It all started with a Postman Pat skills compilation.
I’ve never published a write on April Fool’s Day, largely because I couldn’t come up with a premise that was silly, informative and not a waste of time for both the reader and me. But this April 1st, I was determined to change that.
I initially thought of writing about some of the weirdest goalkeeper jerseys ever, but the idea felt overused. A simple “weirdest goalkeeper jerseys” Google search brings up hundreds of thousands of results, including pieces by some of the biggest sports websites in the English world. I didn’t want to milk a dead cow for my first April Fool’s Day post, so I scratched the idea.
I then thought about analyzing some of the funniest goalkeeper mistakes in football history. After all, people love mistake compilations, right? But, that idea felt too cruel; it’s hard to laugh at another goalkeeper’s mistake when I, a goalkeeper myself, know what it’s like to mess up like that. So that idea was off the table.
But in my search for “funny football” moments, I came across the video that inspired this write: a “crazy goals, skills and assists” compilation of postman Pat Clifton, the star of the British stop-motion television show Postman Pat.
The video, created by the YouTube channel Decstar 123, highlights some of the postman’s best tekkers from the season 3 episode Postman Pat Goes Football Crazy, deep-fried and dubbed to obnoxiously loud music.
The video is meant to be a joke (obviously), but I was fixated on the goalkeeping of the character Jeff Pringle. My goalkeeping brain was focused on all of the little things in his game, like his positioning, set shape and focus.
Yes, I was overanalyzing a children’s cartoon. It felt silly … but it also felt fun.
Pretty soon, I was in a rabbit hole of soccer-centric episodes from other children’s TV shows, watching how other characters, from Pedro Pony in Peppa Pig to Clementine in Caillou, were making their mark on the art of goalkeeping.
After scrolling through what felt like an hour of footage, I finally had my premise: an analysis of what children’s TV can teach us about goalkeeping.
Switching to seriousness for a second, it should go without saying that these shows are not goalkeeping manuals — and I’m not trying to suggest that they should be used as such.
These shows are not accurate to real life. Their characters, be they stop-motion or 2D or 3D, move differently than we do and follow different laws of physics. For the most part, the characters’ actions do not translate well into real life.
On top of that, their situations are fictional and scripted. The producers know what they want to happen to their characters, whereas we don’t know what situations will befall us in the real world.
So if you want to learn to be a goalkeeper, speak to a goalkeeper coach or other goalkeepers about it. Do not use Postman Pat or Caillou or any other children’s show as your goalkeeping bible.
Back to the fun, I’ve compiled a list of some of the goalkeeping quirks and nuggets I picked up from cartoons like Peppa Pig, Postman Pat and Caillou — and broken down how they hold up to the goalkeeping of real-world professionals.
On this April Fool’s Day, let’s give the real goalkeepers a break from analysis and see just how educational our favourite (or least favourite) children’s TV shows actually are.
One of the first things that stuck out to me in the Postman Pat episode was Jeff Pringle’s set-shape.
As Julian Clifton, Pat’s 6-year-old son, lines up to take a practice penalty in the episode’s first goalkeeping scene, Jeff raises his hands to shoulder height and leans forward. He also keeps his upper body and palms facing Julian, his knees and elbows slightly bent, his weight distributed evenly across his body’s horizontal plane, and his feet shoulder-width apart.
I have to give credit to the show because this is a pretty accurate stance when compared to real life.
For one, real goalkeepers are advised to keep their knees and elbows slightly bent in their stance because it helps the goalkeeper generate power and explode into a strong save attempt. Think of their bent elbows and knees as compressed springs; they have more stored potential energy in them than unbent elbows and knees, and the release of that energy helps the goalkeeper ‘spring’ into a save attempt with more power.
Furthermore, real goalkeepers will normally position their bodies so that their chest is directly facing the opponent in possession of the ball. This way, they have a direct view of the ball-handler, and their body is well-positioned to react in any direction the opponent passes or shoots the ball in. (The latter point is helped by even weight distribution.)
