Liverpool FC: The Long-Time Curse of the Backup Goalkeeper

Karl Matchett@@karlmatchettFeatured ColumnistJuly 26, 2011

Liverpool FC: The Long-Time Curse of the Backup Goalkeeper

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    Liverpool FC last week completed two transfers in one day, the second of which was the high profile, multi-million pound deal to move England and Aston Villa winger Stewart Downing to Anfield to be the fourth capture of the summer transfer window for the Reds under Kenny Dalglish.

    But the first one of the day was somewhat more understated, under-covered and certainly involved less fanfare and money changing hands. AS Roma's Brazilian goalkeeper Alexander Doni joined the club as an understudy for the currently injured No. 1 of the club, Pepe Reina.

    Doni is not expected to feature too heavily for the Reds as Reina is by some distance the undisputed first choice and one of the top 'keepers in world football, but Doni is likely to play for Liverpool in the domestic cups and may even start the league campaign in the net if Reina does not recover fully from his double hernia operation in time for the Aug. 13th kick off.

    Downing was certainly the bigger name out of the two captures, certainly the more expensive and will certainly be expected to contribute many times more to the success of the club than Doni will.

    But it is Doni who is following in the footsteps of more people who have come before him.

    While Downing will try to succeed where a few Rieras, Letos and Gonzalezs have failed before him, an altogether larger number have tried to displace the Liverpool No. 1 over the past couple of decades, with a remarkable lack of success.

    From unknown Scandinavians to top drawer 'keepers who went on to prove their worth elsewhere, Liverpool have seen more than their fair share of No. 2s warm the bench during the Premier League years.

    A long list which doesn't show any sign of abating just yet with no less than four senior goalkeepers on the books of the club at present, as well as a reserve and two promising youngsters.

    Many have come and gone, while Liverpool have essentially had just Bruce Grobbelaar, David James, Sander Westerveld, Jerzy Dudek and now Pepe Reina as their first choice stoppers since the inception of the Premier League in 1992.

    Read on and remember the best, the worst and the completely anonymous backup goalkeepers Liverpool have paid to sit on the bench—or worse, feature only for the Reserves—since the inception of the Premier League.

     

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Mike Hooper, English

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    We kick off the long list with an English stopper who actually made a lot of appearances for Liverpool. Mike Hooper, a tall and imposing figure, signed for the Reds way back in 1985, debuting a year later.

    He managed a total of 73 games for the Reds, though his longest consecutive run in the side was just 24 games in '88-'89.

    Hooper also played a part in Liverpool's first Premier League season when Graeme Souness preferred to play him for a while ahead of established No. 1 Bruce Grobbelaar and the promising youngster David James.

    I'm presuming this photo was taken just after Hooper threw the ball out, and he didn't always stand with his feet turned inwards to ridiculous ankle-snapping proportions.

     

    Thanks to sporting-heroes.net for the photo.

Michael Stensgaard, Danish

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    "Hold on, I've seen this photo before!" you may cry. And why, yes you may have done, in this article about footballing injuries, right here on B/R from Kyle Nicolas.

    However, when he wasn't trying unsuccessfully to iron his clothes, Danish under-21 stopper Michael Stensgaard, once referred to as the "New Peter Schmeichel" (of course), was actually a professional footballer and spent many a Saturday afternoon warming the bench and sporting hideous goalkeeper tops and haircuts.

    He signed for the Reds in 1994 but never made an appearance for the club and never really recovered from his shoulder injury either.

     

    Thanks to lfchistory.net for the photo.

Mark Prudhoe, English

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    You would not believe how many people on the Internet have tagged photos of Mark Crossley as Mark Prudhoe. It's disturbing really.

    The journeyman goalkeeper was one of many to keep the bench warm for the Reds during 2004 as Roy Evans sought cover for his established first choice David James.

    He made the bench for the Reds but never appeared and was only on the club's books for a few matches.

     

    Thanks to bradfordcityfc.co.uk for the photo.

Mark Gayle, English

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    Mark Gayle was brought in on loan during 1994 as well as Mark Prudhoe. After arriving from Crewe, he sat on the Reds' bench a total of three times, never featuring.

    He featured for a host of other clubs including Leicester City, Birmingham City and Walsall, as well as many non-league sides.

    His other claim to fame appears to be that he looks a little bit like Ashley Cole, if you only look from his eyebrows down to his chin.

