Home / Volley / Global Football / The legacy of “Spider-Man”: How ESPN got it wrong on Carter’s contribution to goalkeeping

The legacy of “Spider-Man”: How ESPN got it wrong on Carter’s contribution to goalkeeping

“The way [David] De Gea reacted to Luis Muriel’s header was almost like Spider-Man,” the BT Sport presenter said at the halftime interval of Sevilla’s Champions League clash with Manchester United last Wednesday. The Spaniard was in fine form, making several impressive saves to deny a dangerous-looking host team and the commentary team was effusive in their praise.

The mention of “Spider-Man” is clearly appropriate in De Gea’s case but the alias is already taken.

Photo: Manchester United goalkeeper David De Gea flings himself at the ball.
(Copyright Sports Ration)

Three goalkeepers from the CONCACAF and CONMEBOL regions come immediately to mind but it is ex-Trinidad and Tobago shot-stopper Earl Carter rather than Columbia’s René Higuita or Paraguay’s José Luis Chilavert who has earned the superhero moniker.

The eccentric Columbian, nicknamed “El Loco,” dazzled spectators for years with his acrobatics between the sticks while the colourful and charismatic Paraguayan, whose nickname was “El Buldog,” distinguished himself with his dead ball accuracy. But in their heyday neither was a more confident or a more attractive custodian than “El Hombre Arana,” Spider-Man, the Trinbagonian who brought great joy to football fans at home and in the region with his back flips and his sideways flips and with the genuine courage and flair he displayed between the uprights.

Today, the now 62-year-old man who was still playing in the local leagues when he was given his “Spider-Man” moniker by a gentleman he remembers only as “Hound,” spends most of his time coaching in New Jersey. However, the former perpetual-motion goalkeeper is also these days devoting some of his time to trying to get FIFA recognition as being the originator of a few techniques he used back in the 1970s and 80s. His concern stems from a recent ESPNFC article, which suggested that Manchester City’s Brazilian custodian, Ederson, was re-inventing the role of the goalkeeper.

Liaising with FIFA on Carter’s behalf is overseas-based coach Trevor Simon, also known as “Trainer.” However, both the former high-flyer and his agent have come up against the same problem, the fact that “the archiving system in Trinidad and Tobago is very poor.”

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago goalkeeper Earl “Spiderman” Carter (right) braces for a United States effort while teammates Paul Elliot-Allen (left) and Brian Williams look on during the 1990 World Cup qualifying series.

“FIFA said they can acknowledge it as the Earl Carter technique,” Carter told Wired868, referring to the practice of deliberately patting down the ball before taking it on the second attempt. But not without proof. And it has so far proven impossible to find video footage of him using the “pat down” technique in the 1970s. At the moment, Carter is seeking to strengthen his case by trying to get hold of footage of the 1974 CONCACAF Youth Tournament.

He recalls that it was during a keenly contested match against Costa Rica in that tournament that he first unveiled the technique on the international stage.

Alvin Corneal was the coach of the T&T team at that 1974 tournament, where a colourful Carter first announced himself to the host country Canada and the rest of the world. Corneal and Carter’s teammates were used to the move by then but the referee was not. In T&T’s opening game of the tournament, when Carter patted down a goal-bound effort, the ref blew his whistle and awarded the Costa Ricans an indirect free kick.

“I stopped that as well,” Carter told Wired868, “even though it was from point-blank range.”

“I am the greatest, I am the best,” he later used to affirm loudly during his pre-game warm-up routine, following the lead of boxing’s Muhammad Ali, his idol. “Wherever the ball goes, my hands come next.”

On the basis of that 1974 tournament, it was no idle boast since, on the final day, the brash young shot-stopper who had made something of himself despite his very humble beginnings walked away with the top goalkeeper award.

Photo: Former Trinidad and Tobago goalkeeper Earl Carter smiles while at the famous New York Cosmos in 1979.

According to him, he discovered the technique by accident one day when he was training on his own at Mt St Benedict in St Augustine. He kicked the ball against a wall and, when it came back to him at high speed, he instinctively patted it down instead of trying to hold on to it.

And so the “pat down” technique was born.

“Who threw that ball?” Carter would ask sarcastically, after gathering a shot on the second attempt. “Who threw that ball?”

Corneal, who was also coaching him at Maple at that time, is in no doubt that Carter is the most athletic keeper he has ever seen in a T&T shirt. But he is not prepared to say that Carter invented the “pat down”—that honour, he suggested, should go to former national custodian Gerald Figeroux, a standout between the sticks in the 1960s. However, he adds that Carter’s mastery of the technique was unparalleled.

