footballing school of hard knocks at 16. 

“There were schoolboy forms you could sign in those days, if you wanted to ‘sign’ for one club”, Seaman explains. Leeds was a “no-brainer”.  unsurprisingly. His schoolboy hero Eddie Gray had been appointed manager following their relegation to the Second Division at the end of the 1981-82 season; a culmination of a fall from the heights of the Don Revie days less than a decade earlier. 

Brian Clough’s infamous 44 day spell in charge marked a sharp departure from the glory days of the 1970s. A respite came in an upturn in fortunes under Jimmy Armfield, which saw the club defeated in the European Cup Final by Bayern Munich in the 1974-75 season, but it was to be a temporary recapturing of the Revie-era form. Leeds had lost their position as one of the dominant forces of English football by the end of the seventies. 

Seaman entered the first team environment under Gray’s management. Club infrastructure had changed, but development of the goalkeeper department fitted the times. The goalkeepers’ union was a brotherhood only of players. Then-first team goalkeeper John Lukic took the young Englishman under his wing. 

“I never really had a coach”, recalls Seaman. “Johnny [Lukic] used to pick me up and we’d go to training together, warm each other up and all that stuff. He was the only real bit of coaching I had at the beginning.”

Seaman made one sole first team outing for Leeds, in a friendly in Ireland. The mentorship he had received from Lukic had only been put into practice in reserve matches. A release at 19 years old at a boyhood club by a boyhood hero was “devastating news”, but opened the door to horizons new at Peterborough United. It brought an education - a different type of education - in footballing culture. 

“I remember at 15 or 16, we played Manchester United for Leeds Reserves. United were running some sort of scheme at the time that to buy FA Cup tickets you had to go and watch a reserve game. They managed to get 11,000 people into Old Trafford”, Seaman reminisces. 

“That was the earliest I’d felt that pressure. But it was when I went to Peterborough that I realised how much this meant to people. There might have only been about four or five thousand watching but it was their club. The penny dropped.”

Today, Seaman passes on his decades’ worth of goalkeeping wisdom to those bringing up the rear at Arsenal. Working once a week with the Gunners’ U18s and U21s, it’s a culture a million miles away from what he knew as a youngster. 

“These guys now are technically miles better than I was at their age. The only thing they’re missing, which we had more of back in the day, was playing games against adult men. That’s why it’s a really good experience going out on loan - to sample what it means; the pressure of playing. 

“When people talk to me about Aaron Ramsdale when he first came to Arsenal, they immediately point to his two relegations with Bournemouth and Sheffield Utd. That is invaluable life experience because he's played under pressure!

“He knows he can do it under pressure, because the pressure of relegation, trust me, is a lot tougher than when you're going for titles.” 

It was something Seaman experienced in his two year spell at Birmingham City between 1984 and 1986. Those formative years were not only laying the foundations for the successful career on the pitch that he’d come to experience until 2004, but also in subconsciously conditioning him for when the time came to give back in the coaching arena. 

Gone are the days of the two-man, no coach goalkeeper department. Lukic and Seaman may sound like a backstreet eighties hip-hop duo, but the energy in the Leeds United goalkeeper department was not conferred onto an extended audience. It was just the two of them. Today, Seaman notes the commonplace of the three or four man department - even at youth level - which can hamper the playing time a developing goalkeeper needs to receive.

It also introduces, at a much earlier stage, the dynamics of in-house competition. 

Ramsdale Pickford England training (Goalkeeper.com)
Arsenal goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale training with England.

Peter Schmeichel famously quipped that he preferred to not have a good number two goalkeeper. Seaman’s deputies at Arsenal came in the form of Richard Wright and Stuart Taylor - two Premier League veterans for whom match minutes were scarce. 

“When Richard [Wright] came in at Arsenal, they paid a lot of money for him. But it changed my mentality. It was now a case of ‘oh, okay, I’ll show you what I can do. Let’s see where it goes’. It helped me more than anything”, says Seaman. 

“These lads were decent goalkeepers, and later on in my career when the injuries took longer to come back from, they may come in and do well. But often I’d go back into the starting line up when I was fit again. 

“The thing is, some of these lads were also happy being the number two. At Manchester City and Liverpool you have two goalkeepers who understand they are the number two. But, with Arsenal, you've got two goalkeepers there, none of them are happy being a number two.”

