Return Home

Radiolab Presents: The Loneliness of the Goalkeeper

Tuesday, February 08, 2011 - 07:00 PM

Goalie Goalie (k.landerholm/flickr)

This week on the podcast, football! No, it's not a Super Bowl recap. Jad and Robert present a piece from across the pond--a piece about soccer they fell in love with when they heard it at the Third Coast festival in Chicago.

Back in October, Jad and Robert hosted the awards ceremony at the Third Coast International Audio Festival. And one piece, well...kinda blew their minds. Partly because it's beautiful (it won one of the big awards), and partly because it has a lot to say about symmetry--a topic we'll spend a full hour on in an upcoming episode. (By the way: Jad and Robert will be performing the symmetry show live in New York, Los Angeles, and Seattle in March, get more info and tickets here!)

So, consider this an appetizer for the symmetry shmorgishborg to come. "The Loneliness of the Goalkeeper," presented by writer, broadcaster, and former goalkeeper Hardeep Singh Kohli, and produced by Adam Fowler, is a Ladbroke Radio production, and was originally broadcast on BBC Radio 4. Enjoy!


More in:

Comments [48]

mikeg from kobe japan

great piece. being an expat teaching in a foreign country is the same. Part of the team, yet in a different state of mind and background. Im not included in the game yet when the ball comes my way I'm expected to make the save.

I used sound hound to check the music at the end is Back to back by Des O'Connor.

Oct. 21 2016 08:44 PM
Tyler Durden

Admittedly, I am not who cares for much other than oneself. But, what does one get out of contributing so much of one's personal resources into something they have extremely little to no control over?

Feb. 03 2015 03:32 AM
Richard Lentz from 30 Morar Road, Glasgow G52 1AX, UK

Build friendships in Soccer! Soccer players often create friends with their teammates. Teammates share a common bond which promotes a sense of unity and fosters friendships.

Dec. 01 2013 09:30 AM
Richard Lentz from 30 Morar Road, Glasgow G52 1AX, UK

Increased your concentration and practice methods! participate in sports such as soccer also gain increased concentration and practice methods of thinking quickly to react to situations on the field.

Nov. 24 2013 03:34 AM
richardlentz from 30 Morar Road, Glasgow G52 1AX, UK

At present, The Soccer players tend to turn into lean and muscular. They develop endurance from constantly running, and muscles from work-outs. This action will remind your child that you are interested in his life.

Nov. 09 2013 08:49 PM
pride balemba from Nigeria

need to become world best

Aug. 03 2013 07:46 AM
gannon from Sacramento Ca

You guys are the freaking BOMB! That's colloquial for AWESOME! Your show by far is entertaining, funny, intellectual and motivational! I listen to as many shows as possible and every time I have experienced it's topic to be true 100% I was a high level goal keeper for several years in the San Francisco area. I became one at ten years old because of my lacking foot skills. Believing in one's self is paramount but moreover being able to handle the pressure of being the goat and in my case the guy that cant play on the field, places you in another place in the universe. The insight of doing this show has completed me. I was told by Othar Losiander that I had reaction time that he had never seen before in over fifty years of coaching, but this show topped that! Thanks lads! ;)

Feb. 01 2013 01:25 PM
bruce norris from new york

Does anybody know the name of the violin and piano piece (presumably Perlman on violin) that plays behind Itzak Perlman talking about his experience as a goalkeeper?

Apr. 12 2012 05:32 AM
Bradley d from Manchester

Superb - great insight into goalkeeping. Slightly of topic - are there any keepers out there taking part in the new Goalkeeper Challenge? If you want to compete or get involved go to

Jan. 11 2012 03:29 PM
Pepe Cadena

retrogrados times before I wanted be a Goalkeeper , what mistake, it is so difficult father said me , it is not the position to you !

Oct. 25 2011 04:53 PM
technikhil from Trivandrum, India

This was an awesome show and listening to it I was struck between the parallels between a goalkeepers role and the role of the software tester.
This theme stuck in my mind and ultimately drove me to write this post -
It is about the loneliness of the software tester and the mindset that sets good software testers apart from the rest of the programming crowd...