Jeff’s feet position also mirrors real life. His feet are not positioned in a way that causes him to lean to his left side over his right and vice-versa, which means he’s well-suited to react to a shot to the best of his abilities no matter where that shot goes. And, because his feet are shoulder-length apart, he’s less likely to root himself to the spot (like what might happen with a wide set-stance.)
Finally, real goalkeepers will often keep their weight forward, similar to Jeff in this example. This is because a forward lean helps the goalkeeper make forward-angled dives. This lean is important because they prevent the goalkeeper from diving backwards and accidentally directing a shot into their own goal.
These are all aspects Jeff incorporates into his ready stance — and although it doesn’t result in a save on Julian’s practice penalty, it makes me think the 51-year-old dabbled in the art of goalkeeping prior to becoming a school teacher.
Another example of a decent set-stance can be seen later in the episode during the neighbourhood game.
In this scene, Sarah Gilbertson uses a rainbow flick to set up a half-volley attempt for herself. (Side note: Are we sure her name isn’t Gilbertsondinho?) But, her shot is saved by 11-year-old Bill Thompson.
We catch a glimpse of Bill’s set position right before he makes the save. Like Jeff, Bill’s feet are shoulder-length apart, his body weight is equally distributed across his horizontal plane, his knees and elbows are slightly bent, and both his chest and his palms are facing the shooter.
This stance indicates Bill is ready to react to any shot, even one as good as Sarah’s half-volley. And though there are some things in his diving technique he’ll want to buffer, he makes a really good save on the attempt thanks in large part to how he set himself up prior to the shot.
Had Bill approached the attempt with a different set-stance (wider base, leaning towards his right, body not square to the shooter, etc.), he most likely fails to make this save. So props again to the Postman Pat crew for getting the little details right in their goalkeepers.
Actually, I have to credit all of the shows I watched for how they animated their goalkeepers’ set-stances because I couldn’t find much fault in any of them.
In the Peppa Pig episode Bouncy Ball, for example, Rebecca Rabbit and Pedro Pony, the two goalkeepers, have largely good ready stances.
Actually, I have to credit all of the shows I watched for how they animated their goalkeepers’ set-stances because I couldn’t find much fault in any of them.
In the Peppa Pig episode Bouncy Ball, for example, Rebecca Rabbit and Pedro Pony, the two goalkeepers, have largely good set positions. (https://youtu.be/FS5-hw1FSYU)
They face their opponents head-on with their shoulders square to them, their weight is equally distributed across their bodies (neither of them is leaning to a side), their feet are shoulder length apart, and they’re positioned in a part of the goal where they have an equal chance of reacting to a shot to their left side or their right side.
The only suggestion I’d make is for Pedro to bend his elbows and knees. He’s looking as stiff as a statue with those straight arms and legs. If Rebecca can bend her arms and legs, surely he can too?
And in Caillou, most of the goalkeepers have nearly perfect set-stances. They have all of the attributes I’ve already mentioned, including slightly bent knees and elbows.
In fact, the show does a good job of showing how detrimental a poor stance can be. On one occasion, an unnamed goalkeeper in Caillou concedes a goal to his left side after leaning to their right side in their set-stance.
By leaning to their right side, the goalkeeper’s weight was unbalanced, and they had a hard time recovering to make legitimate a save attempt to their left side.
Granted, the goal were scored from point-blank range, so the goalkeeper should be cut some slack. But had they maintained a more balanced stance, the goalkeeper could’ve made a better attempt at stopping the goals, especially since their opponent took so long to shoot the ball.
The only significant difference between all of the set-stances is the hand placements. Some goalkeepers, like Jeff from Postman Pat, position their hands high near their shoulders; others like goalkeeper no.13 from Caillou keep their hands near their hips; and others still, like Rebecca and Pedro from Peppa Pig, keep their hands in front of their body as opposed to by their sides.
I’m not in a position to say which one is right and wrong; different goalkeepers have different preferences, and hand placement can be affected by factors like limb length, a goalkeeper’s height and where the ball is relative to the goalkeeper.
The only advice I’ve ever been told about hand placement is to keep my palms facing the attacker (because the palms offer the most control when parrying a shot, and provide a better cushion to catch the ball with than the knuckles or side of the hand); and to position my palms higher or lower relative to where the shot’s coming from and how close the shooter is (low ball/player’s closer to you = lower hand position, aerial ball/player’s further away = higher.)