“Figeroux used to pat the ball down,” Corneal told Wired868, “but it wasn’t as confident as Earl Carter […] [Earl] would just put his hands on it and let it fall as though there was nothing in the shot. He did that very well. All his techniques were in place. His body was behind it, the palms of his hands were always behind the ball so he didn’t make mistakes that way.”

According to Corneal, he did make other kinds of “mistakes,” largely because of the risks he took.

Photo: Ex-Trinidad and Tobago national coach and stand-out player Alvin Corneal.
(Courtesy www.royalgazette.com)

“He was not a great user of the ball on the ground with his feet,” Corneal explained, “and there was never the possibility of me wanting him to play the ball out to the right wing-back or left wing-back. Out of three times, he would have done it wrong once and that would have brought the possibility of a goal.”

“Not that he was bad at doing it,” the former national standout continued, “but I didn’t like the risk. He could kick the ball, he could throw the ball. Why are you not wanting to pick it up and get it out of your hand?”

Eddie Hart, founder of the minor league that grew into the country’s largest and longest-lasting, was Carter’s early coach at Tacarigua United. Hart confirms that Carter was always something of a showman when between the uprights.

More significantly, he has no doubt that Carter was the first goalkeeper he saw using the “pat down” move.

“There will be a lot of arguments, like about who was the first man to play a tune on the pan. You will hear Spree Simon was the first, then you will hear it wasn’t him…

“But he was the first person I saw doing those things,” Hart told Wired868, rating Spider-Man as “the best T&T goalie hands down.”

Corneal ranked his distribution with his hands as second-to-none. Hart agreed.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago goalkeeper Earl Carter (top right) played alongside iconic Brazil footballer Pelé for the famous New York Cosmos.

“I did not see anyone display that sort of skill to collect the ball and get it out to the flanks quickly and with [such] pinpoint accuracy,” he said.

Carter insisted to Wired868 that goalkeepers did not habitually pat down shots from opposing attackers while he was playing. Nor did they, he added, generally toss the ball out to the flanks to initiate counter-attacks. His javelin-like throws, he noted, were used to reach his attack-minded players near the halfway line or beyond.

“I looked at Gerald Figeroux,” Carter said. “He used the half-volley as his form of distribution. He would more or less use the half-volley to find players. I looked at Peter Shilton in the late 70s. I always wanted to be different so I looked at them to compare myself to them.”

“Wherever you wanted the ball, you would get it,” he added with a chuckle, referring to his own raking throws. “You want it on your thighs, chest or feet?”

He also pointed out that keepers started using their feet more after FIFA changed the rules to sanction custodians for picking up the ball after having placed it on the ground in 1982. According to him, that was what led to the expansion of what he called “sweeper” keeping.

Photo: Former Trinidad and Tobago national coach Edgar Vidale (left) receives a prize from ex-England Premier League forward Jason Roberts during a TTFA event on 19 April 19th 2017.
(Copyright CA-Images/TTFA)

Former national senior team coach Edgar Vidale, who oversaw Carter at senior level for some time in the 1980s, ranked “Spider-Man” among the best goalkeepers of his time. However, although he was silent on both the “pat down” and the “sweeper keeping” issues, he rates Carter among the best as far as distributing the ball with his hands was concerned.

The long goalkeeper throw was in use before Carter, Vidale offered, but Carter’s throws were impactful bombs.

“I could recall one or two fellahs (who used the long throws before him),” Vidale told Wired868. “They weren’t at the national or international level […] but Carter did bring a new aspect of attacking. He was very powerful. […] We call it a javelin throw because it’s quick, it’s low, it’s fast. It was like a cricketer’s throw or a bowling throw.

“Carter was strong in his shoulders so he mastered the javelin throw.”

Bringing a somewhat different perspective on Spider-Man as a custodian was Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) Refereeing Department head Wayne Caesar. Caesar saw Carter as opponent, having played against him a few times.

“He was very confident,” Caesar recalled. “Few people had the confidence he displayed. It did not matter who he was coming up against, he was confident that you could not score; in his mind, he was the best.”

Photo: Legendary former Trinidad and Tobago goalkeeper Lincoln “Tiger” Phillips makes an effort to get at a low shot while saving for the Baltimore Bays in the 1968 NASL season.

Not quite, the footballing official demurred. He explained that, in the healthy 1980s battle for the status of number one between the sticks, Spider-Man had often had to give way to Michael “Brow” Maurice but, in his book, only Figeroux and Phillips would rate above Carter.

“I wouldn’t put him in the same bracket as Lincoln [Phillips],” Caesar said. “As far as I’m concerned, Lincoln is the best goalkeeper to pass through Trinidad and Tobago. Lincoln was an exceptional keeper.”

All in all, so, it seems, was Carter. What is beyond dispute is not just his quality between the uprights but his extreme courage, confidence, agility and athleticism, his absolute command of his penalty area and his flair for the theatrical.