     

    Thanks to lfchistory.net for the photo.

Alec Chamberlain, English

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    Alec Chamberlain's Liverpool record reads Played: 0, Medals: 1.

    On the Reds' playing staff for the 1994-95 season, Chamberlain was the unused substitute goalkeeper for the League Cup Final when Liverpool beat Bolton Wanderers 2-0, thereby claiming his medal.

    Though he never played for Liverpool, Chamberlain featured heavily for Watford where he is still remembered today and played not far off 800 games throughout his career.

     

    Thanks to lfchistory.net for the photo.

Tony Warner, English

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    Another understudy to David James in the 1994-95 season, Tony Warner was a local lad who featured for the reserves on a number of occasions before ascending to the throne of the backup goalkeeper when Stensgaard suffered his surely by now legendary injury.

    Warner, aside from bearing some resemblance to David James in his younger days, has the distinction of being the player to appear on the bench the most times for Liverpool without ever playing a competitive game for them.

    He was named substitute goalkeeper no less than 120 times for the Reds but never saw a single minute of first team action on the pitch.

    Later featured in the Premier League for Fulham and had spells with Charlton, Millwall and Tranmere.

     

    Thanks to lfchistory.net for the photo.

Stephen Pears, English

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    Another loan-cover goalkeeper now, Stephen Pears, who made his name at Middlesbrough, was cover for the ironing-board-stricken Stensgaard and David James in 1995.

    Pears briefly warmed the Anfield bench for a few games but never featured in a competitive game. This is unlikely to be a source of frustration of Pears as he takes solace in the fact that he has an almost-perfect half head of hair, save for a stylish tuft at the front.

     

    Thanks to lfchistory.net for the photo.

Jørgen Nielsen, Danish

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    Another Danish stopper now, though not one who was ever—as far as I heard—referred to as Schmeichel's second coming.

    A 1997 arrival from Hvidovre—Schmeichel's former club, incidentally—Nielsen was actually recommended by the man who's place he took at the club, Michael Stensgaard. Roy Evans signed Nielsen as a backup goalkeeper, and he stayed at Liverpool until 2002, winning himself a place on the bench no less than 23 times.

    He had opportunities to leave the club before that but chose to remain as the Reds reserve goalkeeper, stating that the English reserve league was of a higher standard than that of the top professional league in his home country.

     

    Thanks to lfchistory.net for the photo.

Brad Friedel, American

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    Undoubtedly the finest and most talented goalkeeper on this list, Brad Friedel arrived at Anfield after a much-protracted transfer saga which saw him turned down for a work permit to play in England on more than one occasion, before a successful repeat years later.

    Having played for Colombus Crew and Galatasary previously, he was seen as genuine competition for David James, giving Liverpool two first-team calibre goalkeepers for the first time in quite a few years.

    However, he never really got going at Anfield, making just 31 appearances in almost three years. He was the first choice for the 1998-99 season but after a run of poor form was replaced, and he eventually left for Blackburn Rovers.

    Since then, Big Bad Brad has gone on to prove himself one of the top stoppers in Premier League history with Rovers and Aston Villa, and though he recently joined Spurs, it was rumoured that Liverpool were attempting to bring back the American before Alexander Doni joined the club.

    He also apparently enjoyed success as the lead role in the film Hellboy.

    On a final note, what on earth is that kit about which Friedel is sporting in the photo?

Pegguy Arphexad, French

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    Probably some sort of record, Pegguy Arphexad won as many trophies with Liverpool as he played matches!

    The Frenchman made six appearances for the Reds in his time under Gerard Houllier and won two League Cups, an FA Cup, the UEFA Cup, the European Super Cup and the Community Shield—all as an unused substitute.

    An imposing figure with an almost unspellable surname, Arphexad made a name for himself at Leicester with a string of acrobatic saves and man of the match performances, mostly against Liverpool, in fact.

    Spent three years with Liverpool in total but was really only involved with the squad during the first of those seasons, as understudy to Dutch 'keeper Sander Westerveld.

Chris Kirkland, English

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    The picture shown here of Chris Kirkland quite marvellously depicts both the familiar sight of him lying prone and injured on the ground with the unfamiliar sight of him actually on the pitch in a Liverpool jersey.

    Kirkland was at Anfield for five years between 2001 and 2006 and managed just 45 games, despite frequent attempts from manager Houllier to integrate him as the club's No. 1 goalkeeper.