Seaman’s career took him via Queens Park Rangers to Arsenal, where he signed in 1990 after four years in West London. The move was a peculiar one. Former Leeds teammate and early mentor John Lukic had taken up the gloves at Highbury in the years preceding Seaman’s arrival, but the tables had turned in the goalkeeping hierarchy. This time, it was Lukic who would find himself on his way out of a club with Seaman coming in to replace him. 

Though Seaman’s goalkeeping legacy has mostly been defined by his time at Arsenal and with England, his spell at Queen’s Park Rangers was formative on and off the pitch in a human sense more than any other. 

“He’s a proper friend”, remarks Seaman, speaking of long-time goalkeeper coach Bob Wilson. 

Wilson, now 82, was coaching at Arsenal full-time, but would come into Queen’s Park Rangers once a week. It was there he began working with Seaman. He was never one to allow detail to pass him by. An interview with the Guardian in the early 2000s noted how ‘Wilson watched the Brazilians devoting special attention to goalkeeping in one session at Arsenal's training ground at London Colney and was the first to bring such specialisation to the British game’. 

The relationship that developed between the young Englishman and the veteran Scot proved to be one that underpinned one of the most fruitful periods of goalkeeping in English domestic league history. Wilson followed Seaman to Arsenal. In the 1990-91 season, only 18 shots found their way past Seaman and into the Arsenal net. All season. 

“I think it’s brilliant if you can get on with your goalkeeping coach”, explains Seaman. 

The goalkeeper-goalkeeper coach relationship was not one that Seaman had had the chance to develop in the early days of his career. It was a virtue of the era he goalkept. With Wilson, it became a pillar of the rest of his career. 

“Because he'd done it before, he knew exactly what I was thinking and what I was going through. He would say the right things, you know, and he would work it out and he'd compare it to when he was playing, and the present day.

“One of his attributes was that you used to get confidence through Bob's training. You'd be doing drills, and he’d really focus on the good elements of it. If we were doing some sort of turn-in to the goal and save from distance, and you pulled off a worldy save within the first two reps, your set would be done. The next goalkeeper would be in. So all you remember is that save. That's how he used to work. 

“He always used to keep you confident in training. Not just me, the other goalkeepers as well.”

Seaman puts it simply: “Bob was brilliant”, he remarks fondly. 

Funnily enough, Wilson wasn’t the first pillar of goalkeeping knowledge that Seaman had come across in his career - despite a lack of formal goalkeeper coaching.

In those pixelated, rugby short-wearing years of ‘proper football’ that comprised the 1980s, not all managers made their name by shouting it the loudest. There were innovators, there were visionaries, and there were those who resided most comfortably in a house of strict discipline and unrelenting fight. Goalkeeper coaches may have been scarce, but there were plenty of excellent goalkeepers. 

Which begs the question - how? Well, in that eclectic managerial class, Seaman recalls Ron Saunders. The famous Aston Villa manager was at the helm of the second city’s club wearing blue when Seaman passed through the Midlands on his way to the top. The peculiarities of goalkeeping were not lost on Saunders.

“He knew everything about goalkeeping!”, chuckles Seaman. “I have no idea where it was from, but he knew so much about the position. It was brilliant!”. 

Education came as much in the form of fellow goalkeepers as it did from the official coaching textbook. Lukic was first, as discussed, and beyond him Seaman wasn’t short of goalkeeping role models to follow. At international level, a certain Peter Shilton held the gloves Seaman had to fill,

“We were different sorts of goalkeepers, me and Peter. He was a lot shorter than I was. “But then, probably in about 1987, I started training with Peter and he had a brilliant coach in Mike Kelly. Mike was like proper full on; up to that point he was the best that I'd seen.” recalls Seaman, of his time at national camps. 

“A lot of it was geared to around what Peter wanted, and rightly so. Peter knew what he needed. Because of the type of goalkeeper he was, there would be a lot of reactions, short range things, so I would join in on the drill, but then sometimes it was hard for me to initially appreciate how much that was gonna help me because, you know, I thought it was all geared towards Peter. 

“But then you realise. It sharpens your reactions, things like quick turns and saves and volleys from six yards. I remember the first time I did some of the drills I felt ‘I can't do these, I can't react in that time!’ But you get used to it, the more you do it, and watching Peter doing it, you're like he makes it look easy, and he's smaller than you and you think, oh my God!”.

There were also plenty of others that Seaman looked up to. 

“Joe Corrigan and Ray Clements were more my size, so I loved to watch them - Ray especially Ray. Watching how they did things felt more familiar to my game.”


