The Injury Table: Five Times Goalkeepers Were In The Firing Line

By Tim Ellis

News • Jan 30, 2023

The Injury Table: Five Times Goalkeepers Were In The Firing Line

Goalkeepers have suffered their fair share of brutal knocks over the years without much protection. Look away now if you are squeamish to upper facial injuries…

The jury is still out when it comes to the debate on temporary concussion substitutes in football. Over the years, the ‘school of hard knocks’ approach has diminished; no longer are Don Revie's Leeds patrolling the Premier League with an eye for a tough tackle. Nonetheless, we'd be misguided in saying that any professional football league is not intensely physical.

And, whether it be a broken nose from a ball in the face, a kick in the teeth and a bloody gum, or a finger twisted and bent, those between the sticks are often in the firing line. 

Is it the case that goalkeepers do not receive enough protection from officials during games? Pep Guardiola has previously called for more protection for all players, saying after 0-0 draw between Crystal Palace and Manchester City at Selhurst Park.  

"I admire the physicality of the Premier League but the referees have to protect the players, that's all I ask," Guardiola said.

“They know what they have to do. I know contact is allowed here more than any other but there are limits.”

When it's goalkeepers in question, there perhaps isn't a clear answer. It is true that goalkeepers place themselves - necessarily - in more dangerous situations than their outfield counterparts more frequently. However, the laws of the game as they currently stand don't give any major added protections to goalkeepers on top of general protections for foul play. 

The FA's Rulebook currently states that:

A goalkeeper is considered to be in control of the ball with the hand(s) when:

  • the ball is between the hands or between the hand and any surface (e.g. ground, own body) or by touching it with any part of the hands or arms except if the ball rebounds from the goalkeeper or the goalkeeper has made a save
  • holding the ball in the outstretched open hand
  • bouncing it on the ground or throwing it in the air

The last point is interesting: 'a goalkeeper cannot be challenged by an opponent when in control of the ball with the hand(s)'. This often falls to the judgement of officials on the pitch, given the ball is often hard to see in and amongst bodies. However, it is where several goalkeeper head-related injuries will take place. 

Likewise, the rulebook states that a direct free kick must be awarded if a player ‘prevents the goalkeeper from releasing the ball from the hands or kicks or attempts to kick the ball when the goalkeeper is in the process of releasing it’. 

But, perhaps the question is what specific rules need inventing that will practically protect the goalkeeper further? High boots, fouls off the ball, and, in theory, protections for the goalkeeper when the ball is under their control are all already covered in the rulebook. How can we progress - and should we progress - from this position?

The consequences of foul play upon the goalkeeper can often be pretty brutal. Here are five examples of when, quite literally, goalkeepers took the brunt of the attack. 

Bert Trautmann's Breakneck FA Cup Final

An ex-German prisoner of war, Trautmann became a legend at Maine Road, playing more than 500 games. When he arrived at Manchester City in 1949, 20,000 protested against the former Luftwaffe paratrooper’s signing. However, he departed a hero thanks in large part to his heroics in the 1956 FA Cup Final against Birmingham. 

City had taken a 3-1 lead at Wembley when, in the 73rd minute, Trautmann dived at the feet of striker Peter Murphy. The collision, which the German described as like two trains coming together at high speed, jolted the keeper’s neck and left him briefly unconscious. 

As no substitutes were permitted in those heroic days of the magic sponge, Trautmann chose to stay on, making two more crucial saves to see the game out. He collapsed two or three times in agony during the remaining period. 

Three days later, a visit to the doctor confirmed five dislodged vertebrae, one of which was broken in two. “The doctors told me that I should have been paralysed and could have died”, Trautmann recounted 50 years after the horror.

Ondrej Kalar gets a karate kick in Glasgow

Slavia Prague keeper Ondrej Kolar entered Ibrox and almost left without an eye after a dreadful challenge by Rangers' Kemar Roofe in the Europa League last 16 match in March 2021.

Kolar came out to claim the ball when Roofe stuck his boot up like the most brutal Bruce Lee flick,  smashing into the face of the unfortunate keeper. It was like Sadio Mane on Ederson but with less respect and no apology. 

Roofe was immediately sent off and handed a four-game ban for his recklessness but there were permanent consequences for Kolar who has to wear a protective helmet for the rest of his career after the incident fractured his skull. At least he had the same agent as Petr Cech. The goalkeeper revealed soon after that the Gers had not approached him with an official note of regret.

Kemar Roofe's high boot collides with Ondrej Kolar

Kolar mused: “He (Roofe) said he was first to the ball, but he didn't add that he kicked it out of my hand, collided with my leg and hit me on the head.” The Slavia stopper was touched when Arsenal’s Hector Bellerin and Bernd Leno promised that he would be safe from any physical contact around the affected area before the quarter-final tie: "When I went for a high ball, not one of their players tried to push me or hit me. They showed they are professionals.”

Alireza Beiranvand proves concussion rule needs changing

Alireza Beiranvand became the first official concussion substitution in the World Cup after a sickening collision with his teammate Majid Hosseini in the eighth minute of Iran’s opening group stage game against England. The Iranian keeper, who holds the world record for the longest throw, made an all-important intervention from a cross into the box in the eighth minute. Unfortunately, Hosseini was facing his number one as they conjoined in the ugliest face-off.

FIFA said its “comprehensive concussion protocol” had been implemented but he was allowed by his country’s medical team to continue. Beiranvand knew the end was nigh, signalling to come off after 20 minutes on the clock.

The 30-year-old was taken to hospital for further assessment on what Iran manager Carlos Queiroz termed a “serious concussion”.

It was another reminder of how goalkeepers are not a protected species. Safety isn’t even guaranteed when the eyes of the whole world can see what happened.

Scunthorpe 'keepers break in two  

In January 2015, Scunthorpe United lost both of their recognised goalkeepers before half-time with broken arms in a League One game against Bristol City. First-choice Sam Slocombe was replaced with just eight minutes on the clock after a clash in the box. His replacement Jamie Severn suffered the same fate when colliding with City's Matt Smith in a one-on-one situation. 

Defender Andy Boyce took the gloves for the last 50 minutes and acquitted himself well. However, Boyce, who was a junior custodian and therefore happy to go between the posts, insisted: “Surely the goalkeepers have got to be protected a bit more, they both have the same injuries after they were absolutely smashed.” Seems like that day League One was more like a Rugby Union Premiership match.

Cech and Cudicini get KO'd in Reading

In 2005, Petr Cech was completely laid out after being caught by Reading midfielder Stephen Hunt's knee. It was a gamechanger - not in the title race - but in Cech’s career. We would never see his barnet free of headgear again. The Czech keeper needed emergency surgery on a depressed skull fracture. Hunt insisted that the Chelsea goalkeeper “has always been a gentleman every time” they crossed paths since but the former Blues stopper suggested that some recollections may vary. 

"I was disappointed to see Stephen Hunt talk a lot about me in the press, while he never called me," Cech told the Sun. “That wasn't so difficult to do. He didn't write to me. In October, I had a letter of apology from Reading Football Club, with his signature on it - nothing more.”

There was more pain for Chelsea in stoppage time when second-choice Carlo Cudicini was knocked unconscious when he fell to the ground after a mid-air collision with Ibrahima Sonko. He also paid a visit to hospital but was compos mentis enough to dismiss the demand for protective headwear: “How absurd. Instead of demanding action against those who so violently challenge the keepers, they want to dress us up like ice hockey goalkeeper”, he retorted after the incident. 

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