Michael Walker: Chelsea never stood a chance against Caoimhin Kelleher

Sure, wasn’t it an Irish goalkeeper who came up with the penalty-kick in the first place?

Had they thought about it, Chelsea would have realised Kepa Arrizabalaga never stood a chance. As his penalty-kick took flight into the darkening Wembley night like some private jet absconding, only to land in the arms of a horde of jubilant Liverpool fans, the Chelsea goalkeeper, his manager Thomas Tuchel and the west London club might have reflected that with Caoimhin Kelleher up against them, it was never going to end well.

Sure, wasn’t it an Irish goalkeeper who came up with the penalty-kick in the first place?

In Co. Armagh William McCrum may not have turned in his grave, but the man who brought the world penalties might just have given a little thumbs-up at the drama of last Sunday's League Cup final. McCrum was a theatrical man himself, as well as a pioneer footballer.

As a player for Milford in the very first Irish League in 1890-91 - aged 25, four years after graduating from Trinity College - McCrum gradually grew incensed by the lawlessness of the early form of the blossoming sport. It was fair game for goalkeepers in particular to be whacked by some thinking they were still playing rugby.


McCrum didn’t like it, felt it was unsporting. These were fouls in his view and they required punishment. There had to be some form of penalty.

So he came up with the idea of the unchallenged kick along a line twelve yards from goal. No line had previously existed there, so McCrum was proposing a change to the very nature of the game, its structure, its geometry and most importantly its sense of democracy. Those who had ruled by custom would now be sanctioned by law.


It was a revolution and, as you can imagine, the people who preferred convention and tradition - this was Victorian Ireland and Britain - stated their views loudly. At the International Football Association Board meeting of 1890, McCrum’s proposed innovation was dismissed as “the Irishman’s motion”. Some called it the death penalty.

But McCrum didn’t go away, you know. He waited; and while he did the last eight of the FA Cup saw Notts County defeat Stoke City 1-0 because an unpunished handball on the line denied Stoke an equaliser. There was uproar. Surely this was foul play, surely there should be a penalty for this kind of behaviour?

In Armagh, William McCrum had the solution in his hands. He had the support of the Irish Football Association, too, and in Glasgow three months after the FA Cup final, which Notts County lost, the hitherto scorned Irishman’s motion was submitted again. This time it was adopted, its sporting credentials now obvious even to reactionaries.

Thus the Irishman’s motion became Law 14 of the Game. So it remains. Football would never be the same again.

Kelleher also spoke - on the Wembley turf - and his interviews could be described in a word as authentic

Time-travel forward to February 2022 and an engaging and seriously talented young man from Cork felt the benefit of McCrum’s thoughtfulness. Kelleher was unable to save any of Chelsea’s penalty-kicks but the 23 year-old drilled his into the corner like the former Ringmahon Rangers No. 9 he was once. A young Irish keeper completing what William McCrum started? It felt like one of those little circular marvels of history.

There were other impressive moments on Sunday from Kelleher - his composure when he had the ball at his feet and Chelsea tried to press. Kelleher stayed calm; he looks a natural.

“In a spectacular penalty shoot-out, he showed the whole range of his skill-set,” Jurgen Klopp said.

Kelleher also spoke - on the Wembley turf - and his interviews could be described in a word as authentic. There was nothing affected, nothing false in his demeanour and as Arrizablaga’s penalty-kick continued to soar and Chelsea’s world continued to churn, authenticity mattered more and more.

Red Army

As Liverpool's Red Army digested Kelleher's performance and the club's first domestic cup for a decade, Roman Abramovich was considering another Red Army, the one heading for Kharkiv and Kyiv. Chelsea's notorious benefactor delivered a statement containing ownership tap-dancing but the move did not spin Abramovich far enough away from public distaste at rich men's cynical economics.

These offshore patriots, who stoke national resentments while squirrelling their money into the Isle of Man or Dublin or the ongoing financial trick that is Switzerland, have been wrong-footed by Vladimir Putin’s mad bloody turbulence. Their smooth takeover of London and other European cities is suddenly in jeopardy.

Their approach had filtered into football, first with Abramovich, and led this entitled elite into preposterous escapades such as last year's European Super League piffle.

The money Abramovich chiselled out of old Soviet Russia made modern Chelsea and trophies were won and great players were bought. But it was their triumph, their joy, it was not shared. There was admiration for individual talents - Jose Mourinho, Didier Drogba - but it was grudging.

It is the same with Manchester City. They have Pep Guardiola and Kevin De Bruyne but you can’t see the wood for the money. And the reason is related to authenticity.

Hence we ask why Abu Dhabi is in Manchester, why Saudi Arabia is in Newcastle, why Qatar is in Paris, why Abramovich was in London? For football? Do us a favour.

Real sport

Arsene Wenger got plenty wrong but he was right when he came up with “financial doping”. It is no different to our dismay at what cycling became. We want sport, real sport. William McCrum was spot on.

You saw it the last time Chelsea genuinely received widespread praise. It was when their fans noisily protested against the ESL breakaway last April outside Stamford Bridge. Here was an organic response to a contrived product. It was a display of authentic feeling.

Chelsea supporters were applauded; the owners of clubs from Juventus to Real Madrid to, yes, Liverpool, were embarrassed.

Those fans helped win the day, if not the war, because the ESL motion never went away and now it’s back. Even as Ukraine focuses minds on how the global financial system has been gamed by a few, to the extent Abramovich has fled Chelsea, the ESL crew plot on. It could make you shout at clouds.

We should be vigilant, stress again that wherever there is foul play it must be punished. We can’t forget McCrum.

We can’t forget Irish goalkeepers. At Liverpool’s training ground a freshly-painted face appeared this week on their goalkeeper mural. It belongs to Kelleher, on one side of a silver trophy. On the other is Elisha Scott. Scott came from Belfast and played a mere 468 times for Liverpool. He became the first true hero of the Kop. He is an authentic football legend. He started as a striker.