NEAR POST: Literary Goalkeepers – Albert Camus, Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle & Vladimir Nabokov

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I came across an interesting blog post today, whilst doing some research on Albert Camus and Racing Universitaire d’Alger (as you do).

Entitled ‘Writers, doctors, goalkeepers‘ and posted to the UCL SSEES Research Blog this time last year, Tim Beasley-Murray writes about the UCL German Department’s research project in the ‘medical inhumanities’, doctors who were also writers, and, more pertinently for No Standing, writers who were also goalkeepers.

Here, I quote liberally from the text of the blog:

“[The article makes] reference to the curious phenomenon of goalkeepers who are also writers (or perhaps better: writers who sometimes played in goal). Here, too, it is easy to see the grounds for this: while the rest of his team rushes about outfield, it is the goalkeeper who has the time between his sticks to think and to dream. As the Slovene-Austrian writer, Peter Handke (1942- ) suggests in his wonderfully entitled Novelle of 1970, The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick (well, it sounds better in German), the solitariness of the goalkeeper has a forcefully existential dimension that can easily result in a turn to literature.

Famous figures in the tradition of writer goalkeepers include Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle (Scottish, 1859-1930) who kept goal for Portsmouth Association Football Club and is the member of a very exclusive club of writers who were both physicians and goalkeepers, and, of course, Albert Camus (French, 1913-1960). Camus was goalie for the Racing Universitaire d’Alger, winning the North African Champions Cup and the North African Cup twice each in the 1930s. When asked later about his time as a goalkeeper, Camus declared proudly:

After many years during which I saw many things, what I know most surely about morality and the duty of man I owe to sport and learned it in the RUA.

The Russian writer Vladimir Nabokov (1899-1977) was an excellent all-round sportsman, at times earning his living as a tennis and boxing coach and, while at Trinity, Cambridge, playing in goal for the College. (He was, of course, also a zoologist and a lepidopterist and much has been said about his particular alliance of the sciences and the humanities.) The last word, then, goes to Nabokov in his autobiographical Speak, Memory:

As with folded arms I leant against the left goalpost, I enjoyed the luxury of closing my eyes, and thus I would listen to my heart knocking and feel the blind drizzle on my face, and hear in the distance the broken sounds of the game, and think of myself as of a fabulous exotic being in an English footballer’s disguise composing my verse in a tongue nobody understood about a remote country nobody knew. Small wonder I was not very popular with my team-mates.”

Tim Beasley-Murray is Senior Lecturer in European Thought and Culture at UCL-SSEES.

Albert Camus

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“All that I know most surely about morality and obligations I owe to football.”

Albert Camus (1913-1960)