The fires that burn in the loneliest guys on the pitch

Goalkeepers do the job that no one else wants to do. And they never complain.

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Now that English football is in full Premier League swing, attention is zeroing in on the flashy forwards and magicians at midfield. But at each end of the pitch is a more lonely soul, adored when they excel, vilified when they fail.

Who would want that pressure?

It is simple why certain people become goalkeepers. While the popular opinion is we are either crazy or we are the bad players and therefore are reluctantly thrown in net, the truth is that a goalkeeper - regardless of the sport - is the sporting world's equivalent of the hardboiled detective created by Dashiell Hammett and made more popular by Raymond Chandler.

The goalie stands alone while not being able to rely 100 per cent on others (I know this from experience as an ice hockey goalie, first in my native Canada and now on teams here in the UAE). He may make mistakes but he can't blame anyone (at least not publicly). He has a code that forces him to work with others even if he doesn't want to.

Hammett's and Chandler's hardboiled detectives and the goalie do not think they are better than anyone, but they know they have a different role from the rest.

Goalies often do not start out choosing to play that position. The decision is usually made by others (bigger, stronger, more skilled children on the playing field who relegate us between the posts). But we can control how we react.

Once the goalie begins to understand the game and his role, they grow into the position, realising that no one else can do his job.

Hammett's and Chandler's characters, be it Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe, usually do not have a choice either. Spade is dragged into a case because someone is shot and arrives at his office moments before dying. He, too, can rely on no one. The police have their own agenda and often those around him cannot be trusted. Only Spade can do his job just as only a goalie can do his.

The goalie knows when he messes up and when someone else is to blame. But he is playing by a code that cannot allow him to call out a teammate; much like Marlowe cannot tell the cops how he came to drive a suspected murderer to a Tijuana airport in the middle of the night (read Chandler's 1953 novel The Long Goodbye).

The code demands silence.

It is the code that allows Marlowe and Spade - like any goalie - to do their job. A player scores and celebrates, but a goalie does not jump up and down every time he makes a save. He stops the puck or the ball and looks for the next move so the play can begin again. His code is do the job and move on, just as it is for Marlowe or Spade.

Goalies sometimes talk as though they are the general who directs the troops on the field or they see themselves as the last line of defence.

The truth, however, is purer. We rely on no one. The moment a goalie expects a teammate to do something is the time when trouble occurs. We rely on ourselves and no one else. We may benefit when others do what they are supposed to do, but that is a bonus, it is not a guarantee. When something that is supposed to happen doesn't, a goalie must forget about it and move on.

It is easy to yell and scream, but the moment you do, you are labelled a malcontent who doesn't understand the team concept. But a goalie understands the "team first" philosophy better than most. Who else must never make a mistake (a shutout is always expected by any goalie worth his salt) and must refrain from complaining about the failings of those around him? On the field or ice, we stand alone.

Hammett's and Chandler's hardboiled detectives are also alone, trying to do right despite the odds. They know only too well what goalies have known for more than 100 years: we are alone in a world where only we can say who has done right and wrong - and then we must keep it to ourselves.

So as you tune in your television to watch the greatest game on turf, tip your hat for the lone man standing between the posts.