“It was as though the goalkeeping position was tailor-made for him,” Hart said. “Whenever Earl was in the posts, we were extremely confident as a team.”

Corneal called him “one of the outstanding ones,” “a comedian [who] made the game easy to look at” and “definitely […] an asset to TT football.”

Photo: Iconic former Trinidad and Tobago goalkeeper Earl “Spiderman” Carter.

There is little doubt that football in Trinidad and Tobago today would be the big winner if we could produce another goalkeeper with the combination of skills with which Earl “Spider-Man” Carter was blessed.

And maybe then both Manchesters, Ederson’s City and De Gea’s United, might turn their—and other people’s!—eyes towards T&T.

About Roneil Walcott

Roneil Walcott
Roneil Walcott is an avid sports fan and freelance reporter with a BA in Mass Communication from COSTAATT. Roneil is a former Harvard and St Mary's College cricketer who once had lofty aspirations of bringing joy to sport fans with the West Indies team. Now, his mission is to keep them on the edge of their seats with sharp commentary from off the playing field.

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43 comments

  1. He was good. But Kelvin Barclay was better..

  2. As much as I applaud your initiative to applaud our country Lasana Liburd I think it’s unfair to say he was better than Jose Chilvert

    • First up, I didn’t write the story. Roneil Walcott did. But I don’t think Roneil said that either. He said that Carter had a flashier style.
      I was pretty young when Carter was in his heyday but I can’t argue that he is one of the more flamboyant goalies that I have seen.

  3. It’s a shame that Trinidad and Tobago have such problems in storing great past events. However CONCACAF or Haiti should have saved clips of the 1974 CONCACAF World Cup qualifing series.

  4. Love both of them but #1lincoln #spider-man

  5. I fed up with Tobago cry cry attitude, go nah, like all yuh doh no how small states does sketch dey ass.

  6. Great article Roneil. You are truly turning out to be a great investigative reporter.

  7. As usual an excellent article for one so young. This guy could do any toothpaste ad. The first thing that struck me was “Where did he get those perfect gleaming white teeth? He had every right to boast about them. I am enjoying the comments.

  8. THAT’S IN TRINIDAD ONLY…TOBAGOIANS NEVER HAD THE OPPORTUNITY TO DISPLAY TALENT SUPREME….UNTOUCHED…I’m dead already

  9. It was a pleasure to meet one of our bestest Coaches and Lecturer Prof Alvin Corneal while in the mall and he really had some good and very interesting things to say about our nowadays football players and why our football is in the state that it is in and how it can be fixed starting with our wanna be Coaches learning and then teaching the beautiful game to our youngsters amongst other things…….BOOM

  10. He taught me lots as a youth, when I had to become a GK

  11. Carlos Lee like you forget what happened when the steel pan wasn’t patented or wha eh well the Japanese or was it the Chinese surely did that for us eh so continue to not patent what Alyuh invented nah Them really good yes

  12. Hannibal Najjar

    Earl “Spiderman” Carter shared some great games and years as a teammate of mine. Let me say a few things – confidence was never short in this medium frame custodian. Sometimes I am glad that “Spiderman” or, Spidey” was even one inch taller for with each increment in height that could make him physically taller, so would have gone, his confidence too. He wasn’t boastful; wasn’t arrogant; simply full of a deserving. We played together in Maple and later with ASL Sports Club. Apart from his pride of boasting to possess the whitest teeth on the God’s planet, Spiderman, was never short of confidence for what he did and was cap[able of doing between the uprights. His presence in our goal gave me the best ever counterattacking feeling of any goalkeeper that ever stood behind me. Lincoln Phillip’s book, “The Last Line of Defense, and the First Line of Attack”, had to have Earl “Spiderman” Carter in his mind when he wrote it. His rating by me includes many a review of very good goalkeepers before, during, and after my playing years. Though they may not been touted to be at the top of the greatest goalkeeper list in T&T, the solidly safe pairs of hands of Brian Bain and Ian Garcia of QRC and Belmont Secondary respectively, that brought Essex Sports Club much successes have to take second place behind Spidey. That Essex team especially of 1976, with the likes of Sammy Llewellyn, Bobby Banfield, Jeffery Seales, Borpon (David), Courteny Sandy, myself and others were very fortunate to have such good goalkeepers. They were as solid as they did come in that mid-to-late 70’s era. What was even better about Earl Carter, than his counter-attacking abilities was his assurance of 1. nothing could pass him, and 2. he would collect the ball and almost before he fell to the ground, after stealing what most thought were sure goals, he was reshaping and recoiling his body to uncork a lethally pinpoint-accurate long throw that would catch defenders on the wrong side of what would be considered, good goal-side defending. His tremendous understanding of the game as it is played by his field players was also seen as he would carve out the best (trajectory and speed) throws that would fall right onto the path of his strikers and out of the frustrating reaches of the oppositions’ defenders. Further, Carter’s understanding of each of his teammates’ respective abilities were met with a matching long throw – he understood who could pluck the ball (in Messi-like fashion) out of the air and who needed it on their slanted chest or arriving foot to facilitate a wedge trap. In addition, Earl Carter, in my opinion, had the greatest spirit that a teammate could want in their custodian. Earl Spiderman Carter, you were a joy to play the Beautiful Game with, for, you were beautiful yourself, style and personality. The best thing that has happened to you was that, you never played against me, and you knew that, whether left or right, the thunder and when needed, swerve, were always too much for you in our practices. Hey friend, remember when you thought that you could hurt me while in an ASL practice at the Woodbrook Youth Center, and you came out bleeding with your very own strike? Remember doing that and you took off with blood oozing from your forehead? But, don’t feel too bad, Spidey, “Arab,” Ralph Nelson had a similar experience as an opponent in an NFL game at the famed, PSA field on Long Circular Road. Love you brother and seriously, many thanks for bringing a boatload of joy to the Beautiful Game, you and your beautiful white teeth.