Veni, vidi, vici. I came, I saw, I conquered. Caesar’s legendary phrase invoked the powerful aesthetic mantra of ‘omne trium perfectum’ that everything that is three is perfect, otherwise known as the rule of three. From ancient Chinese philosophy to the holy trinity, and Shakespeare’s plays to the motto of the French Republic, things that come in threes have traditionally been seen as signifiers of natural harmony. 

The £1.3 million transfer fee Arsenal paid for Seaman in 1990 made him the most expensive English goalkeeper of all time. Today, accounting for ordinary inflation, that fee would be worth about £3 million. 

The rule proved no fallacy in the first few years of Seaman’s Arsenal career. August 25th, 1990 marked debut day. Arsenal strolled to a 3-0 victory away at Wimbledon. A clean sheet, convincing victory, and a sign of things to come. 

Within three years of joining the club, Seaman’s trophy haul with the Gunners had reached an equal number. An FA Cup and League Cup marked the domestic successes, before adding the European Winners Cup. Maybe it was no coincidence that three penalty saves from the Englishman against Millwall helped Arsenal progress in the early rounds. 

Seaman’s debut season at Arsenal saw him finish in the PFA Team of the Season. Three years later, he’d win the first of two Golden Glove Awards. But by 1995, George Graham’s reign at Highbury had come to an end. His replacement, Bruce Rioch, lasted only a season. Johann Cruyff was tipped as the favourite to take over, but the job went to a lesser-known French manager whose previous gig had been in the Japanese top flight. 

Tony Adams summed up fans’ contemporary perplexion somewhat brutally: ‘He wears glasses and looks more like a schoolteacher…what does this Frenchman know about football?’. 

His name? Arsene Wenger. 

“Arsene demanded total silence at half time”, recalls Seaman. Wenger commanded respect. He brought an innovative, scientific approach to football to the Premier League, slicing through the classic English hit-hard-and-hit-fast style that had made the top flight one of the world’s most physically challenging.

Wenger ushered in a new era of stylistic thinking in football. It was a modern vision that manifests today. Football as Seaman knew it in the days of his youth stands in stark contrast with the development that stemmed from Wenger’s philosophical interventions on and off the pitch. 

“It’s a totally different game today”, he states.

“I struggle to remember games where I didn't have something wrong, physically for example.

“Nowadays, there's so much emphasis put on players medically. There are whole teams that take care of that, and they govern whether that player is ready to play or not. Back in my day it was the choice of the player whether they were fit to play. 

“You know, if you had an irritable finger or your ankle was a bit sore, you'd strap it up. The amount of injections that we used to have, sometimes just to get through games, was crazy.” 

On the pitch, Seaman speaks candidly about the realignment of priorities of the role of the goalkeeper today. He was no stranger to the sweeper ‘keeper role in the nineties at Arsenal, playing behind a high back line trying to implement the offside trap. He paid the price for it in a UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup Final against Real Zaragoza in 1995. Nayim’s infamous lob won the Spanish side the trophy with the last kick of extra time. 

There’s no reward without risk in the modern goalkeeper’s tactical inventory. 

“Obviously he’d done his homework!” jokes Seaman, speaking of Nayim’s goal. 

“Okay, he got lucky with the shot and he knew that, but the amount of goals I saved by keeping that high line is miles more than the ones I conceded. It wasn’t just for Arsenal. I remember doing it for England, one particular moment against Spain where I came bombing out and basically tackled one of the Spanish strikers. 

Balance is important, however. 

“We’re goalkeepers. The art of shot-stopping should be guaranteed”, he says. 

“A lot of people nowadays are talking to me about goalkeepers and they say ‘oh, yeah but they're brilliant with their feet’. And I say ‘well are they any good with their hands!’. That's what we do! The first thing I look at is whether you are a great shot stopper. From there, can you dominate your area, are you willing to come for crosses. 

“The rest is down to nurture, not nature”, he indicates. 

“The other stuff can all be coached into you. I'm looking at young goalkeepers and they're playing out from the back because - and they're good at it - because they've been coached. I was never coached, and you could see people like Petr Cech, when he joined Arsenal, was never coached to play out. Then all of a sudden, Arsene's trying to get him to play out from the back, or Unai Emery was trying to get him to play out the back and he looked like a fish out of water because he wasn't used to it.

“But, that’s not his fault. You get used to it, but it takes some getting used to. Sometimes I’m asked if I could play it in this era? I say well probably, yeah, but that’s because I would have been coached.”

