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Running a lax ship
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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Crowds around the world have long thrilled to the attacking brilliance of Brazil. But what of the Brazilians' almost legendary inability over the past 30 years to find a half decent goalkeeper? In an extract from his book - now out in paperback - Peter Chapman, Ft.com/sport's editor, recalls the day when even he was invited to play in goal for Brazil.
Early victories against Algeria and Northern Ireland convinced the Brazilians they were about to win the 1986 World Cup itself. Their huge media presence, several hundred strong, wandered the TV centre in Mexico City in their yellow replica international shirts and, certain of invincibility, challenged the rest of us to a match under lights at a stadium on the capital's northern periphery.

"You will not be able to play in goal all the game," said the apologetic young Mexican organiser as I signed myself up for the Rest of the World. "We also have a...." He hesitated as he checked the lengthy of list of names. "We also have a Señor Yashin."

"They're taking the p**s," was the considered view among the rest of the ITV office. Lev Yashin, the old Soviet Cat, was in Moscow where he had had a leg amputated years before. No, what was billed by the Brazilians as a big game would shake down to a kick-about between lesser lights of the media world.

In the dressing room I bent to tie my laces next to a squat character built like a long-distance lorry driver, only the size of his stomach would have prevented access to his cab. He had a square and lined face, his thin hair plastered back. Something familiar, though, about that centre parting.

I had only a second to grapple with the fact I was about to take the field with Puskas - the Hungarian captain at Wembley in 1953 who'd ended England's belief in its island supremacy - when the Brazilians' manager burst in. It had been their problem for nearly the past two decades and, wouldn't you know, they'd done it again - Brazil had forgotten to bring a goalkeeper.

Brazilians just weren't keepers. Gylmar was a one-off in the 50s and 60s, but otherwise they were carnival types, group people, who wanted to be joyously upfront and where the action was. They weren't naturally the insular, offshore characters who hung around miserably at the back.

It was how they'd ended up with Felix in goal when they'd last won the World Cup in 1970. His name suggested cat-like qualities but he couldn't take a cross if you'd have handed it to him. He'd never have made it, I'd reckoned, into our Leyton Orient junior team, playing in the mid-Sixties South East Counties League on the London Transport ground at Walthamstow. That meant I could have played in goal for Brazil, but for the detail of not being born there.

Now my services were immediately volunteered by our team - a little too readily, I thought. Had someone heard about that 9-2 defeat by Spurs juniors at Cheshunt in 1964? But the Brazilian manager was nothing but grateful as we walked on the pitch, 5,000 throats greeting our arrival. OK, maybe it was half that, but they made a sound equal to when the emergence of Sid Bishop, Cyril Lee and Dave Dunmore from the Orient tunnel could rattle every tobacconist's window from Brisbane Road to the Bakers Arms.

The rest of the Brazilian team was in panic in the centre circle. Pele, their ace card, had failed to show. I was offered as compensation. This didn't cause much of a stir till one or two offered a few words of welcome, whereupon the manager told them "speak English".

Several looked at each other, confused. For most the language wasn't a problem, but then one queried, with weight and no small measure of awe: "um goleiro inglês?" Another followed up, almost shouting in Portuguese: "an English goalkeeper!"

They were making the usual Latin American, and English, error of saying "English" for British. But ever since Brazil had won their first World Cup in 1958, they'd become familiar with the type - Colin McDonald of England, Jack Kelsey of Wales and Harry Gregg of Northern Ireland in that tournament. The line continued through Gordon Banks in 1970 and, against Northern Ireland, they'd just waved goodbye to Pat Jennings in his last international. Things got a little out of hand when I was introduced by Christian name - "Sheel-ton!" they cried.

"They are mostly a young team," the manager said confidentially. I didn't need to wait while he tried to calm them down, he said, and nodded towards an older guy in a Brazil shirt, standing with a ball at his feet at the edge of the group. He had the bushy moustache favoured by Parisian taxi drivers. "You go and practice with Mr Rivelino."

We jogged towards one end of the field, he stopping some way outside the penalty area to juggle the ball while I made for my line. From the pantheon, this was the co-star with Pele of the team that had cruised to victory in 1970. Other Brazilians had pioneered the banana shot, but Rivelino had stretched it to new frontiers. It was why they'd named a square after him in Sao Paulo - he could bend the ball around it.

But, come on, son, we were British goalkeepers, after all. I kept him waiting while I pulled on my gloves. Underfoot was heavy mud and drizzle still slanted through the lights some hours after the afternoon's storm. These were keeper's conditions, more Walthamstow than Me-hi-co.

Rivelino swung his left leg gracefully, powerfully at the ball. It was clear as it left his boot he'd hopelessly miscued. I'd shrewdly advanced three yards from my line to neutralise any late outswing but, anyway, as I looked up his shot was flying high and wild above my head in the thin Mexico City air. I turned to the sound of a loud metallic twang from the crossbar, to see the ball ricochet hard and down into the back of the net.

In the game shots rained in on the Brazil goal, all of which I dropped but which bounced to safety. With us one-nil up and 20 minutes left, Rivelino had the chance to finish it.

On his own just yards out, he shook his hips, sent the goalkeeper one way and casually sidefooted the ball the other, but past the post. Behind his moustache he tried to smile. His team looked on the point of homicide.

With an array of substitutes and ex-French, Italian and German pros few of us had heard of, the Rest of the World scored three in the remaining minutes. Rivelino slapped the serious-looking French referee around the face. The crowd went hysterical; Brazil left the field in uproar.

"Oh, that f***ing Rivelino," said the downcast manager to me with an impressive command of dressing-room vernacular. "How did he miss that one in front of goal?"

The rest of the team was equally upset but effusively thanked me. Whoever's fault it was they'd been humbled, it would never have occurred to them to heap anything but praise on "um goleiro inglês".
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