So unless a goalkeeper is doing something completely extreme (hands stretched above head, for example), hand placement really comes down to personal preference and ball position. So it’s nice to see a wide variety of legitimate hand-placements across the shows.
The shows get As for set-stance, but how do they do when it comes to positioning?
One thing I noticed while watching all of these shows is that most of the goalkeepers in these shows positioned themselves pretty deep in their goals.
In the Peppa Pig episode, Rebecca Rabit and Pedro Pony were positioned between their two posts on where a goalline would be, and only left their line to make a save attempt (Pedro) or carry the ball down the field (Rebecca.)
In the Caillou episodes, the various goalkeepers largely kept themselves in the centre of their goal and within their makeshift 6-yard box (though it’s difficult to get an accurate read of where exactly due to the lack of a goalline and animation inconsistencies.)
And throughout the Postman Pat episode, Jeff Pringle keeps himself positioned very close to his goalline, at most just a step away from it.
In fact, the only goalkeeper to position himself high off of his line on a regular basis (in these shows, at least) is Bill Thompson, the goalkeeper on Postman Pat’s team.
This begs a discussion of how far away from their lines goalkeepers should position themselves; and like a lot of other technical goalkeeper questions, the answer depends on who you ask.
Some people, goalkeepers and non-goalkeepers, will tell you that goalkeepers should maintain a high position on average. This seems to be the reigning belief these days due in large part to the rise of the sweeper keeper and the ball-playing goalkeeper. Many of the sport’s top goalkeepers of recent decades, including Peter Schmeichel, Manuel Neuer and Ederson Moraes, play or played high off of their line.
But the problem with a high position is it leaves the goalkeeper exposed to getting chipped from long-distance or getting beaten by attempts that appear to have a low expected goals rate.
A high line in some situations, specifically on central shots from outside of the box, also does the goalkeeper more harm than good by minimizing the time the goalkeeper has to react in without actually cutting the angle down all that much.
It’s why these goalkeepers will sometimes get beaten by shots that have little business going in.
On the flip side, there’s the argument for playing deep in the goal. By positioning themselves closer to their line, a goalkeeper can maximize the amount of time they have to process a shot’s movement and make the required save attempt. It also prevents a goalkeeper from getting caught out by a long-range chip.
But this style is somewhat incompatible with how football is played these days. As mentioned earlier, this is the era of the sweeper keeper and the ball-playing goalkeeper, and goalkeepers are expected to be involved in the play more often than ever.
Offensively, goalkeepers are expected to keep the space between themselves and their defenders small and serve as an extra passing option; and defensively, they’re usually expected to position themselves in an area where they can make sweeps and interceptions without wasting time getting into those positions or getting into a footrace with an opponent to reach that space.
A deep-lying goalkeeper who takes himself out of these situations is almost anti-modern football, which is why those that play that style these days — Jan Oblak, David de Gea and Hugo Lloris — are often criticized for not coming forward to intercept crosses or make sweeps. They also seem to make more mistakes from ill-timed sweeps and aerial interceptions than the average goalkeeper.
My personal preference is the second category, but that’s largely because of my height. I’m shorter than the average goalkeeper — I’m only 5 ft 7 (1.70 metres) — so I’m usually at a disadvantage when I challenge for aerial balls, even if I give myself a head-start by taking a high position. Playing a high position also leaves me very susceptible to long-range chip shots and big bounces (which has burned me a lot in my youth.)
Given these factors, it doesn’t make sense for me to position myself high off of my line on an average basis. Sure, I’ll push forward when my teammates are on the offensive; but on defence, it makes more sense for me to stay near my line because the advantages of me playing near my line outweigh the disadvantages of me playing far from it.
But just because it works for me doesn’t mean it’s the best option for every goalkeeper. If I were mentoring a taller-than-average goalkeeper, for example, I’d probably encourage them to do the opposite of what I do. This is because, as a much taller goalkeeper, they’re less susceptible to getting chipped, beaten by a big bounce or overpowered in the air. They’re also more likely to get away with a slightly higher position on central shots because a shot is more likely to just hit their bigger frame than it is to hit my smaller frame.