Oct. 20 2011 10:19 PM
GPS Rider from Eugene, Oregon

I have to echo BBK's comments about hockey.

I really enjoyed this episode. The whole time I was laughing and smiling. But I was also marveling at how radically different soccer goalies are treated compared to ice hockey goalies. I don't follow soccer, so I don't know if the article's portrayal of how goalies are treated and how they work is accurate, but if it is, the differences between soccer and hockey are really striking.

In hockey, the goalie is almost revered by his team mates. If the offense tries to so much as touch the goalie, the defensemen will check the offending player with, shall we say, extreme enthusiasm. They protect him jealously. After the game, before leaving the ice the team always skates to the goalie and congratulates him. They treat him like their star player. Truly a huge difference from the world of soccer.

Perhaps more importantly, defensive plays are an integration of goalie and the defensemen. They are in constant communication and work together to create an effective defense. Defensive plays are designed around all three players, the two defensemen and the goalie. If the defensive strategy is really as disconnected from the defensemen and the goalie as the article portrays, that's a really huge difference between the two games.

I think it would be a very interesting follow-up piece to examine the differences between soccer and hockey. At least for us fans! :-)

Cheers again for a good piece.


Apr. 19 2011 09:47 AM

I'm so glad that Radiolab took the time to delve into the depths of the goalkeeper's mentality. Having played competitive soccer through college (and being a keeper since U-10's) and constantly trying to explain why I choose such a physically and mentally brutal position, I appreciated this very eloquent, nuanced explanation of what it's like to stand between the posts.

My one concern is this-"lonely" may not be the right word. Goalies, for the most part, choose a position that sets them apart from an otherwise team-oriented game. At higher levels, goalies tend to be those that thrive in high-pressure environments. We stand for 95% of the game, and manage crises for the other 5%. We have different jerseys, different rules, and even our own section of the field in which we stand. We tend to train on our own, struggle at the things that make field players talented (foot skills come to mind, and if someone expects me to make a graceful chest trap the resulting "thwack" and time spent chasing the ball says it all), and are widely described as "having a screw loose."

The weirdest thing about all of this, though, is that we LOVE it. There is a pride in sacrificing your body for the team and taking one in the face (as long as it then doesn't end up in the net). There is a satisfaction that comes with ending a practice absolutely sucking wind, with grass in your shorts, a ball print on your cheek, and bruises everywhere else. Goalies are the last line of defense, which means they are the heros and the scapegoats. They hold grudges for years, but have to let go of mistakes seconds after they happen.

So my thought is this-"lonely" isn't the wrong word. Solitary? Yes. Unique? Yes. Slightly touched in the head? Absolutely. But we have each other, and the roar of the crowd when our glove fingertips push the ball just clear of the frame.

Apr. 13 2011 11:26 PM
Vincent Avery from New Hampshire

Great piece sent on to me by my daughter. I played in goal for 30 years - let 10 the first time and 10 in the last - but in between I had a great time. Why play in goal? - because you have every excuse to dive in the mud. My heroes: Frank Swift and Bert Trautmann - which makes me a Man. City fan - also a special breed.

Apr. 01 2011 04:29 PM
Shawn from San Diego

I have to say the piece is a little slanted towards the negative. As a former soccer goalie, I played well into college on scholarship, it's true that goalie is a lonly position. Its true you have to be a little off centered to play and it also true that you will never feel lower than when you let up a bad goal or feel like you have let your team down. That said there is nothing in this world that compares to being in goal when the opposing team cracks a shot. You can actually hear their fans take an exaggerated inhale as they hold their breath in anticipation, and then you hear the wonder that is the exasperated moans of defeat the release when the they realize that their shot, their hopes, their dreams for that game changing goal landed safely and securely in your hands..... :) That moment is well worth the other baggage

Mar. 29 2011 05:03 PM
Steve from DC

What a fantastic piece.

