The 1990 World Cup: a significant tournament in the bookmarking of some of England’s enduring imagery. Penalties, tears and John Barnes rap aside, one incident inparticular, during the semi-final against Germany, has, I think, been the one to have cast the darkest and spindliest of shadows over subsequent national players. But, oh how we larfed, until we cried; and then we were just crying.
Andreas Brehme was tired of being pigeon-holed as a “free-kick specialist”, he was much more than that he thought to himself, and so decided to just petulantly hoof the ball at one of the England players for lols. He didn’t want the ensuing scrap to ruffle his beautiful hair (GHDs weren’t invented back then), so he picked out Paul Parker, the littlest player on the pitch and took aim. Veteran, Peter Shilton (ever the opportunist), chose this moment to trial part of his stand-up routine, and more specifically, his walking down the comedy stairs backwards and drunk, gag. The ball looped in. A nation hung it’s head. A curse was birthed?!
(*huddle-in* Some people trace this “curse” back much further, to a Peter Bonetti error in 1970. I suppose in some way claiming the “curse” had been laying dormant since then; maybe in a pair of discarded gloves, or in nail clippings down the plug hole at Wembley perhaps, waiting to lay claim to it’s next victim. However, that kind of nonsense can only get you in the loony bin. If we’re really seriously talking about me talking about “curses” in the mainstream, you have to let me do it my way. I need to place them in a context a bit more plausible … namely, psychology *fall-back*)
Since the Shilton bomb dropped, we have witnessed a succession of England Number Ones apparently paralysed on the bigger stages by this hand-me-down trauma. David Seaman was the only one that almost got away with it. Despite having serial cutlery-molester, Uri Gellar watching his back (he who moved the ball from the penalty spot against Scotland at Euro 96 with his mind), eventually he succumed, against Brazil, during the 2002 World Cup, when he was already well on the way to retirement. His “mistake” almost echoing Shilton’s. The psychosis gathered pace and before long was ruthlessly dispatching Paul Robinson, Rob Green and Scott Carson from the England set up. Whether we can really count David James as one of those apparently mugged of his international ambitions by this virulent “catatonia” is questionable, he was more than capable of doing that all by himself, he was certainly a host.
Enter Joe Hart. Who doesn’t love Joe Hart? You? At the back there? *releases the hounds* What is there not to like? Okay, he plays for THEM, I’ll give you that, and yeah he quite obviously waxes his eye-brows, but let’s not let the superficial cloud our appreciation of one of the best players to happen to the England team in yonks. He SHOULD be captain. What Joe Hart’s talent makes patently clear is this: our goalkeeping crises of the recent past haven’t been ones of hex and hoodoo, they’ve been ones of a basic lack of real quality. The better goalkeepers we’ve had relatively recently, Seaman and Shilton, have been maintained in goal for much longer than they should have because there was no one considered good enough to replace them; no-one with the mental strength to match the physical requirements – and we’ve paid a heavy price.
Goalkeepers have it pretty tough. They will make BIG mistakes. If they make a mistake, the ramifications are generally much more severe than those of their team mates. They don’t simply surrender possession, or give away a cheap free kick; they give away a goal or a penalty. The footballs that make fools of goalkeepers are designed by scientists who supply parts for NASA. Their job is literally a constant battle with Rocket Science. Peter Cech has to wear a head brace just to stop his mind boggling every time he is faced with a shot from distance.
Joe Hart may well fumble one into his own net, or misjudge a cross that could cost us in this tournament. He could do the same in the World Cup qualifiers, or in the next World Cup. It’s something he will have to deal with. The difference is, his mistakes will be exceptions, not rules. You get a strong sense with Joe Hart that he has the strength of character and capacity to move on. Only when Joe Hart is considering hanging up his gloves, and we’re still expecting him to be our Number One, do we need to start worrying about anything like “curses” again.
(Before you start, I at no stage promised I was behind any of that curse nonsense.)