28SPRING 2010Moments before kick off and the toss of a coin leads to a change of ends. The next time your heroes cross the halfway line to prepare for 90 minutes of combat, watch carefully.Do opposing strikers shake hands? Do full backs make a beeline for each other to wish 'Good Luck'? If not, then take note and witness a brief insight into the alliance that exists between the blokes with the Number '1' on their backs.Mike Pollitt is a fully paid up member of the Goalkeepers' Union. After 22 years as a pro, he understands why respect for your opposite number shines brightest amongst the 'keeping fraternity." We're part of our own Crazy Gang, I suppose. We're like drummers in a band, people think we're different; that we're daft in some way," said the keeper who at 38, knows a thing or two about what makes 'keepers tick. "And on the whole, they're right. We're a vital cog in the machine at a club, but everything we do is different. So the position attracts a different type of person."Mike knows that the vast majority of goals scored by his team have nothing to do with him. But like most keepers, conceding a goal leads to inevitable thoughts about whether he could or should have done better."You get to learn a lot about yourself and your teammates when you're in goal. And sometimes, you'll have plenty of time to think about it", said Mike as he ploughs through revision notes ahead of his latest exams for coaching qualifications.So, are goalkeepers wired up differently?Philosopher and professional goalkeeper, Albert Camus - one of the most celebrated thinkers of the 20th Century - solved some of life's greatest questions whilst keeping net, prompting his famous quote:"All that I know most surely about morality and obligations I owe to football." Camus' words are perhaps more celebrated than the doctrines of other goalkeeping philosophers - "If you stand still there is only one way to go, and that's backwards." (Peter Shilton) or "If you don't believe you can win, there is no point in getting out of bed at the end of the day." (Neville Southall).It's All In The HeadBut Mike - who carries the not-so-imaginative nickname of 'Polly' - admits that it's not only the fans who struggle to understand the dark art of goalkeeping. In 's 'View from the Bench' series, Wigan Athletic's Mike Pollitt suggests every team has "a Special One" - and it's nothing to do with Jose Mourinho!BenchView from theImage by Bernard Platt / courtesy of Wigan Athletic FC
From time to time, his teammates are equally guilty."At training, you're the first out and the last in. You're forever putting your head in where it hurts. That's why you'll spare a moment for your opposing keeper. He's the only one on the pitch who really understands what you do and what you go through each week. You both know that one minute you can be on top of the world and the next you're the loneliest man on the field when you've let a soft goal in."Other goalkeepers at any level, will know what I mean. In the same breath, those that don't put the gloves on, haven't got a clue!", said Mike, now in his 5th season at the DW stadium.Speed of ThoughtIt's the pace of the game - and more importantly, the speed of decision-making which has changed most since Mike made his league debut in front of a few hundred fans at Lincoln City's Sincil Bank on 26 September 1992."It's hard to explain what it's like when you've got the likes of Rooney, Drogba or Anelka bearing down on you. These guys are the best in the world; hitting balls that are like balloons at you at over 100 mph. It's definitely not getting any easier, that's for sure."It's the most crucial aspect of a keeper's game these days. The ability to make the right decisions quickly that sorts good keepers from great ones. You've got a split second to decide to come, to stay, to punch or parry."You can have the best hands in the world but if you're making rash decisions, you'll pay the price. At the same time, a moment's hesitation and you're dead. These days you get it wrong in a one-on-one and it's a penalty and you're red carded. "BackpassFor more than two decades between the sticks, Mike has seen significant changes in every aspect of the game."When I started, you could pick up a backpass and walk four steps with it! In the last ten years most rule changes to our game have been to do with goalkeeping."Few things have changed more than the quality of the opposition. Having started his career at Manchester United, he tried his lucky at nearby Oldham then Bury before establishing himself at Lincoln City four divisions below. And he didn't take the easy root back to the top, clawing his way up, through the likes of Rotherham, Darlington and Chesterfield before becoming Wigan's first signing as they arrived in the Premier League in 2005."It's not always easy warming the bench but me and Chris (Kirkland) get on great. I know him inside out and sometimes he gives off an impression of being quite sensible, but deep down I know he's just as daft as me."" You never know when you're going to be needed so you keep yourself in top shape."Father Figure"I'm the PFA rep and the younger lads know I'm always around to give advice or sort out any problems."As for his own ambitions, whilst playing behind an England international keeper can be frustrating, Mike is keen to play as many games as he can in the best league in the world."I spent years trying to get to the Premier League and you just don't walk away from that. I played against Man United at Old Trafford this season and although we lost, that occasion was worth 20 or 30 games to me in the Championship."All footballers strive to get to the highest level and once you're there it's difficult to walk away. I've played in every league and I know what it's like at the bottom. I appreciate everything I get now."One minute you can be on top of the world and the next you're the loneliest man on the field...Image by Bernard Platt / courtesy of Wigan Athletic FCSPRING 201029Keith Hackett's official answers to "YOU ARE THE REF" questions on page 27:1) Dismiss the complaints. As odd as it may seem, there's nothing in the laws to regulate the size of gloves: they simply need to be safe - so you'd base your decision on that. There are various rules about gloves - including the condition in some competitions that they can only carry one logo - but nothing to do with size. 2) Ignore what you've overheard. You're within your rights to change your decision before the restart, but can you really trust the player's comment - particularly when you don't have any corroborative evidence from your assistants? You need to be absolutely certain to overrule such a crucial decision, and hearsay doesn't add up to much - so stand by your original call.3) Make a representative from the home club remove the muck, and make the pitch, in your opinion, fit for play. You do have to consider any danger or risk to players, which includes issues around hygiene, but really, this is an over-reaction from the top-flight players. In my career I've had to have all sorts removed from pitches before games: and I remember vividly having to get a shovel out myself to move cow pats before one Sunday match.