I have a head full of hockey at the moment. Just yesterday I filled in a questionnaire for Sport England, which made me think about why I play the game, and what I get out of it.
It sent me back to what’s probably the best piece of writing I’ve read by a top sportsperson: Ken Dryden’s The Game (Sportspages, 1983). Dryden was an ice-hockey goalie for the Montreal Canadiens, perhaps the greatest-ever player in his position; I’m a field-hockey goalie for a team in Division 5 of the Yorkshire Men’s League. Pretty much everything Dryden says rings true for me.
Playing goal is not fun. Behind a mask, there are no smiling faces, no timely sweaty grins of satisfaction. It is a grim, humorless position, largely uncreative, requiring little physical movement, giving little physical pleasure in return. A goalie is simply there, tied to a net and to a game; the game acts, a goalie reacts.
The overall impression of the sociopath on the goalline isn’t much alleviated as Dryden goes on:
While teams insist on togetherness, and on qualities in their team-mates that encourage it both on and off the ice, a goalie is the one player a team allows to be different. Indeed, as perplexed as anyone at his willingness to dress in cumbrous, oversized equipment to get hit by a puck, a team allows a goalie to sit by himself on planes and buses, to disappear on road trips, to reappear and say nothing for long periods of time, to have a single room when everyone else has roommates. After all, shrug, he’s a goalie. What can you expect?
My name is Richard and I am a goalie.