When Goalkeeping Meets Video Games

By Robert McHugh

News • Dec 22, 2023

When Goalkeeping Meets Video Games

How have goalkeepers been represented in video games over the years?

In a few short days, goalkeepers young and old will be heading to bed on Christmas Eve dreaming of what goalkeeper-related gifts Father Christmas may drop into their football sock stocking. 

For the budding sweeper ‘keeper, it might be a replica Ederson shirt. For fans of the Premier League in the mid-2000s, it could be a pair of Gabor Kiraly branded jogging bottoms. For the older generation of goalkeepers, a set of gardening or washing up gloves, to mimic their hero Neville Southall, who experimented with both before goalkeeper gloves became ubiquitous. 

For any goalkeepers who are enthusiastic gamers, there is still a paucity of options on the market to get your virtual goalkeeping fix. Yes, you can play as a goalkeeper on the latest EA FC (the artist formerly known as FIFA) games, but anyone who has played it will tell you the gameplay is nowhere near as polished as the outfield experience. 

Virtual Reality is one of the more recent offerings of hope. When the Goalkeeper.com team meet technology company INCISIV, they gave an insight into the role that modern technologies can play in training goalkeepers, alongside their physical training regimes. Throwing yourself onto a crash mat wearing a pair of goggles trying to stop a virtual shot brings goalkeeping into the household - quite literally - although you might have to fix the ornaments down.

While there are some app-based games, the console market for goalkeepers is virtually non-existent. But that wasn’t always the case. Like the ghost of Christmas past, I’m going to transport you to a time where goalkeeping took centre stage in the video game world. 

The year is 1986 and PlayStations and Xboxes are the thing of a madman’s dreams. Gaming is an 8-bit affair, with pixelated characters moving around the screen to a distorted electronic soundtrack. With the 1986 World Cup on the horizon, it seems the perfect moment to cash in on the nascent gaming industry and bring out a football game. 

The man chosen to front it is England goalkeeper Peter Shilton. 


But somewhere between development and release, events overtook Shilton. At the World Cup, one of the defining moments of his life occurred when Diego Maradona punched the ball past him in the 1986 World Cup Quarter Final. Shilton has never forgiven Maradona, but this didn’t mean he shouldn’t make something from the misfortune. 

Whilst all the in-game branding is for “Peter Shilton’s Football”, the game was titled “Peter Shilton’s Handball Maradona!”, possibly the first example of a clickbait title in gaming. The game itself, uniquely, is focussed on goalkeeping. The player tries to save a series of shots from various angles and distances. 

I wanted to see if I could use Peter Shilton’s Handball Maradona to improve my goalkeeping. I chose to play as Leeds United and tried my best to get into the mindset of Mervyn Day, Leeds’ goalkeeper in 1986, before starting with a practice session to ease myself in. I manage to save three shots from four, sending the 8-bit Mervyn Day diving to all parts. 

So, I took the plunge and started my first competitive game. It started well. The gaming spirit of Mervyn Day saved the first four shots in a row and I was feeling like a goalkeeper. Footwork was crabby but good, sidling side to side across the goal line. My positioning was solid, and my reflexes sharp. I was plucking shots out of the top corner like a poorly rendered Lev Yashin. 

But as quickly as my hopes rose, they were dashed. Oldham scored several in sequence and by the end, Mervyn Day can be seen crawling towards the touchline while the ball nestles in the centre of the goal. At full time, it’s Oldham 3-2 Leeds, I’ve squandered a two-goal lead, and my confidence is shattered. 


It doesn’t get any better from there. I entered a sequence of disheartening thumpings that would break anyone’s spirit. 

West Brom 6-2 Leeds, Nottingham Forest 5-2 Leeds, Southampton 5-1 Leeds, Tottenham Hotspur 7-1 Leeds.

I managed to save some face with my first competitive point, a 4-4 draw against Crewe. 

And then came that elusive victory, dispatching QPR 4-2. But, by this point, the electronic drone that plays when you concede a goal has penetrated my soul and every goal that I conceded haunts me. 

The biggest disappointment of the game was that there was no mention of Peter Shilton or Diego Maradona beyond the title page. I had hoped that you would work your way through a series of scenarios, before meeting Maradona like some end boss, banishing the ghosts of the 1986 World Cup and finally seeing an 8-bit Shilton, with a pixelated perm, lifting the trophy for England. 

It has given me an insight into how the Hand of God may haunt Shilton, though. I can imagine him waking up in cold sweats, having had a nightmare that a 2-D Maradona is creeping towards him, while Shilton crabs out to meet the cross, before hearing a final, crushing rendition of the electronic drone, after Maradona has punched it in again. I now share that nightmare. 


Thankfully, technology has moved on since then and it would be great to see a middle ground somewhere between the simple world of Peter Shilton’s Handball Maradona and a full home VR set-up. Goalkeeping is inherently fun, and if I could be entertained enough by a game from 1986 to play through a series of defeats, imagine how much fun you could have with a game that even vaguely resembles reality. 

On that note, I’m heading to register the copyright for Emi Martinez’s World Cup Golden Glove

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