My last memory of being a keeper is being 9 and the ball rolling between my legs as I crouched down. From then on, I was a fullback.

The psychology of the goalie is fascinating because they are playing a game where they will never (except in the rarest of circumstances) cause their team to win. They can only prevent their team from losing. Thus they're never really the hero, but frequently the goat. That's gotta mess with a body.

Mar. 23 2011 09:06 PM
dp from chicago

As the father of a "Keeper" I found this to be hugely entertaining. When my daughter was young (about 8 or 9) we tried to give her the usual speech after a goal "It got past 10 other players too...". She looked up at us and said "I know but I'm the one who has to walk in the net and get the ball". We were humbled by her insight. Her favorite shirt says "Goalkeeper: Alone and Insane" - i think that says it all. Excellent job.

Mar. 18 2011 05:23 PM

I was a goalie as a kid. Didn't make my high school team as goalie because I broke my wrist during doubles the week before try-outs. Now I'm wondering if even just the desire to be a goalie is actually just another bit of evidence that I'm totally weird.


Great piece! :)

Mar. 18 2011 01:07 PM
jason judd from Chicago

Though off the beaten path concerning Radiolab episodes, The Loneliness of the Goalkeeper is absolutely fantastic. One who does not concern himself with sports can find common ground with the goalkeeper in daily life. Romanticizing the predicament of the goalkeeper allows themes of alienation and unattainable success to present themselves. We can place our selves in the goalkeeper's shoes in the football match of life at times. Small victories soon forgotten, large shots forgotten as well. I do recommend Dave Hickey's "The Heresy of Zone Defense" if you enjoyed this podcast. When it comes down to it, it seems as though most of us will never make the winning shot, but we can find satisfaction in saving them.

Mar. 14 2011 07:45 PM
Dacia from Houston, Tx

Loved this arcane glance into the psyche of the goalie. It almost made me want to watch sports. :) Great audio on this piece as well.

Mar. 04 2011 01:24 PM
Marc from Little Rock, AR

What exactly do you mean, "what it has to do with what Radiolab has done before"? So now they can only do stories that are "like" stories they've done before? One of the reasons Radiolab is great is that their pieces are all over the map. I loved the goalkeeper piece...and every other piece I've heard on Radiolab for that matter.

Mar. 03 2011 11:11 AM

I've been listening to Radiolab for a long time, and 'The Loneliness of the Goalkeeper' is the worst thing I have heard here, EVER. I was barely able too keep myself awake through the whole thing.
I hope this kind of boring fiasco is not allowed to occur again to a podcast that I have otherwise, up to this point, adored.
Please tell me how this has ANYTHING to do with what Radiolab has done before.
What a waste of time.

Mar. 03 2011 10:36 AM

I "clapped" on my treadmill this morning. As soon as I got off I added this to my favorites.

Mar. 03 2011 04:29 AM

I was "trapped" on my treadmill when I heard this story. When I finished my exercise, I deleted it from my podcast playlist.

Mar. 01 2011 10:57 AM

Their introduction to the piece explains why they played it and what it has to do with Radiolab. It reminded them of an episode they are working on and they enjoyed it and probably figured fans of the show would also enjoy something they liked, which I did, since we love the show they create.

Feb. 23 2011 10:38 PM
Keith Boudreau from Oakland, CA

Big fan here, have listened to every episode. How does this have anything to do with Radiolab? Could have easily been on any random storytelling radio show. I know it must be a major challenge to produce all of the quality content you guys have. Personally, I'd rather see fewer quality episodes than something like the "Lonely Goalkeeper". Please, let's get back to exploring the universe through your unique perspective & rhythm!

Feb. 23 2011 12:01 PM
Charles Swift from Moscow, ID

A very interesting show, loved the British announcer clips (reminded me of Monty Python satire of British sports announcers). Seems like a lot of listeners didn't realize this was a BBC broadcast that was rerun here on Radiolab. It's not standard Radiolab fare but still very enjoyable.

