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Advent Calendar Day 1: Liverpool’s Number One Number One

December 1st: To kick off the TBT Advent Calendar, we have the fully fledged member of the goalkeeping union and The Redmen TV’s own, Paul Machin listing his Top Five Liverpool Goalkeepers (They usually wear number one, get it?)

When the TBT guys approached me to write this article, they did so because of my much (self) publicised membership of the (fictional) Goalkeeper’s Union. I’m also the Presenter/Producer of The Redmen TV, a life-long Liverpool fan, Kop season ticket holder and I got a B in GCSE English. As this is the internet, that basically makes me the de facto expert on goalkeepers, Liverpool or otherwise… Ever. Anyway, now that my cast iron credentials are established let’s proceed:

Let me start off by saying that Liverpool have been blessed with some genuinely terrible ‘keepers over the years, especially in the Premier League era. As such, if you’re sat there hoping for a Christmas miracle appearance in my Top 5 list for the likes of Pegguy Arphexad, Alexander Doni, Patrice Luzi or Michael Stensgaard then you’re going to spending the day sobbing into your mince pie. EqualIy, if you think Charles Itanje’s made the list then quite frankly, you’re either having a laugh, you’re sub normal or you’re a bad, bad meff!

Of course in top flight football there’s a very fine line between being a world beater, and the “shittest ever, ever, ever”, and this has never been more true than in the case of goalkeepers, where 89 minutes of worldy saves can be undone with a moment of madness. In this instance, before I get to my Top Five, I’d like to take a moment to mention the goalies who despite failing to become full on Liverpool legends, went on to have decent, and in some cases excellent, careers either at Liverpool, or elsewhere. In no particular order:

- David James: If you would have told me back in 1994 that David James would not make a list of my Top 5 Liverpool goalkeepers I would have laughed my squeaky, pre-pubescent laugh in your stupid smelly face! Physically “Jamo” had the potential to be the best keeper this country had ever seen. Mentally? Not so much. The feeling was that if he had have spent less time on the runway and more time practicing catching crosses then he would have been world class. Sadly though, thanks to his consistent high profile blunders “Jamo” quickly become “Calamity James”. Having said all that, he really did suit Calvin Klein boxers and, reportedly, his N64 skills were beyond reproach!

- Steve Ogrizovic: Understudy to the indestructible Ray Clemence turned Coventry City Legend (back when that actually meant something), ‘Oggy’ managed to “win” two European Cups with the Reds, despite making only five appearances – setting the high bar that all of Liverpool’s subsequent sub goalies would sit so comfortably beneath…

- Chris Kirkland: The poor, poor, unlucky, fragile man! Once tipped as the great, gangly white hope of the England national side, his Dad even won £10,000 on a 100/1 bet that he’d win a international cap before he turned 30. Sadly he was more injury prone than Samuel L Jackson’s ‘Mr. Glass’ in ‘Unbreakable’ and it’s hard to reach your potential lying on the treatment table at Melwood.

- Sander Westerveld: He could score goals from his penalty area, or so we were told at the time! Remembered *ahem* fondly by Bluenoses for his unerring accuracy in finding Don Hutchison’s arse from five yards, Sander was a key part of our 2001 treble success. So key in fact that he was replaced by not one but two keepers the following season.

- Brad Friedel: Oh Bradley, what might have been! He failed to establish himself at Anfield but has since gone on to be consistently one of the best keepers in the Premier League at Blackburn, Villa, and Spurs respectively. Had he been properly backed it’s highly conceivable that he’d still be at the club years and probably the most capped Liverpool ‘keeper of all time. Never mind ey? Let’s be honest though, you’d have him back today wouldn’t you?

Okay, so enough titting about, let’s get to the good stuff, the greatest last lines of Liverpool defence of all time, in my opinion of course:

5) Paul Jones (2 appearances): Okay so I’ve probably blown my credibility straight away with this one, but whatever, it’s my credibility and I’ll spunk it away in any way I see fit! Jones is a surprise inclusion to be sure, but one that I personally wish I could rank higher in this list. He is best known for his time between the sticks at Southampton where, for me at least, he was the best keeper in the league. We only had him for a month on loan to cover the injured Jerzy Dudek and Chris Kirkland which officially (according to me) makes him Liverpool’s greatest backup goalie ever! He could dominance his area and was world class shot stopper too. It’s just a shame we only got him in the twilight of his career.

