Thursday , July 7 2022

Goalkeepers in women’s football – and what is fair criticism? | Women’s football

Welcome to Moving the Goalposts, the Guardian’s new (and free) women’s football newsletter. Here’s an extract from this week’s edition. To receive the full version once a week, just pop your email in below.

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“I’ve seen better keeping in Sunday League”; “They need smaller goals” – these are just a couple of the comments aimed at female goalkeepers across social media even after the most spectacular of goals. Millie Bright v Ellie Roebuck in the 2020 Community Shield and Mollie Green v Watford in the recent FA Championship relegation decider are the ones that immediately come to mind.

It would be easy to say the negativity is just part of the toxic online world where it is “on trend” to denigrate the women’s game. But in truth, it is an opinion that permeates into even the most experienced of pundits. This is not to say that criticism should not exist – goalkeepers inevitably make mistakes and those should be highlighted – but on many occasions, the context of where the sport is currently at is lacking. Female keepers are also viewed, as Everton goalkeeping coach Ian McCaldon sees it, through a male lens where “the people who are commenting on it, all they do is watch men’s football”.

With the popularity of the women’s game having grown relatively quickly, it is easy to forget how young a professional sport it is. When Rachel Brown-Finnis, England’s former No 1, joined Everton in 2003 “goalkeeper coaches were not a guarantee. I was in the top league and playing for England, and I didn’t always have a goalkeeper coach. That was probably replicated across the whole league.”

Crystal Palace’s goalkeeper, Chloe Morgan, had a similar experience. She began to receive specific training to hone her skillset only a couple of years into her Tottenham career after joining in 2015: “That was when I first started to learn technique, distribution, communication – all those kinds of things that I’d just been doing before but now there was technique involved in it. [I was learning] how to dive safely; where I should be positioned in goal and how far upfield I should be. I think that’s when I really saw a leap in my progress.”

Chloe Morgan makes a save during Crystal Palace’s FA Cup game against Arsenal in May 2021.
Chloe Morgan makes a save during Crystal Palace’s FA Cup game against Arsenal in May 2021. Photograph: Jonathan Brady/PA

With the professionalisation of the game in the last five years, and the introduction of full-time specialist coaches like McCaldon, the development has been clear to see. With increased talent ID, there is now a young crop of goalkeepers – players such as Sandy MacIver and Hannah Hampton – who are reaping the rewards of receiving specialist training earlier in life. McCaldon has seen his discipline develop before his own eyes having started out with Hibernian Ladies over a decade ago.

“You’re starting to get that talent ID, or that physical ID,” he says. “Combined with good goalkeeping coaching and all your sports science, I think that plays a huge part. It just breeds a better quality of goalkeeper. On top of that, you put in the education side and their character … They have the mentality that they want to evolve and they want to be the best in their field.”

Increased visibility of the sport is key to people’s understanding. When Brown-Finnis remembers the 2019 World Cup, it was all about the goalkeeping quality with Chile’s Christiane Endler among those taking centre stage. Having stepped into broadcasting in her retirement, she hopes they will start “to change perceptions of what goalkeepers actually go through” by showing it through their eyes.

Goalkeeping is an ever-evolving skill and, for Morgan, “there also needs to be a little bit of an appreciation for [its] later development”. For it to reach the next level, she wants a stronger pathway for female goalkeeper coaches to progress and more grassroots focus on her specialism.

For McCaldon, financial support is also key to building on the foundations. “Goalkeeping coaches must be given their worth,” he says. “At this stage, we can’t keep doing things for nothing. I think that’s where it must change. Coaches need to be paid their salt and the female players need to be paid their salt as well because the dedication and what they sacrifice to do their passion just isn’t balanced off with the finances.”

As with the whole sport, goalkeeping in the women’s game is finally getting the attention it deserves. This summer’s European Championship finals will provide it with the biggest platform it has ever enjoyed. Inevitably, there will be mistakes but remembering the context is key. If 2019 is anything to go by, there will be plenty more to celebrate than criticise.

Talking points

Celtic triumphant Celtic completed the cup double over Glasgow City as they lifted the Scottish Cup in front of a record crowd at Tynecastle. Despite having Jodie Bartle sent off in the first half, they battled hard and found the edge in extra time. The English forward Charlie Wellings capped a superb first season in Scotland with a second trophy. The 24-year-old scored her 40th goal in just 34 games to help her side to victory.

Celtic players admire the Scottish Cup after their victory against Glasgow City.
Celtic players admire the Scottish Cup after their victory against Glasgow City. Photograph: Colin Poultney/ProSports/Shutterstock

Euros preparations begin With Euro 2022 less than 40 days away, preparations are beginning for a summer of football. France’s manager, Corinne Diacre, has caused controversy once more with her squad announcement, leaving out Amandine Henry and Eugenie Le Sommer. Despite being latecomers to the tournament after replacing Russia, Portugal’s Francisco Neto has been one of the first to name his squad. Meanwhile, Alisha Lehmann has pulled out of the Swiss team due to not feeling mentally ready.

Lyon take French title Lyon lifted their second trophy in a week as they beat PSG 1-0 on Sunday. The D1 Arkema trophy returned to Lyon for the 15th time thanks to an early goal from Catarina Macario. It completed a successful season for the French champions after they celebrated their eighth WCL triumph the previous week.

Recommended viewing

The swerve on this effort from Washington Spirit’s Trinity Rodman tops our goals of the week, while Catarina Macario’s winner, assisted by Selma Bacha, proved pivotal for Lyon. I also have a lot of time for this cheeky little nutmeg from Houston Dash’s Maria Sánchez.

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