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'We are 10 years behind' – why women’s goalkeeping is playing catch-up


Women’s goalkeeping has often been maligned – the regular target for those who have had few opportunities to watch women’s football.

At times individual errors have been used to poke fun at female goalkeepers, without applying any context.

As England internationals, Chelsea’s Carly Telford and ex-Manchester United and Liverpool keeper Siobhan Chamberlain have been at the sharp end of criticism.

They have spoken in depth on The Players podcast about the challenges of goalkeeping in the women’s game and how the process of making up “10 to 15 years” of lost time has started.

‘It’s under the microscope’

The number one shirt in football always carries an extra level of scrutiny.

Unlike a poor shot, missed tackle or misplaced pass elsewhere on the pitch, goalkeepers’ mistakes can often result in goals.

Telford, 33, relates to that but feels it must come with an appreciation of the journey that women’s football has been on – with full-time professional status in the Women’s Super League only coming in 2018.

“We are going to get judged but you have to give it some context,” Telford said.

“Not only are we 50 years behind [men’s football] – and that is everyone as a collective in female football – we are 10 to 15 years behind outfield players as goalkeepers.

“Before we went to the 2015 World Cup, my goalkeeper coach [at my club] at the time was 75 and he could not kick the ball off the ground, he could only volley it. That was my level of coaching two days a week before I played on a Sunday and for three seasons.”

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A new generation

After decades where goalkeeping coaches in women’s football were almost unheard of, the professional era has seen clubs employ specialist coaches to develop their goalkeepers.

That is already making a difference for players like Everton’s Sandy MacIver and Manchester City’s Ellie Roebuck but has largely come too late for Chamberlain.

Now 37, the former Chelsea, Liverpool and United goalkeeper retired in 2020 after a lengthy career in which she won 50 caps for the Lionesses.

“I didn’t have a full-time goalkeeping coach probably until the last four or five years of my career,” Chamberlain said.

“The girls that are coming through now that are 18 or 19 have probably already had the exact same amount of coaching I had in my whole career.

“It is going to take time to catch up but you can see with the young players coming through now that there are so many talented goalkeepers because they’ve had quality coaching since they were six, seven or eight years old.”

Siobhan Chamberlain
Siobhan Chamberlain (left) ended her career at Manchester United in the summer of 2020

The value of being able to access specialist expertise is not lost on Telford who, like Chamberlain, can recall training with England being led by the kit-man after the goalkeeping coach was unable to attend.

“It is getting so much better,” Telford added. “I think the investment is there and clubs are taking it seriously and they are hiring or being made to hire full-time goalkeeping coaches with good levels [of qualifications].

“It’s going to be a speaking point but as a collective we have to give more context as to where the female game is in goalkeeping and we aren’t where we want to be or where we would like to be but we are getting there.

“We need to invest in grassroots to get kids to want to be goalkeepers and then get people like the FA (Football Association) to invest in goalkeeper coaches that help these kids be better and not just expect someone’s dad to volley 10 balls at them and that’s a goalkeeping session.”

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