Feb. 22 2011 12:41 PM
Steven Koike from Salinas California

Thanks for putting together great shows. Re: "Loneliness of the Goalie," you have an interesting but not well supported hypothesis. You cite 4 or 5 examples but what about the hundreds of other goalies in soccer and other sports that do not fit this profile? Without more evidence, this seems to be a stretch. Also, in these team sports the goalie is not the only defender, as implied.

Feb. 21 2011 07:59 PM
Peter Breunig from californai

As always great producing and content. there was a mention of the field player cursing out the goalie for letting in a goal in the Arsenal FA Cup game in 1972 (?). I wanted to mention what happened this last year at the world cup. Robert Green let in an easy goal against the USA and he was devastated. The English team never recovered really. But if you watch the replay Frank Lampard looks back at Green from 30 or so yards, and makes eye contact and pounds his chest and lifts his own chin to say, "keep you chin up have heart and keep going". The best thing i have seen in a game, having now watched the premier league and lampard, green, for 10 years. Something worth mentioning clearly the field player, lampard, cared about the goalie and recognized his value to the team. Pretty cool

Feb. 20 2011 11:41 PM

I think I get the difference that this Radio Lab was trying to put that the goal keepers experience is different than the other players, but I don't see how they are at odds with each other. I don't see the goalie as "spoiling" the game for the others, simply because he or she is trying to stop the ball from going in. Meaning, the point of the players running around is to score (offensive), but also to keep the opponents from scoring (defensive).

Perhaps the dichotomy comes not from different goals (pun not intended), but how the individual stands in the little box on either sides, watching the game unfold before him, and is the last attempt to stop a score rests on him, so the blame can then rest on the goal keeper.

I wonder if a similar isolated pressure can be felt by kickers and fieldgoals in American football.

Feb. 20 2011 04:23 PM
Mark from Lincoln, Uk

My brother told me about this link. Thought you might appreciate a blog post I made last year about why I choose to be a goalkeeper. And I even used the phrase "The loneliness of the goalkeeper" in the first line!

Feb. 15 2011 03:01 PM
Jimsakeeper from san francisco, ca

Brilliant. Well-balanced, great segues from history to the schoolboy match. You've helped non-goalkeepers understand what it's like.

I've written a couple of pieces on the same topic, not of the same quality:

Feb. 15 2011 01:53 AM
Greg Jackson from North Platte, NE

RadioLab has once again met its obligation to my cranial abyss :: To become familiar with the unfamiliar and expand my knowledge.

This mini-sode provided enough contextual information to get the message of something I never bothered to consider before. In addition, I love the challenging and enriching British dialect and specific soccer terms that were used. I'ts the reason I watch Law & Order UK . Stimulates the old grey cells. Yep.

Feb. 13 2011 03:50 PM
Valerie Poulter from Sugar Land TX

Loved this one on so many levels - the topic hits close to home (I was a water polo goalie, my husband is a soccer goalie as is my first cousin and his son). The brushing of psychology that was given why people choose this position made me look inside a little deeper than I would normally on a Sunday AM. The ambient sounds at the game also stirred me. THANK YOU LADS!!

Feb. 13 2011 08:47 AM
Dennis from London via Pittsburgh

My two loves together at last -- brilliantly produced radio stories and football.


Feb. 11 2011 11:44 AM
Rodrigo Teixeira from New York

Rose Bowl Stadium, Pasadena - CA
That's when my perception of goalkeepers changed forever.

Feb. 11 2011 10:00 AM
Rodrigo Teixeira from New York

Rose Bowl Stadium, Pasadena - CA
BRASIL 3 - 2 ITALY (penalties) (English)

Feb. 11 2011 09:54 AM

I didn't like this show as much as I love all of the other radio lab shows. Mostly because it goes away from the radio lab format, which I see as an interesting topic with human impact, dissected by scientists and social commentators, usually not the participants.

This was an interesting topic, but there were no scientists, and the variety of voices came from the players, not outside observers. I also had a very hard time relating to and understanding a lot of the British and highly specific soccer terms that were used.