    Back, groin, head, wrist, fingers, legs—you name it, Kirkland injured it while at Liverpool.

    Arriving at the same time as Jerzy Dudek, he was initially meant to be the Pole's backup and long term successor, but while he excelled at the former, he was too often present in the physio's room to be the latter.

    I might add that for all his promise and potential, Kirkland evolved to be not a very good goalkeeper, and this, as much as his injuries, led to his exit from Anfield to Wigan without having gotten past the benchwarming stage.

Patrice Luzi, French

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    Patrice Luzi played for Liverpool for three years, from 2002 to 2005, and made just a single solitary appearance—against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge where, despite flapping about like a startled trout at times, he helped keep a clean sheet in a 1-0 win after coming on as a substitute for Jerzy Dudek who had gotten injured.

    Luzi could have made a second appearance the following match as Dudek was still injured, but boss Houllier felt his compatriot was not ready to be thrust into the starting XI yet and as such completed the loan signing of...

     

    Thanks to lfchistory.net for the photo.

Paul Jones, Welsh

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    ....Paul Jones! The Welsh international was over 38-and-a-half years old when he made his debut for Liverpool, the oldest club debutant since World War II.

    Jones played twice for the Reds while Dudek (and Kirkland, of course) was injured and kept a clean sheet on his debut, a 1-0 win over Aston Villa at Anfield.

    Quite aside from anything else, that photo is a fantastic advert for Sondico gloves.

Paul Harrison, English

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    Paul Harrison was a local-born goalkeeper who had a real reason to try and make it at Liverpool.

    When he was aged just four, Harrison's father and uncle both died at Hillsborough in the tragic FA Cup semifinal against Nottingham Forest.

    Though he never made a first team appearance for Liverpool, he made the bench over a dozen times for the Reds and did manage to play at Anfield in a charity match. Most recently, he was the first team goalkeeper for Welsh outfit TNS.

     

    Thanks to lfchistory.net for the photo.

Scott Carson, English

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    Two things in particular are remarkable about Scott Carson.

    When he signed for Liverpool aged 20, he already looked about 38, and in the match pictured above, he played in goal against Bolton Wanderers without a striker in the team and behind a midfield featuring Antonio Nuñez, John Welsh and Igor Biscan and a defence containing Mauricio Pellegrino and Djimi Traore—and he still kept a clean sheet!

    Despite these obvious heroics, and the fact that he played a blinder against Juventus in the first leg of the Champions League quarter final en-route to Istanbul, Carson featured only nine times for the Reds under Rafa Benitez and after a couple of loan spells at Charlton and Aston Villa he left for West Brom, finding first Jerzy Dudek and then Pepe Reina impossible to dislodge as No. 1.

    He has recently signed for Turkish outfit Bursaspor, where he will no doubt set about impressing the locals by looking like a grizzled warrior of about 56 years old. He's 25, by the way.

David Martin, English

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    David Martin was a young goalkeeper signed by Liverpool from MK Dons and left Liverpool a slightly older 'keeper to sign for, erm, MK Dons.

    Martin spent four-and-a-half seasons at Liverpool, largely out on loan at other clubs such as Leeds, Accrington Stanley and Tranmere Rovers, but he did also make the bench on a dozen occasions in 2007-08.

    He is the son of former West Ham defender Alvin Martin, and though he started out a defender like his father he soon swapped positions.

    Martin never made an appearance for the Liverpool first team.

Daniele Padelli, Italian

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    There are four perfectly good reasons for Daniele Padelli to remember fondly his time on Merseyside with Liverpool.

    Firstly, his only Reds appearance came on the final day of the 2006-07 league season which happened to be Robbie Fowler's final game for Liverpool.

    Secondly, I was at that match.

    Thirdly, he was a travelling member of the squad which contested the 2007 Champions League final against AC Milan in Athens later that week.

    And fourthly, he was fortunate enough to be asked by my good self to sign one of my Liverpool shirts as the squad trained in Spain before the final itself!

    Loaned to the club for the second half of the season from Sampdoria in January 2007, Padelli never really got much of a look in, and it was no surprise when the club did not take up the option to sign him in the summer.

     

    Thanks to lfchistory.net for the photo.

Charles Itandje, French

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    Disgraced French goalkeeper Charles Itandje joined Liverpool from RC Lens in 2007 and made just seven appearances in three-and-a-half years.

