Gary Sprake.

Now, I doubt any of you will know you this is. But on April 3rd 1945 [making him now 63] Gareth Sprake was born in Swansea [Wales]; a goal keeper who played for his country but also made 381 appearances for Leeds United before a further 30 for Birmingham City within his 13 year career.

Of course I’m not going to go on about every goal he’s ever saved or missed or had the misfortune of screwing up, nah, I’m just going to focus on one moment that seems to have become his ‘career definition’. Originally, this was going to be supported by a video of it but youtube doesn’t have it and I can’t find it online, but hey, let’s go with the flow as it is.

He’s well known as a good keeper who simply makes a few carless mistakes along the way, but I’m only going to tell you about my favourite one.

Let’s set the scene that in the season of 1967/1968 four clubs were trying to be top of the league championship; Leeds United, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United. The two ‘L’ teams are really fighting for glory as they arrive in a head to head battle in which Liverpool win 2-0, although…it may have been a bit different if Sprake hadn’t done IT.

I suppose by now you assume it was either own goal, drastic miss or maybe simply he allowed it in…well, I find the tale a little more interesting.

The match took place at Liverpool’s home ground of Anfield upon December 9th 1967; snow lightly covered the ground, maybe he could have used slippery gloves as an excuse, but both teams were ready to fight for their glory.

2 minutes to half time and Leeds’ struggle is obvious. Jack Charlton [Leeds] passed the ball back to Sprake on the edge of his goal area leaving Liverpool to reassume their positions and Sprake to begin work upon the pass [to Terry Cooper] that had been practiced and perfected a million times before.

This time though there was a problem as Ian Callaghan [Liverpool] edged towards Cooper, a move barely caught in the corner of Sprake’s eye and had to think quick, knowing the risk of a pass to Cooper. His intentions were to clutch the ball to his chest, adjust his position and get the ball clear with a little more safety.

And I feel only the words of journalist Eric Stanger can do this justice:

"When he carried on with his throw the ball, instead of leaving his gloved palm near the top of the arc, stayed there for one split second and, on being released, it sailed over his left shoulder into the net."

It is often said that referee Jim Finney missed the whole incident and resorted to asking Charlton what should be done concerning the situation on top of what had happened. The man simply replied with a typical dry humour:

“'I think the silly so and so has thrown it in his own net; you'll have to give a goal.”

Sprake simply wished for the ground to swallow him whole, his body rooted to the spot as the despair-of what felt like an eternity-flooded through his veins and very existence.

That truly went down in history. His career defining moment.

Well Done Ol’ Boy.
Posted on August 15th, 2008 at 06:25pm

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