Ryan Butler’s Sporting Lists Episode 4: Number Two Goalkeepers


The old football analogy says that you need to build a solid spine to have a successful team. That means a player in each of the central positions in all three thirds along with the keeper. This spine should be a constant in every game of the season (or as many games as possible) and should be what you base your team around. Different parts of this spine should be easily filled if injuries occur, so you need reliable players to fill said positions. And that brings us to episode 4 of Ryan Butler’s Sporting Lists: The Best Number Two Keepers in the Premier League era.

A number two keeper in an ideal world will be a keeper who doesn’t mind being a number two, they know that on most occasions they will be on the bench and should they be called upon they need to impress. Nothing frustrates me more than teams who have two number ones and switch between keepers on multiple occasions. It isn’t good for the consistency of the team or the developments of the players in question. The best number twos are those for embrace their role and they need to be content, most number two keepers today aren’t content, and they publicly talk about wanting to be number one. However with that being said we are going to kick off the list with a keeper who has been both number two and one, and even back as a number two again today, so lets dive in.

3) Brad Friedel (Liverpool 1997-2000; Tottenham 2012-Present)

We start with everybody’s favourite American. Brad Friedel. A man who would have played in England a lot more in the 90s if he didn’t keep having a work permit rejected. Thank you home office! But when he finally secured one the beneficiaries were Liverpool who required a safe pair of hands in case Mr Calamity himself David James had a run of shockers. Friedel was a solid number two at Liverpool behind James and then towards the end of his Anfield reign, Sander Westerveld. In fact, his opportunities were limited with the American only managing 25 competitive games for the Reds but he used his three years to learn the English game and to develop himself into the number one that Blackburn Rovers and then Aston Villa saw in the years to follow. As a number one he broke records, appearances, clean sheets, consecutive minutes, Friedel did it all, and after he signed for Tottenham in 2011 he remained a number one before the signing of Hugo Lloris a year later. When he eventually passed down the mantel to the now settled Frenchman, Friedel again embraced his number two keeper status and didn’t just sit there and watch his career fizzle out.
No, he is now still playing even at the age of 43 when Tottenham need him. Along with that Bradley has started doing his coaching badges and even took a shot at punditry for the BBC during the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Friedel loves football, all you need to do is hear him in interviews, he wants to be apart of football for his whole life and I for one would love to see and hear the name Brad Friedel for many years to come.

After spells at Blackburn and Aston Villa as number one, Friedel is still going strong as a number two at the age of 43

2) Steve Harper (Newcastle 1993-2013)

Steve Harper spent 20 years at Newcastle United. He managed only 157 appearances. Was he good enough? Yes. Then why? And the answer, because he was seen as a number two keeper from the start and he excelled as a number two. Newcastle’s longest serving player was number two for three different goalkeepers. Pavel Srnicek (remember him?), Shaka Hislop and then Shay Given. Three extremely talented goalkeepers, especially Given, goalkeepers he complimented with his safe hands and athleticism in between the sticks.
The reason he is in this list is because of longevity. The longevity of his ability as a number two shows that it is ok to be second choice, if you are committed and good enough then you will be loved and successful anyway. When he retires Harper will look back at his career as a success or at least he should do. Primarily because he did his job and he did it well so what more could he ask for. Harper has played in the FA Cup Final of 1999, he has played in the Champions League, keeping clean sheets against the likes of Juventus, a major European footballing outfit. Should he be happy with his career? Of course. Even as long term number two he has achieved more than some of the Premier League number ones have throughout the years. And for that I welcome Steve Harper with open arms in the archives of Ryan Butler’s Sporting Lists.

So we have had two goalkeepers who embraced the number two role, they achieved and excelled when called upon. Who on earth could eclipse these two goalkeeping greats…well the BEST number two goalkeeper ever to grace the Premier League.

In his 20 years at Newcastle United, Harper was always there for his side when he was called upon

1) Raimond van der Gouw (Manchester United 1996-2002)

In 1996 Manchester United paid £500k for a 33 year old goalkeeper. In today’s money that is about double. Imagine if Manchester United went out and spent a million or just over on a 33 year old goalkeeper. It is just an insane prospect. But ask yourself, why? Why did the best team in England need to spend that much on a number two goalkeeper who was already nearing the end of his career. Quite simply. Experience. This was a man who had played over 300 games in Holland. A man who was 6ft 3 inches tall and was a mountain of knowledge and ability. Raimond was number two to the Great Dane Peter Schmeichel, one of the best goalkeepers football has ever seen let alone the Premier League.

One thing that I learned about Raimond when researching for this list, was that from his arrival till 98, he also coached and taught the youth goalkeepers that Manchester Untied had coming through the ranks. And here was I thinking I could not love this man any more! What is crazy is that due to the rule that to win a Premier League medal you must play 10 league games in a season, Raimond didn’t get his hands on a League winning medal until the 1999-2000 season, when after Mark Bosnich failed to impress, he was given a run of games for the majority of the season racking up 22 appearances, his most prolific year. He remained number one until United signed World Cup winning Frenchman Fabien Barthez in 2001 and remained number two despite the signing of Roy Carroll in the second half of that season.

Raimond left United in 2002 after becoming the oldest Manchester United player since the end of the Second World war. He left after only playing 61 competitive games for the Red Devils, winning two Premier League titles, an FA Cup and a UEFA Champions League winners medal. Not bad for a number two choice goalkeeper. Sir Alex Ferguson went on record after installing Raimond as number one following Bosnich’s decline that “Raimond can handle the bigger games. He gets around the area quickly so that gives him an advantage in the European games.”
He achieved so much with the best team in the country at the time and for that reason alone he is head and shoulders above other number two keepers. He helped other players with his experience and rightfully won things that most players don’t even get near to winning. I salute you Raimond van der Gouw.

Raimond van der Gouw won two Premier League titles in his six years at Manchester United.


There it is. The top three number two goalkeepers of the Premier League era according to Ryan Butler. I imagine you disagree, but these keepers embraced the tags and most importantly took their opportunities when given them to show how good they were as keepers.

Now for the quick list of the edition. I was thinking long and hard how to use goalkeepers in both lists. I decided for this, the best reserve keepers that England have had during the Premier League era. Here we go.

3) Ian Walker (1996-2004; 4 apps) – Walker was selected for many squads but never outshone others. Made a mistake for Zola’s goal at Wembley in the 98 World Cup Qualifying campaign. That’s about it.

2) Tim Flowers (1993-1998; 11 apps) – Flowers made it into the Euro 96 and World Cup 98 squads. He was more than a capable number two behind Seaman in that time. Very reliable keeper.

1) Nigel Martyn (1992-2002; 23 apps) – A prolonged England career as number two behind Seaman. He started a few games under Sven for the 2002 World Cup qualifying campaign when David Seaman was injured and was a more than able replacement.

And that completes the complete look at second choice keepers. Both domestically and internationally. All six keepers that appeared over the two lists are good keepers who could easily be the first choice keeper for your team. All are underrated in comparison to Schmeichel, Seaman, Cech, Van der Sar etc. But they are reliable between the sticks.

Don’t miss Episode 5 of Ryan Butler’s Sporting Lists next week when I chalk my cue and head to the practice tables to become snooker loopy.

Ryan Butler