Goalkeeping and Game Theory

(NOTE: This is a literary journalism piece I did for my Master of Journalism program at the Journalism and Media Studies Center, HKU. It is reprinted in a book titled “Global Studies – Literary Journalism: The Best of Class”. Edited by Gene Mustain.)

Sometimes all that theory goes out the window.

In my sweaty, seasoned blue jersey and black shorts, with my palms in white gloves close to my hips and my football boots shoulder-width apart in a ready stance, I stood motionless and focused on the eyes of the man behind the ball planted on the white-rounded spot.
The man to take the penalty, lanky and tanned in a yellow jersey, stood motionless three yards behind the ball. His eyes focused on me for any sign of my tendency to lean to one side or another. It was a dreaded moment for both of us. For a while, neither of us moved.

Neither did his teammates, the men in yellow tops locked in a straight line another few yards out, nor mine. Spectators writhed in their seats, their eyes moving left and right like the dial of a grandfather’s clock between the man behind the ball and the goalkeeper on the line.

Goalkeeping is the only role that lured and kept me in the game since my first taste of football at the tender age of 8, when I discovered the thrills of denying shots and frustrating even the most prolific strikers. Casual fans have this gross misconception that goalkeeping is for the fat, slow and lazy. On the contrary, the modern game requires goalkeepers to have agility and lightning-fast reflexes, explosive speed over short distances, and the mental and physical toughness to charge at unforgiving blades-laden boots and execute acrobatic moves above the rest for the ball that may lead to awkward, body-twisting landings. Goalkeeping, in the last line of defence and first line of attack, is not for the faint-hearted.

For goalkeepers, facing a penalty is another way to prove themselves – and to be a hero (Read the entire piece here).

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