Bringing it back to the goalkeepers in the show, I don’t think there’s anything right or wrong with their positioning for the most part. But, there is one instance of bad positioning that I want to highlight.
In the Postman Pat episode, there’s a moment when Bill steps forward to play a long pass. The pass is intercepted, but Bill remains in his advanced position.
Unfortunately for Bill, the ball is soon played forward to an opponent on his left side. The opponent shoots the ball first-time, and Bill can’t dive back in time to stop the shot.
In fairness to Bill, the play moves pretty fast after his pass was intercepted; it only took a second or so for the ball to go from the interceptor’s feet in their own half to the back of Bill’s goal.
But I think Bill shoots himself in the foot here by staying in his unnecessarily high position. Because he doesn’t retreat to his line after his misplaced pass, Bill leaves a lot of space between himself and his goal.
This might not have been too big of a problem had the shot come from the central part of the field, as Bill would still be covering large parts of the goal. But because the shot is from the side of the field, Bill’s high position means he’s barely covering any part of his goal. From the shooter’s perspective, he’s got an empty goal to aim at.
Bill is extremely vulnerable to a goal because of his high position. and the shooter knows it, which is why he attempts to exploit the space by shooting his shot first-time. Had Bill adjusted his position after the misplaced pass to be closer to his line, the shooter would have had less of the goal to shoot at, and Bill likely stops the attempt.
Before we move on to the final section, I do want to highlight some hypotheses I’ve made based on why the goalkeepers in these shows might position themselves the way they do.
In the Peppa Pig and Caillou characters’ case, it makes sense that the goalkeepers largely stay as deep in their goals as possible. The goalkeepers are kids between the ages of 4 and 6, and like most other kids that age, they’re probably afraid of getting hurt. So, they stay deep in their goal in order to avoid colliding with another player.
In Jeff of Postman Pat’s case, he was 51 years old when the episode aired in 2004, which means he grew up in the 1950s and 1960s, and was in his prime (mid- to late-20s) in the 1970s and early 1980s. This was an era when some goalkeepers started to play higher off their line, but the majority of goalkeepers (especially those from countries like Great Britain, where a goalkeeper was only expected to save shots) stayed close to their line. So, it would make sense that Jeff, who I’m convinced played goalkeeper in his younger days, is using the old-school style he grew up with.
As for Bill, he was 11 when the episode aired, so I think he was not as scared of getting hurt as the toddlers in Caillou and Peppa Pig. His age also means he grew up in the 1990s. That was an era where high positions were becoming more common among goalkeepers, especially some goalkeeping greats like Manchester United great Peter Schmeichel. Given Schmeichel spent most of his career in the 1990s and early 2000s in England, and given Postman Pat’s setting is on the border of non-metropolitan counties Cumbria and North Yorkshire (which isn’t far away from Greater Manchester), I think Bill might have modelled his game and his positioning off of Schmeichel’s.
Am I overthinking this a little? No — I’m overthinking it a lot. But it’s my headcanon now, and nothing anyone else says can change that.
Footwork and diving
Going back to the Bill Thompson goal I highlighted in the last section, one of the problems with Bill’s effort on the shot is his lack of proper footwork.
Although proper positioning is usually key to good goalkeeping, it can sometimes be saved by swift footwork. Keylor Navas, one of the world’s top goalkeepers, can vouch for this. As I’ve highlighted in the past, he’s far from a great positional goalkeeper, but he sometimes makes up for it with his incredible footwork.
Navas is a master of different footwork techniques, and he’s probably the swiftest goalkeeper in the game today, especially when it comes to lateral movement. He’s also so good at moving quickly in one direction, coming to a complete stop, and then accelerating in another direction.
Navas is art in (quite literally) motion, and because he’s so quick on his feet, he can recover from bad positioning and makes saves he didn’t seem capable of making a second or two ago.