The goalkeeper position has often manifested the most obvious site of footballing evolution over the past few decades. The process of a change between eras of philosophy presents most explicitly where it can have the most unique effect, whether positive or negative. A strange liminal space can emerge between what has been and what is to come as goalkeepers from different generations are reassessed against new standards. But, beyond today’s ‘eleventh man’, it’s difficult to know what the future goalkeeper will look like, Seaman admits. How much more innovation can there really be?

“You look at David Raya and he's hardly taller than six foot. But he's totally different. He's got a totally different way of being a goalkeeper. His timing and athleticism is brilliant which makes up for a lack of height. But then you look at Aaron Ramsdale who's like six foot three, Dean Henderson probably 6'5. Joe Hart is a similar height. Then there’s those like Fraser Forster who is probably about 6'6 and built like a brick! 

“There’s no one given shape that is ‘right’. It’s all about what you do on that pitch. And what type of goalkeeper your manager wants. Looking at who that England ‘future’ is going to be, the one that comes to mind is James Trafford at Burnley”.

He’s a goalkeeper that Seaman sees some of himself in. 

“James is a similar shape and size, and has that calmness. He doesn’t seem to get flustered. But everyone also forgets how young Aaron [Ramsdale] is. He’s only 25”. 

What differentiates the best from the rest, however, is often more a character trait than a physical one. As Seaman has already alluded to, the way a goalkeeper carries him or herself on the pitch goes a long way to inspiring confidence both in their, and others’, performances. 

Can a goalkeeper dominate an area? Do they have the ‘presence’ to do that? It’s a funny concept - and often only loosely definable. 

The ex-Arsenal goalkeeper stands at about 6’4. Many of the iconic images of him stem from his Euro ‘96 campaign with the Three Lions, for which Umbro had produced a…colourful array of kits. Bright orange, red, yellow, and green, big hands covered in Reusch’s classic arrow gloves, and a thick moustache for something a little bit different. He had the physical stature and the look to boot. Seaman’s ‘presence’ in the area was obvious. 

The foundations of this ‘presence’, however, were based in relationships. Seaman played behind some era-defining centre backs during his career, such as Tony Adams, Patrick Viera, Martin Keown and Stuart Pearce. ‘Larger than life characters’ on the football pitch is one phrase to describe several of them. 

“You can understand a goalkeeper’s presence by the way that his defenders talk to him”, Seaman explains. 

“Are they always having a go at him or do they seem to think, ‘oh he's made a bit of a mistake there but we know he's good enough’? They don't carry on. We had this thing at Arsenal where we didn't really carry it out on the pitch anyway, we would talk to each other after the game.

“But if you can make your defenders feel calm and let them get on with their game, then you know that you've got that presence.” 

His second point may be contentious for some.

“The other thing that I look for is for goalkeepers who don't make camera saves. Why are you trying to impress someone with an easy save? I see some goalkeepers today doing it. Onana has had a few this season that cost goals. It’s not for this level.”

The relationship between those comprising the defensive unit has to be tight, and founded on mutual confidence. 

“If you’re coming out and making bad decisions, or you’re coming for crosses that aren’t for you to come for, that's gonna upset your back four. But there are different styles of maintaining order in the box. My style was to try to be calm. Very rarely did I feel flustered. But you look at Peter Schmeichel, he loved a bit of chaos. Both methods kept the defence working”, Seaman explains. 


There are undoubtedly differences between the nature of goalkeeping in Seaman’s time, and the wider football culture experienced in the eighties, nineties, and noughties, compared to the hyper-commercialisation and almost postmodernist forms of expression off and on the football pitch today. 

Some things don’t change, however. The role of the goalkeeper has sometimes been described as one of an anti-footballer, denying fans what they love to see most: goals. Those who score them are one part of football which Seaman has observed to remain similar over time.

“There’s not a massive difference” in the nature of strikers then and now, he asserts.

“The main difference is the ball is faster - much faster. Also, you might say footballers now are athletically so much fitter, but we still had very fit players. In training I had to face Denis Bergkamp, Ian Wright, and Thierry Henry. If you can't learn from them you can't learn anything”, he remarks.

With Henry, the feeling was reciprocated the other way round. On the Fozcast podcast with Ben Foster, Seaman noted how the Frenchman’s mentality was that if he could stick one past Dave in training, he could score against anyone. 

But of course, every goalkeeper has a few bogeymen. It’s a rivalry that makes the art of saving, when it happens, so much more satisfying. 

