“Sometimes, being a goalkeeper, things get forgotten. You’re very lucky if saves get replayed and remembered – you get remembered most for things that go wrong.”
At times, the legacies goalkeepers are left with can mean the job can seem like a thankless task. There are many fine goalkeepers who have seen countless match-winning saves eternally eclipsed by a single second’s lapse in concentration across thousands upon thousands of minutes across a career.
That’s why Peter Shilton, who was reflecting above, feels so fortunate to have been remembered how he is today – as arguably England’s greatest goalkeeper and the holder of the record for most clean sheets at the FIFA World Cup™, which stands at ten. He was part of the team which brought the Three Lions closest to recreating their solitary triumph in 1966, with his renowned shot-stopping ability seeing him end almost 60 per cent of his appearances on football’s top stage without conceding.
Shilton, now the Seattle Sport Sciences, Inc. and ISOTechne global ambassador, enjoyed a career representing his country that spanned almost 20 years, having first donned the gloves in 1970 – a few months after England relinquished their grasp on the Jules Rimet trophy in Mexico. It was not until 1982 that they would make it back, though. He still stands as the men’s side’s all-time leading cap-holder, with 125 to his name – also a world record at the time. The last of these came in the Match for Third Place at Italy 1990, with fourth remaining England's second-best finish at the tournament to date, while seeing him move on to 17 World Cup appearances – another national record – having also competed at Spain 1982 and Mexico 1986. His place coming into his first World Cup had been in doubt, as he was sharing duties with Ray Clemence, but having been given the nod by manager Ron Greenwood, he did not look back.
With clean sheets hard to be come by in the earlier era of the World Cup – with almost twice as many on average during the last five World Cups as the first five editions – it may not come as a surprise that it took some time for a meaningful tally to be accrued. However, Brazilian legend Gilmar – who won two World Cups in the process – did eventually clock up seven, with the final of those coming against Bulgaria in 1966.
He had to wait 12 years to get some company on that mark, and since then, this has been a popular record to share. Netherlands’ Jan Jongbloed joined Gilmar there at Argentina 1978, but he enjoyed just a week with his name at the top of the bill, as Germany’s Sepp Maier went one better, pushing the benchmark to eight in a goalless draw with Italy. Even then, he was out on his own for just another four days when another Brazilian in the shape of Leao moved alongside the German after keeping out Argentina.
It was not until Shilton, in his second game of Italy 1990 – a 0-0 draw with Netherlands - moved up to the top of the crowded podium, before claiming it for his own when England pulled off a 1-0 win over Egypt five days later. The 1-0 win over Belgium took his tally into double figures with ten. It was not until the semi-final of Germany 2006, when Fabian Barthez booked a return to the World Cup Final for France in a 1-0 defeat of Portugal, that the English stopper had to make room for one of his peers.
“Being part of a team, you want to make sure it performs first, then I was just the one who made all the saves. My first line of defence was my mouth. I always tried to work my back four in particular – telling them ‘what a great tackle’, ‘great header’ – and engage with them right through the 90 minutes, working them verbally and mentally. Sometimes, I’d come in after a game and think I’d played really well, as I only had one save to make.
“1982 was strange in the sense that we played five games and let one goal in. To then come home [after the second group stage] – having been waiting 12 years – was a very strange feeling. It felt like you had done your job, but not made it to the semi-finals. The Germany game was very tactical, but against Spain, I remember making a couple of saves I was really proud of that kept us in it, but we couldn’t score the goals that we needed.
“[In our first game of 1986 against Portugal] nothing went right for us, we didn’t play well, they cleared one off the line and the goal was really a mistake by Kenny [Sansom] and it wasn’t the start we were looking for.
“We changed things against Poland and the rest is history – Gary Lineker scored a hat-trick – but even in that game, they broke away one-against-one in the first few minutes, and I managed to get down low and make a really good save. If we’d gone 1-0 down, then who knows. I’ll always put that down as one of my most important World Cup saves. A lot of people don’t remember it, but I personally remember that first save early on because of the importance for our confidence.
“We should have beaten the Netherlands [in 1990]. We played well that day and I can’t remember getting overloaded that game. [When breaking the record versus Egypt] I didn’t have much to do, but as a goalkeeper you’re thinking ‘one goal, one shot, one mistake and you could be out of the World Cup’. It’s one of those games where you want us to score a couple and you can enjoy it a little. But when it’s 0-0 and it’s getting to the last few minutes, you know that one breakaway and you could be on your way home. That’s the pressure you have at the back.
“I played for eight years under Bobby Robson and to get the record number of caps was something I was very proud of. Because we had such a great World Cup, getting so close to the final, it was great to finish on a high and it felt like the right moment to retire.
“You have to credit [Barthez for] achieving something like this too. It’s always nice to hold a record yourself, but you have to applaud if someone else reaches it as well.”