Bringing this back to Bill, the young goalkeeper doesn’t try to readjust his positioning after the interception. He stays rooted to his high position even after the ball is played forward to the shooter, and he only follows the ball with his head. He doesn’t use his feet to try to stay square to the shooter, nor does he adjust his body to drop deeper into the goal. He stays stagnant, and it proves costly.
If I were Bill’s mentor, I’d probably get him working on some footwork drills in order to help nullify some of the disadvantages that come with playing his high-line style.
You know who’s one goalkeeper who doesn’t need to work on her footwork, though? Clementine, one of Caillou’s best friends.
In one of Caillou’s soccer episodes, the preschooler is put in goal of Caillou’s soccer team. She doesn’t have much to do in the episode; at one point she concedes a goal after she tries to handball-style save it, and for a while, that’s the only goalkeeping she does.
But after Caillou’s team scores the tying goal, an opponent volleys a shot towards Clementine’s goal. It’s a high shot with some spin on it — and Caillou, ever the supportive teammate (#sarcasm), lets out an audible “Oh no!” But Clementine catches the ball without any difficulty.
This is a pretty standard catch for any adult goalkeeper, but you have to give credit to the preschooler Clementine for not swatting at the ball or avoiding the shot entirely (like most preschoolers would.) It’s a good catch, and it was done in part because of some good footwork.
As the ball approaches her, Clementine uses her feet to readjust her positioning. She takes a short step to her right side, and then a short step to her left side, before catching the ball cleanly. These steps make sure Clementine is always in the best position to receive the ball based on where the ball is and where it’s going.
You’ll sometimes see young goalkeepers (and even a few adult goalkeepers) keep their feet rooted in place when handling air balls, and instead lean their body forward or to the side to make the catch. This is problematic because more often than not the goalkeeper isn’t in the best position to cleanly catch the ball due to the non-existent footwork, so they either completely miss the ball, or they only get part of the ball and the ball rebounds back into play.
So by using her feet to make adjustments as she processes the ball’s flight, Clementine is making sure she’s in the best position possible to catch the ball without fail. The small steps also have minimal effect on her balanced set-shape, so she’s able to move her body around without compromising her stance.
These little steps often go unnoticed even by regular football viewers, so I’m legitimately impressed that someone animated them into Clementine’s save attempt. Bravo, animator(s)!
Speaking of save attempts, I want to highlight a couple of diving save attempts from the Peppa Pig soccer-centric episode that I was kind of taken aback by.
In that episode, Pedro Pony belly-flop dives in Rebecca Rabit’s direction after she approached his goal to take a “shot” (and by “shot” I mean throw the ball into his goal.) In this instance, Rebecca hadn’t taken a “shot” yet before Pedro threw himself kamikaze-style towards the shooter.
(Pedro also does the same thing later in the episode when 2-year-old Richard Rabbit shoots on his goal, but I’m largely ignoring it because I see this as Pedro going easy on the younger Richard.)
There are a couple of points I want to make about Pedro’s save attempt.
Firstly, Pedro reacts way too early to Rebecca’s “shot.” Pedro’s already in the air before Rebecca has even gone into a shooting motion — and by the time Rebecca is in a shooting motion, Pedro is about to hit the ground.
In situations like this one — a 1-v-1 — the goalkeeper should force the shooter to make the first move, not the other way around. This way, the goalkeeper knows what’s coming — whether it’s a shot, a pass, a dribble, etc. — and they can react in an appropriate way.
But by throwing himself to the ground before Rebecca’s even thought of the kind of shot she wants to take, Pedro makes the decision for Rebecca, and all Rebecca has to do is wait for Pedro to hit the ground before throwing the ball over him and into his goal.
The second mistake Pedro makes is belly-flop diving at Rebecca and landing belly and chest first.
Firstly, there’s the football part of this error. The reason Pedro dives at Rebecca is probably because he wants to steal the ball from her hands or to cut down the angle.
The problem is there’s too much distance between Pedro & Rebecca for Pedro to get anywhere near the rabbit. As a result, he has no positive impact on the play — instead, he negatively impacts his chances of making the save by taking himself out of the play and giving Rebecca an open goal to shoot at (as mentioned earlier.)