“Robbie Fowler, Gary Lineker. You know, for some reason, even when Gary was at Everton he used to score past me. It'd be exactly the same with Robbie Fowler. He'd be there when I'm making a great save and the rebound would go straight to him. Robbie scored a hat trick past me at Anfield in three and a half minutes. 

Even when Seaman thought he’d got the better of Fowler, the ex-Liverpool frontman seemed to somehow come out on top by default. 

There was the famous penalty incident in the 1997 clash at Highbury in which Fowler admitted to the referee, who had pointed to the penalty spot after Seaman was adjudged to have brought the striker down, that Arsenal’s goalkeeper hadn’t touched him.

The referee gave it anyway. “Sorry Dave”, Seaman recalls Fowler saying as he walked past him to take the spot kick. He kept the penalty out, but the rebound was converted. 

By the end of 1997, Seaman had made another PFA Team of the Season. The previous summer had seen him backstop England, via a number of penalty saves, through to the semi-finals where they were knocked out by Germany. Seaman had made the Team of the Tournament for that edition of the Euros, and sponsor Phillips had named him Player of the Tournament. 

His stock was perhaps at its highest, with the cherry on top being a Premier League and FA Cup domestic double with Arsenal in 1998. He would repeat the feat in 2002, though Seaman would have to wait to make the ‘save of his career’ in 2003. Yes, we’re talking about that FA Cup semi-final save from Paul Pescholido’s close range header. A conversation with David Seaman would not be complete without bringing it up.

“I made that save when I was 39. When you get to that age, a lot of people in the press especially were saying ‘he’s past it, it's time he retired, bla bla bla’ and then I made that save. And what I always remember - I've still got the picture in my head - is like my face when I get up, because I didn't realise how good a save it was”, he reminisces, with a grin.

“I mean, it's not until I see it on TV later on, after the match, or all the messages that I was getting about it, then you start to realise but all I'm thinking about is right, get on with it.”

In one example, Seaman sums up the life of a goalkeeper. So often, our actions are thought of as derivatives of failed outfield play. 

“You know, if Phil Jagielka misses that rebound, that save never gets talked about. And it was quite an easy rebound. He should have put it away. But he plays it over the bar and then my save becomes iconic.”

Trophy number nine came in the form of the FA Cup that resulted, at least partially, from that incredible save. By that point 40 years old, the Englishman had experienced all that a life in goalkeeping had to offer. A short stint at Manchester City buffered the Arsenal days and retirement, with his England career having come to an end a few years earlier. 

David James had ascended the gloves in the national camp, and Jens Lehmann secured a Premier League medal in his first season as Seaman’s replacement at Arsenal - as part of that unforgettable invincibles team of the 2003-04 season. 

One of Seaman’s second loves is fishing. It’s something he wishes he had more time to do these days. 

In a dusty interview off the archival shelf from some twenty years ago, one fan who wrote in one of the article’s community-sourced questions made a keen observation. Is fishing the inevitable hobby for goalkeepers - waiting around to catch something - they ask?

He chuckles, before bringing up a quote from his England junior David James on a past episode of the Seaman Says podcast.

“You know, there's this little quote that I got off David when he came on the podcast. And he said to me, ‘If I'd played for Liverpool, and we'd won 3-0 and I had nothing to do, I'd be fuming’. 

“But, if that was me, I'd just be, well, happy. I tried not to get to a place where I maybe was looking for something that wasn’t mine. 

“Fishing helped me chill out - to get into a space that I really enjoyed, where I didn't have to think about football, and all it was focused on was trying to catch a fish. Sometimes playing golf I'd be more frustrated walking off the golf course than when I'd walked on it and not played well. I still go now and I've got a fishing van. It’s just something that I really enjoy. And long may it continue”, he says. 

Seaman adds one more thing, as we approach the end of our conversation. It wasn’t all plain sailing. The Friday night fishing trips have been well earnt, through the good and the bad. 

“One thing I would say is that the first ten to fifteen years of my career was spent constantly rebuilding. Playing, getting released, leaving then joining new teams.  

“When I meet goalkeepers that aren't getting offered a contract at 18, I say, well, look at my story. They say ‘what do you mean?’ because they probably just think of Arsenal and England and the like. 

“But I had a ten year-plus career before I played for Arsenal. I got released at 19. And I tell them ‘use it as motivation to prove people wrong’. 

“Use it as motivation”. 

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