Continue to experiment on the shorts, but I hope that you continue to be radio LAB, which examines how science intersects with our world.

Feb. 11 2011 09:46 AM
Alan from Austin, TX

Absolutely loved the piece! Thank you for sharing it. As an American kid who was disinterested in sports, soccer was the only sport I played and I only played it in elementary school and middle school. The only time I played in goal during that span was for one game in elementary and it generated one of the few distinct memories I have of playing back then. The ball was rolling slowly towards me and no one was anywhere near me so I tried to stop the ball, but attempted to do so by stepping on the it rather than with the inside of my foot. Needless to say, given the theme of the piece, I stepped right over the ball and turned around just in time to see it trickle into the goal. It is the plight of the goalkeeper that a simple mistake that would quickly be forgotten anywhere else on the pitch is so sorely punished when in goal.
Now I enjoy sports and soccer is chief among them. I play it now with my friends and the position of goalkeeper is by far the least desired. No wonder.

@Cebrun: This piece was not produced by Radiolab. It was a piece they happened to like made by BBC Radio 4 so you can't compare it to the other Radiolab episodes as if it were one.

Also, I found the last version of the site much more confusing and difficult to navigate. Now there are three categories: Full length "official" episodes, then podcasts which include those episodes as well as the shorts, and the blog which includes the podcast shorts plus extra tidbits. The only slight problem I see is that the "Famous Tumors" picture on the episode archive page isn't working properly so the pop up window covers most of the link, but you can still click on it and the pop up window itself has a link so it's not a big deal.

Feb. 11 2011 03:32 AM

@ Ben

Nice IT Crowd reference.

My Fiancee was a keeper since she started playing in middleschool. She can play other positions, but she always liked being keep. She was good too, she was 3rd all time saves at her University and MVP for her final year.

I think this episode was very close to how she explained what it felt like for her to be a keeper.

Feb. 10 2011 10:43 AM
Stephen Bobbett from NH, USA

This was a great short. When I was a kid, soccer was the only sport I ever played, and only for one season. I was--you guessed it--the goalkeeper, not because I was particularly good at it, but because I was too introverted, too aloof, and too conscious of the arbitrary nature of the game to ever be as violently participatory as everyone else. I would spend most of the time standing beside the goal post picking at grass and letting my head drift into the crowds. Good to know I wasn't alone. Thanks as always for the insightful podcast.

Feb. 09 2011 11:14 PM

The thing about Arsenal is they always try to walk it in.

Feb. 09 2011 08:34 PM

The thing about Arsenal is they always try to walk it in.

Feb. 09 2011 08:33 PM
insideVoice from Chicago


The Goalie position in the two sports are very different. A soccer goalie can literally have 0 saves to his credit in 90 minutes, but have let an impossible shot (or an easy one, for that matter) past him to lose the game.

Feb. 09 2011 02:40 PM
Cebrun Gaustad from Absarokee, MT

I found the goal keeper episode less interesting and less well done than any I have listened to thus far.
The changes in your web page have made it more difficult for me to find episodes (presently can't figure it out at all). The site I clicked on said "archives" yet I could find none. Change is not always good. I will keep trying because overall your shows are superb but that doesn't do me much good if I can't find them.

Feb. 09 2011 10:41 AM
BBK from Philadelphia PA

I played goalie in hockey for years. I can completely relate to the feeling of letting everyone down when the goals racked up.
However, I never received any snide comments from teammates. In fact, in hockey, the goalie is especially protected by his teammates such that they will go toe to toe to defend their goalie. The goalie is always the first guy all the players gather round at the end of the game.
Guess that's the difference between soccer and hockey...

Feb. 09 2011 03:47 AM

Really fantastic, thank you for sharing this BBC production.

I'm not a fan of sports, but I really enjoyed this treatise on an unenviable position.

Feb. 08 2011 10:11 PM
George from Brooklyn

When is Radiolab doing a baseball show?

Feb. 08 2011 07:38 PM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

Supported by