Of Scotland, Hearts and Craig Gordon – a keeper to fight over

John McCormick writes: Maybe I’m being a romantic and my childhood memories, when Monty almost earned that yellow jersey, are playing tricks with me but I think Sunderland supporters have always had respect for keepers. Whatever the truth I can’t remember anyone maligning Craig Gordon. Maybe this piece, penned by Pete Sixsmith will explain why:


Sixer by Jake

Sixer by Jake

It’s often said that, like good wine, goalkeepers mature late. Their careers can last far longer than outfield players as they are less likely to be threatened by injuries and general burn out. There are a good number who played on into their late 30s and early 40s – Brad Friedel, Neville Southall and David James spring to mind.

Indeed, the oldest Football League player was Neil Mc Bain of New Brighton who appeared for the Wirral club at the age of 51 years and 120 days, a venerable age for any footballer – except that he was a wing half who was filling in as goalie for the team that he managed.

None of which is any consolation for Craig Gordon who has, to all intents and purposes, retired from football this week and who has taken up a coaching role at Dumbarton. At the age of 30, a distinguished and well remunerated playing career is now behind him as he moves on to help The Sons of The Rock avoid a return to Scottish League 2.

He will be working with two mature custodians in Jamie Ewings and Stephen Grindlay ( a former Mag) and also with younger keepers in the Dumbarton Youth set up. It will be a great experience for them to be coached by a man who was, until recently, the most expensive keeper in Britain.

He was the flagship signing after promotion in 2007 as Roy Keane followed the Brian Clough maxim of a strong central spine in the team. He replaced the excellent Darren Ward (now coaching at Sheffield United) and signalled the Drumaville intent to break eggs with sticks as we returned to the Premier League for the third time.

The transfer fee was a huge one for a keeper who had been playing in a league that was no longer highly regarded in England. He had performed well on the international stage and had won Scottish Cup winners medal with Hearts when they beat Gretna in 2006. It was his save from Craig Skelton in the penalty shoot out that took the cup back to Tynecastle.

Courted by a number of English clubs Keane eventually forked out the staggering sum of £9m for Gordon. I gather that it almost caused a rift in the boardroom with the then Chairman, Niall Quinn, backing Keane while others were not so keen to spend so much on a keeper.

There were highlights in his time at The Stadium of Light. He pulled off that wonderful save against Bolton a couple of years ago and there was a game against Spurs which we won 3-1 where his overall performance was as good as anything I have ever seen.

More often than not, he kept us in games with crucial saves and was the first goalkeeper I had seen who used his legs effectively. A tall man, he made the most of his physical attributes and he was a brilliant shot stopper.

But there were areas where he was exposed. He misread a bumpy, bobbly scuff from James Milner to allow the Mags to equalise in his first Derby match. He found the sheer relentless physicality of the Premier League too much for him at times. He clearly hated playing against Stoke City – and boy, did they realise it.

At Hearts, against weaker opposition, he was protected by Stephen Pressley and Andy Webster. Here he had the likes of Anton Ferdinand, Nyron Nosworthy and Paul McShane. Pressley was a beast of a player who attacked the ball in the box, meaning that Gordon rarely had to bother with the rough stuff in the 18 yard zone. Ferdinand and McShane defended more like Elvis Presley than Stephen Presley.

The beginning of the end was at White Hart Lane in November 2009 when he broke his arm aa a result of a challenge from Jermain Defoe. The challenge was unnecessary, the arm was broken. He had a plate put into his forearm but, to my mind, he was not the same player after it and his performances never really reached the high standards that this modest, unassuming man had set for himself earlier.

So now, as he contemplates coaching at The Bet Butler Stadium, situated under the shadow of Dumbarton Rock and as he watches The Sons run out to the music of Talking Heads (David Byrne was born in the Scottish town), he must wonder about a career that reached heights but not quite the heights he would have hoped for. All Sunderland supporters must wish him all the best in whatever he chooses to do.

Salut! Sunderland is written, illustrated and edited by - and principally for - supporters of Sunderland AFC. The site aims to be sufficiently literate and entertaining to appeal to people who do not follow SAFC but enjoy good football writing.

9 Responses to “Of Scotland, Hearts and Craig Gordon – a keeper to fight over” Subscribe

  1. malcolm February 12, 2013 at 6:12 pm #

    I do indeed wish him well and trust the Talking Heads song is “City of Dreams” and not “The Road to Nowhere”.

  2. sobs February 12, 2013 at 7:08 pm #

    I seem to remember a certain Frenchman who used his legs an awful lot more than his hands. Spread ’em, Perez!

  3. Peter Sixsmith February 13, 2013 at 8:36 am #

    Fair point, Sobs, but Gordon always seemed to use his legs as part of his goalkeeping, whereas Lionel just hurled himself at the ball.

    • sobs February 13, 2013 at 10:09 am #

      Correct, Pete. Lionel did spent an inordinate amount of time sitting on the turf with his legs spread and the ball nestling in the back of the net.

      I seem to remember Bob Wilson, obviously many years ago, extolling the virtues of using the legs as a legitemate part of the body for stopping shots – not that I remember him doing it, mind, but he did also recommend the “it’s going in anyway” dive to avoid looking really bad (see Arsenal v SAFC, Hillsborough, 1973 for example)

  4. Michael February 13, 2013 at 8:46 am #

    It seems to me that theae days more keepers make save with tether legs,spreading themselves like handball keepers. I seem to recall Peter Schmeicel doing this to great effect. As an ex and very mediocre amateur keeper I feel you can’t beat the full length dive or the leap into the top corner to tip the ball away.But ay the end of the day who cares what part of the body that keeps it out. Very sad to read about Craig Gordon’ s demise.A fine keeper but not able to cope with the rough and tumble of the Premiership….and of Stoke City on particular.

    Any body want put forward suggestions as to which of our keepers was the toughest? IMO it was Marc Poom.

    • William C February 13, 2013 at 11:38 am #

      Going back a long way, but they didn’t come any tougher than Johnny Mapson. He played in the days when it ws legitimate for forwards to shoulder charge ‘ keepers over the goal line – not many did it to him!

  5. KenG February 13, 2013 at 9:08 am #

    Michael I recall that Nigel Spink our former goalkeeping coach said that Simon Mignolet was the bravest keeper he had ever come across.Praise indeed.

    • malcolm February 13, 2013 at 2:12 pm #

      The coaches have done a great job with Mig. Remember how tentative he was coming off his line when he first got into the side. Now if they can improve his distribution (and that in part means outfield players making themselves available) he will be even better.

  6. vince February 13, 2013 at 4:16 pm #

    Sad to hear of Gordon’s injury.I never did feel we got a good return on that deal though.His first few seasons were not that great.We only saw what he was capable of in his last two seasons when he was excellent…like new signing.

    It was not his fault he got injured and thus stopping us getting full value for our money. I wish him better luck in his coaching career,he deserves it.

    Mignolet is turning into a terrific keeper,arguably the best we have had,he saves us 2 or 3 goals every game.

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