Excerpt from “The Keeper of Dreams” by Ronald Reng

Sitting in the press-box it seemed to Keith Lodge, the reporter from the Barnsley Chronicle, that things were running an inevitable course. ‘Only Liverpool were playing now, and the pressure was getting unbearable. But whatever they did, Lars’ hands, feet and whatever body parts were in the way. When he saved again in the middle of the second half, I was suddenly quite certain: they’re not going to score. Because we all know those games. One team keeps on storming, while the other team has only one chance at goal and wins.’

On the pitch, Lars had the same sense. He stood in the eye of the storm and started to feel good. When he fetched a ball from behind the goal-line, he walked deliberately along behind the goal, right past the Liverpool fans. ‘Let one in, you fucking bastard!’ they shouted. Lars smiled at them.

The way I played with the fans was pretty coarse and provocative. I should never have allowed myself to be distracted like that. But I’d saved so many shots that I felt unbeatable. ‘Come on! Come on!’ I said to myself as Liverpool’s attacks rolled on. And all of a sudden, although nothing particular had happened, my feelings completely changed ten minutes before the end of the game. We can’t possibly be winning here, Barnsley in Liverpool, I thought all of a sudden. Surely something stupid’s going to happen to us. For heaven’s sake, just be sure you’re not the one who fucks up. Then I calmed myself down with the thought: a 1-1 draw would still be a good result. Don’t worry about letting a goal in, Lars, you’re allowed one mistake.

. . . The fans were still urging Liverpool ever onwards. In many stadiums the crowd derives some satisfaction from getting on their own team’s backs when things are going wrong. In Liverpool, they saved that option for the final whistle; over 30,000 people were still trying to roar the ball into the net. Midfielder Danny Murphy came on for defender Stig Björnebye, because why did Liverpool need any defenders? Murphy immediately fired off a lightning shot, 25 yards from the goal. When Lars went to catch the ball, the weight of the shot sprained his wrist. The pain would stay with him for weeks. But at least he had the ball. Barnsley defender Arjan de Zeeuw turned to his goalkeeper and clenched his fist. Lars understood. It meant: give everything you can.

Lars sent another goal-kick deep into the Liverpool half. . . . It was over. Barnsley had won in Liverpool, 1-0 at Anfield. . . . Lars grabbed defender Nicky Eaden in front of the supporters’ end, but Eaden pushed the German away. He was too exhausted to celebrate.

I wanted to do the works – parties, fiestas, a carnival in Liverpool. But the other players crept back to the dressing-room, heads hanging. They were that wiped out. The only one who came up to me was a steward. ‘Calm down,’ he said, ‘or you’ll drive the Barnsley fans completely wild.’ So I went to the dressing-room as well. There were only dead men sitting there. I went up to each of them. ‘Hey, hey, we won at Anfield!’ but they only groaned, ‘Leave me alone.’ That was the difference: as a goalkeeper you’re mentally exhausted but physically fresh; the other players were physically finished. Being the prince of the carnival all on your own isn’t a lot of fun, so I sat down on the bench beside them, rested my head in my hands and tried to enjoy my delight in peace. But quite honestly that isn’t my thing. I wanted to explode with joy. When we were on our way out of the stadium, some Liverpool fans smashed our windscreen with a brick, and I wanted to get out of the bus and chase after them. ‘You’ll stay right here!’ said the manager. I was completely wound up.


1 Comment

Filed under Literature, Non-Fiction, Sport

One response to “Excerpt from “The Keeper of Dreams” by Ronald Reng

  1. From the back cover:
    “At the age of 28, German goalkeeper Lars Leese was catapulted from a minor league football field somewhere near Cologne to a small industrial town in the north of England. Something of a culture shock, certainly, but nothing compared to finding himself in goal for Barnsley playing the mighty Liverpool at Anfield in front of over 45,000 spectators. Plucked from obscurity and playing in one of the most important leagues in the world, Leese experienced in real life what thousands of boys – and men – can only dream of: stepping out of the crowd and onto a premiership pitch.”

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