    He made the odd cup match day squad in his first year or so on Merseyside but soon fell down the pecking order.

    However, it was soon to be apparent that Itandje would spend no further time in a Liverpool shirt as he abominably laughed and taunted a youth player, trying in turn to make him laugh, in the middle of a Hillsborough memorial service at Anfield.

    Itandje was transfer listed and then loaned out to Kavala for a season before having his contract terminated by the club in December 2010.

Martin Hansen, Danish

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    Current reserve goalkeeper Martin Hansen made history by becoming the first foreign-born player to be transferred in to Liverpool's youth academy, when he joined the club in 2006.

    He was part of the under-18 squad which reached and won the FA Youth Cup Final in 2007.

    After moving to Melwood as a reserve 'keeper, he challenged Australian teammate Dean Bouzanis—who left the club last season without featuring in a first team match, ergo not being on this list—for a spot in the Reds' second string before Roy Hodgson made him the club's No. 2 in the early part of the 2010-11 season after Brad Jones was unavailable.

    He is currently the Reds fourth-choice stopper still at the club.

     

    Thanks to lfchistory.net for the photo.

Peter Gulacsi, Hungarian

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    An encouragingly good prospect, Hungarian Peter Gulacsi arrived at Liverpool courtesy of the club's link up with MTK of Hungary in 2007 on loan and sealed a permanent deal a year later.

    He has spent time out on loan at the likes of Tranmere Rovers and Hereford and will this season play for Hull City in the Championship.

    Last season, Kenny Dalglish preferred Gulacsi to the more experienced Brad Jones as Pepe Reina's understudy, and having recently penned a new extension to his Liverpool contract, Gulacsi will be confident about being involved in the first team setup at Anfield over the next few years.

    Personally speaking, I find Gulacsi a much more competent and assured all-around goalkeeper than Hansen and Jones and can certainly envisage him improving further with his current loan spell.

Diego Cavalieri, Brazilian

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    Diego Cavalieri had a brief spell as Pepe Reina's No. 2 from 2008 to 2010, playing 10 matches for the Reds before being sold to Italian side Cesena by Roy Hodgson, who wanted to bring in Brad Jones.

    Cavalieri was the first Brazilian goalkeeper to play for Liverpool though he never really threatened to usurp Pepe Reina from his No. 1 spot.

Brad Jones, Australian

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    Firstly, let me just explain the video. Brad Jones is the goalkeeper who Steven Gerrard scores against.

    I could have put a video of Jones' saves in there or just a photo like everybody else, but that goal is so splendidly magnificent and awesome that I thought I would just be kind to you viewers and let you see a spectacular strike, as many times as you want.

    As it happens, Jones was rather terrific himself in that game, and that was about the only way Liverpool would manage to find a way past him as he made several top drawer saves.

    Jones was signed by Roy Hodgson to replace Diego Cavalieri, and though he didn't cost a huge amount at £2.5 million, there was a definite sense of, "Why are we signing him?"-ness about the place when it was announced that Jones would be joining.

    Never really a regular at previous club Middlesbrough, Jones repeated the feat with distinction at Liverpool as he made just two appearances for the club before losing his bench spot to Peter Gulacsi and ending the season on loan to Championship side Derby County.

    Jones has featured for Liverpool during this preseason, but it is still anticipated he may move on before the window closes.

Alexander Doni, Brazilian

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    And so to our latest addition to this long and not entirely illustrious list of backup goalkeepers.

    What can we expect from Alexander Doni?

    Well, to be fair to him, the man has pedigree. He played around 150 times in Italy's top flight for Roma and was Brazil's first choice stopper at the 2007 Copa America, saving two penalties in the semifinal en-route to winning the tournament outright.

    Though he will certainly start off as Reina's backup—and in all likelihood remain that way—he should at least provide much better competition and a reliable performance or two along the way when needed, which perhaps has not been the case with far too many of the names in this slideshow.

    Doni may even make his Liverpool debut sooner than expected with Pepe Reina still recovering from a hernia operation in the summer.

    Though even if Reina does recover in time for the start of the league season, Liverpool will play in the League Cup second round this season as they are not in European competition, meaning a competitive debut could be as early as September for our latest Brazilian recruit.

    Time will tell if Doni will be a success or merely another stopgap.

    For now, we wish him well and hope that his well-worn seat on the bench is extremely comfortable, if not exactly filled with history and expectation of the names that have come before him.