Had there been less distance between the two of them, Pedro might’ve successfully impacted the scoring chance. But there wasn’t, so it was an odd footballing decision from him.
The second and more concerning thing for me is that this save attempt could seriously injure Pedro.
When most goalkeepers dive, they tend to land on the side of their bodies rather than their fronts or backs. Part of this has to do with the fact that the side of the body is more padded with muscle and fat than the front of the body.
What that means is a goalkeeper landing on the side of their body is less likely to seriously hurt themselves upon landing because their muscles and fat cushion their fall and protect their bones and important organs from the brunt of the impact.
(Pay attention to how many goalkeepers land on their side first in the video below.)
The big problem with Pedro’s dive is that he’s landing on the front side of his upper body, not his side.
This part of the body — the pelvis and the abdomen — isn’t padded as much as the sides of the body. It also houses a lot of vital organs and bones — the ribs, the lungs, the heart and the digestive organs — in vulnerable, less protected areas.
Because of their position in the body, bones like the ribs and the sternum are more vulnerable to fractures as a result of landing on the front of the body. Those fractures can take weeks to heal.
Furthermore, because of the proximity of vital organs like the liver, kidney, pancreas and the bowels, a belly-flop dive could cause trauma to those organs. This is especially a concern in children like Pedro because they have less abdominal fat and a relatively larger abdominal cavity.
It’s why people are encouraged not to belly-flop dive in swimming pools, so imagine what those experts have to say about belly-flopping onto the hard ground.
Even if the goalkeeper who lands on the front of his upper body doesn’t suffer a severe injury, they can still hurt themselves pretty bad.
For one, it’s easier to get ‘winded’ from these dives than from landing on the side. This is because of the diaphragm, a large, dome-shaped muscle below the lungs that is a key contributor to respiration — and getting ‘winded.’
When the abdomen takes a hard hit, there is trauma applied to the diaphragm. This trauma could cause temporary paralysis of the diaphragm, which makes it difficult to breathe for a few moments — although it can cause residual pain and lead to anxiety.
Even though the feeling of getting winded is usually temporary, it’s not a fun feeling. This is especially true when you’re a child who probably doesn’t know why you can’t catch your breath.
This is how getting winded could also have a psychological effect on the young goalkeeper. By getting winded from a dive, the young goalkeeper could become discouraged from diving and playing the position (and potentially sports) altogether.
Even if the goalkeeper avoids getting winded, it’s still a pretty uncomfortable dive. Even Pedro lets out an audible groan after belly-flopping on Sarah’s attempt — and his expression changes from happy to neutral after belly-flopping on the young Richard’s attempt.
Pedro could learn a thing or two about diving from Jeff Pringle. Throughout the Postman Pat episode, Jeff makes three diving save attempts — and all three times, Jeff lands on the side of his body.
There’s even a save attempt where Jeff gets caught off-guard by a weird bounce and looks like he’s going to land on the front of his body, but he twists his body enough to land on the side of his body.
(OK, seriously, what level did Jeff play at prior to becoming a teacher? Surely he was at least a semi-pro goalkeeper in his prime?)
Pedro is fortunate he didn’t injure himself on his dive (or more accurately, the writers didn’t injure him.) But if he continues belly-flop diving like he did in this episode, sooner or later he’s going to get himself seriously hurt.
This is why it’s important to teach children proper diving techniques. The earlier they understand how to safely dive for a shot, the less likely they are to hurt themselves and the more likely they are to develop the confidence needed to dive without fear of injury.
Overall, I have to say I’m kind of impressed by the goalkeeping that I saw in Postman Pat, Caillou and even Peppa Pig. Even though the shows had some key flaws, they also had some somewhat accurate examples of goalkeeping that mirrors real life. (Seriously, where can I buy a Jeff Pringle jersey?)
Could these shows ever be used as training manuals? No, don’t even think about it. I’m scoffing at myself for even writing that question. But, for families with kids who like goalkeeping, I think these episodes could be used as good starting points for discussions.
Good job, children’s TV! Maybe you’re not as doomed as I thought you were.
Mouhamad Rachini is a journalist and goalkeeper enthusiast. You can find him on Twitter via @BlameTheKeeper.