4) Jerzy Dudek (186 appearances): I’ll admit something, goalkeepers who wear short sleeve shirts are something of a pet hate of mine and I believe that goatees should only be reserved for David Brent and Stone Cold Steve Austin but I’ve made my peace with ol’ Jerzy thanks to the wondrous gift of hindsight. He wasn’t particularly commanding, he was prone to silly mistakes and the goal conceded to Diego Forlan through his legs led to me taking up smoking (again)! Barring one night in May back in 2005 he would be nowhere near this list. However, without the “big Pole in our goal” we would’ve only won it four times, and his borderline superhuman heroics in between the sticks in Istanbul have erased a variety of ‘keeping indiscretions. I’m also willing to bet that he’s made Andrei Shevchenko wee the bed ever since. Jerzy was so good that night that he even inspired a Euro-Pop masterpiece, so come ‘ead, let’s all do the Dudek… Yeah, maybe not…

3) Bruce Grobbelaar (628 appearances): Ahh Brucie, my first goal keeping love and the reason that my tape of the 1986 Cup Final is worn out in the middle, like a footballing equivalent of every teenage boys’ Wild Things VHS. Now most people rave about the Rome “Spaghetti Legs” incident, but for me the moment that parallels Neve Campbell and Denise Richard’s tonsil tennis is his acrobatic tip over the bar from Alan Hansen’s poor back header at Wembley. I called Dudek superhuman earlier, but chasing back from the edge of his 18 yard box to pick it out from under the bar? That was the kind of agility that would make Spider-man hang up his webs. Yes he was erratic, and that rat tail he had later in his career was criminal, but for pure cinematic, Hollywood, goal keeping brilliance it’s GOT to be Brucie….

2) Ray Clemence (655 appearances): Ask anyone over the age of 35 who the greatest Liverpool goalie of all time is and you’ll only get one answer. Ray Clemence also falls into a surprisingly narrow category of players as well respected around the rest of the country as he is on Merseyside, having later won over Southern hearts at Spurs and with England. The man kept 323 clean sheets not just in a more physical era but one when goalkeeper gloves shared more in common with today’s gardening equivalents than the finger spined, solvite-gripped wonder wear that the modern stopper sports. A three time European Cup winner before Clarence Seedorf was in his big boy kecks, he also once made 336 consecutive appearances for the club. That’s Three hundred and thirty six!

Unfortunately for Ray though I am under 35 (I am, fuck off!), and as such, the best Reds custodian of my footballing fandom is the one, the only…

1) Pepe Reina (394 appearances): Shot stopping, one on ones, distribution better than most of his defenders and the ability to punch a ball like Mike Tyson punches faces! Jose Manuel “Pepe” Reina is the best keeper I have ever seen at the club. For the vast majority of the Premier League era Liverpool, a club that prides itself on it’s world class players had to cast envious glances around the world at rivals and also rans alike. We spent well over a decade watching corners, crosses and pee rolled shots with gritted teeth and clenched rings until a balding, stocky Spaniard came into our lives and showed us how good life could be. A year on from Dudek’s European heroics, Pepe Reina took Cardiff by storm in a game that, but for space limits on the DVD cover, could’ve been billed “The Gerrard and Reina Final”. If you can, dig out that game again and witness the injury time fingertip save to end all injury time fingertip saves, and of course his famous post-match line “Penalties are a lottery..and I win”. Look, maybe his form slipped following Rafa Benitez’s (or more accurately, Xavi Valero’s) departure, but up until that point he was to my mind if not the best in the world, certainly on a par with anyone else who would be considered for that accolade. He’s legendary off the pitch too, whether it’s singing on planes, setting Cesc Fabregas (then at Arsenal) up to be ambushed on stage with a Barcelona shirt or making mad TV adverts. All in all, he’s simply amazing. Love and miss you Pepe!

So there you have it…

I suppose the question a few of you will be asking (or perhaps caps lock bashing into your laptop as is customary on these sort of posts) is “what about Simon Mignolet?!?” Well, that’s a great question. In all honesty, based on the start to his Liverpool career it was very, very tempting to lob him in there, especially given the inclusion of the great, but hardly legendary Paul Jones at number five. In fact I’ll be perfectly honest with you, Mignolet was in my first draft when I wrote my list. Call me daft though, but I don’t want to jinx it. While his distribution isn’t anywhere near the level of Pepe, his ability as a shot stopper is as good as anyone who has ever played for the club. That said, we’ve seen so many men with all the right tools fail to make the grade at the club. We’ve been burned often and consistently, and for every Liverpool great between the sticks, there are five who you wouldn’t trust to save your carrier bags. All I’ll say is so far so good, ask me again this time next year…

Do you disagree with any of these inclusions? Should I have looked further than my own lifetime? Are you unappreciated at home, and need to vent? Feel free to unleash your inner rage to me on Twitter @TheRedmenTV. Don’t worry I’m a ‘keeper, I can handle it!

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