At the core of all the best football teams is a great goalkeeper. When England won the World Cup in 1966, the ‘keeper was none other than Gordon Banks, probably the greatest goalkeeper of all time, the same Gordon Banks who kept goals during Stoke City’s finest hour, the 1972 League Cup victory over Chelsea at Wembley. The only goalkeeper who comes close to rivalling the achievements of Banks is the great, if less well known Russian, Lev Yashin, who won the Soviet League with Dynamo Moscow five times from the mid 1950s to the early 1960s, as well the the European Championships with the USSR in 1960. In modern football, the effect a great goalkeeper has on his side remains clearly visible. Few would argue that two of the best goalkeepers in the world right now are Italy’s Gianluigi Bufforn and Spain’s Iker Cassilas, and it’s no coincidence that it was these two nations that won the two most recent major football competitions that Europe is involved with, with Buffon playing a key role in the penalty shoot-out that won Italy the 2006 World Cup final against France, and Casillas producing a string of fine performances as his Spanish side emerged victorious from last summer’s European Championships in Austria and Switzerland.
We were lucky to have true greats, like Gordon Banks grace the Victoria Ground
So, when Stoke were promoted to the Premier League last May, it was clear that to increase our chances of staying up, which at the time looked slim, we would have to bring in a quality goalkeeper. Steve Simonsen, who has served the club very well over the past four years, was the only senior goalkeeper in the squad, but few believed that he would be quite good enough to make the step up to the Premier League. The dawn of an impending battle against relegation is no time for sentimentality, so it became clear that the signing of a Premier League quality goalkeeper needed to be made.
In mid-July, it emerged that we had been chasing, and subsequently had had a bid accepted for young Liverpool ‘keeper Scott Carson, the prospect of signing him, a player with good Premier League experience after spending last season on loan at Aston Villa, as well as some international football, albeit catastrophic, for England behind him, made me and many other Stoke fans very excited. It was therefore with some disappointment, and a degree of anger, that I learned that West Brom, whose scouting system at times seems to consist solely of copying Stoke, had entered and were winning the race to sign him, Carson soon joining them for a fee of £3.25 million, saying he chose West Brom as he felt they had the best chance of staying up of the clubs interested in him. Well, they say goalkeepers are crazy. This disappointment was only partially relieved when two weeks later Stoke completed the signing of 32 year old former Sunderland and Aston Villa ‘keeper Thomas Sorensen, the Dane joining on a free transfer. I admit that at the time, had I been given the choice, I would definitely have chosen Carson over him. After all, one was an ageing goalkeeper who had seen little recent first team football, the other an up and coming 23 year old who had kept him out of the Villa side.
The goalkeepers we could have had, and eventually did have
I’m happy to say I’ve been proven wrong. While Carson and West Brom have been floundering on their way to near certain relegation this season, after re-discovering his form, Sorensen has gone from strength to strength with Stoke, keeping more clean sheets than more than half of the Premier League’s goalkeepers, despite playing most the season for a club in or around the bottom three, and has been a key part of the defence that has conceded just three goals at home in 2009. It is fair to say that he has been crucial to our recent successes. With fine shot-stopping abilities, and command of his penalty area better than any other ‘keeper we have had in recent years, he was always bound to become the fans’ favourite he has, but the one thing that has really fast-tracked his way into the supporters’ hearts is the passion he has shown for his club and his clear desire to succeed with Stoke City. After any victory it is a pleasure to watch his animated celebration, be it a high-speed slide in front of the Boothen End or his favourite move, the charge up behind his teammates and hug till they can’t breathe.
It’s been a season of blood, sweat and glory for Sorensen
Like Banks, Yashin, Buffon and Casillas before him, Sorensen has become a vital part of his team’s successes, and while Stoke’s achievements are hardly comparable to a World Cup or European Championship win, to have competed so well in the Premier League with a limited budget and an initial lack of quality in the squad is something of which all connected to the club should be very proud. Though there’s no way the inspirational Abdoulaye Faye won’t win our Player of the Season award, and rightly so, Sorensen has shown again what a good goalkeeper can do for the side, and in my opinion, he should come in a very high second.
Sorensen and Faye, the two stand-out players of our season, embrace
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