I think that we can all agree that it would be extremely strange to see a professional goalkeeper plying his trade without a pair of specialist goalkeeping gloves protecting his hands. However, there was a time, not so long ago, when it would have been extremely strange to see a keeping sporting anything on his hands.
The first murmur of the goalkeeper glove arose as far back as 1885, before the Football League was even officially formed. A British businessman, William Sykes, who was a well-known football manufacturer, applied for a patent on a glove made from Indian rubber, which was said to protect the keeper’s hands from injury. However, while the patent was accepted, Sykes ultimately decided against manufacturing his invention.
It was a long while before keeper gloves were finally manufactured, but it was clear that they were both wanted and needed. For example, while far from a glove, Arsenal’s keeper Jack Kelsey, who turned out for the side throughout the 1940s, was known to rub chewing gum on his palms before games, in order to improve his grip.
When Gordon Banks sported a pair of thin cotton gloves at the 1970 Mexico World Cup, the practice was seen as odd and unnecessary. It is likely that England’s best ever goalkeeper had taken the idea from Argentine Amadeo Carrizo, a goalkeeping pioneer who sported gloves throughout his time at River Plate during the 1940s and 1950s. Although, cotton was far from ideal, particularly in bad weather, and often made it hard to keep hold of the ball.
As football entered the late 1960s and early 1970s, more and more keepers started wearing gloves during matches. Although, with no specialist equipment on the market, most resorted to donning a pair of gardening gloves.
It wasn’t until 1974 that they were eventually mass produced. Reusch, a company that still produces gloves and other sporting goods to this day, worked alongside German keeper Sepp Maier to create the first ever specialist goalkeeper glove. Unsurprisingly, Maier went on to win the 1974 World Cup with the West Germany national team.
Although, while designed specifically to suit a keeper’s needs, the gloves were still extremely basic. Over the next decade, the sport worked together to find the best solution to protect the men between the sticks. A number of different materials were trialled until they eventually arrived at the latex foam variation, which is still used today, sometime around 1980.
Many additions and alterations have since been made, and goalkeepers can now rest assured that their gloves will stop their wrists and fingers bending backwards and improve their grip, without restricting their movement or reducing their flexibility.
There are even gloves designed to support keepers who have sustained hand injuries. For example, Bayern Munich shot-stopper Manuel Neuer confounded football fans back in 2013 when he turned out for a Bundesliga game wearing a three-fingered glove. The odd design left fans confused at the time, but it had actually been ingeniously invented to protect a finger that he had injured during an earlier training session.
With a host of major sportswear companies now trying to get in on the action, goalkeepers have a wide variety of gloves to choose from – from the traditional flat-palm, to the comfortable negative cut, to the bulky roll finger glove. Of course, all these now come in a number of different colours and designs, branded with a range of different logos, to suit your every aesthetic need. Long gone are the days of thin cotton and garden gloves.