  13. Earl “Spiderman” Carter shared some great games and years as a teammate of mine. Let me say a few things – confidence was never short in this medium frame custodian. Sometimes I am glad that “Spiderman” or, Spidey” was even one inch taller for with each increment in height that could make him physically taller, so would have gone, his confidence too. He wasn’t boastful; wasn’t arrogant; simply full of a deserving. We played together in Maple and later with ASL Sports Club. Apart from his pride of boasting to possess the whitest teeth on the God’s planet, Spiderman, was never short of confidence for what he did and was cap[able of doing between the uprights. His presence in our goal gave me the best ever counterattacking feeling of any goalkeeper that ever stood behind me. Lincoln Phillip’s book, “The Last Line of Defense, and the First Line of Attack”, had to have Earl “Spiderman” Carter in his mind when he wrote it. His rating by me includes many a review of very good goalkeepers before, during, and after my playing years. Though they may not been touted to be at the top of the greatest goalkeeper list in T&T, the solidly safe pairs of hands of Brian Bain and Ian Garcia of QRC and Belmont Secondary respectively, that brought Essex Sports Club much successes have to take second place behind Spidey. That Essex team especially of 1976, with the likes of Sammy Llewellyn, Bobby Banfield, Jeffery Seales, Borpon (David), Courteny Sandy, myself and others were very fortunate to have such good goalkeepers. They were as solid as they did come in that mid-to-late 70’s era. What was even better about Earl Carter, than his counter-attacking abilities was his assurance of 1. nothing could pass him, and 2. he would collect the ball and almost before he fell to the ground, after stealing what most thought were sure goals, he was reshaping and recoiling his body to uncork a lethally pinpoint-accurate long throw that would catch defenders on the wrong side of what would be considered, good goal-side defending. His tremendous understanding of the game as it is played by his field players was also seen as he would carve out the best (trajectory and speed) throws that would fall right onto the path of his strikers and out of the frustrating reaches of the oppositions’ defenders. Further, Carter’s understanding of each of his teammates’ respective abilities were met with a matching long throw – he understood who could pluck the ball (in Messi-like fashion) out of the air and who needed it on their slanted chest or arriving foot to facilitate a wedge trap. In addition, Earl Carter, in my opinion, had the greatest spirit that a teammate could want in their custodian. Earl Spiderman Carter, you were a joy to play the Beautiful Game with, for, you were beautiful yourself, style and personality. The best thing that has happened to you was that, you never played against me, and you knew that, whether left or right, the thunder and when needed, swerve, were always too much for you in our practices. Hey friend, remember when you thought that you could hurt me while in an ASL practice at the Woodbrook Youth Center, and you came out bleeding with your very own strike? Remember doing that and you took off with blood oozing from your forehead? But, don’t feel too bad, Spidey, “Arab,” Ralph Nelson had a similar experience as an opponent in an NFL game at the famed, PSA field on Long Circular Road. Love you brother and seriously, many thanks for bringing a boatload of joy to the Beautiful Game, you and your beautiful white teeth.

  14. Earl Carter and Ron La Forest were the most confident players we ever had. Plenty mouth, but then they backed it up most times.

  15. Alyuh see the importance of storing footage of our past and present great footballers eh, so whenever it is needed to clear the air it will always be available eh, and yes Spiderman was really on like boil corn and it is really hard luck that he really didn’t get to exploded on the international scene for a BIG team the same like some of these nowadays goalkeepers.

  16. Wait – so we need to patent our footballing moves now to ensure we get the necessary credit? 🙂

  17. Roneil with that kind of depth, you have a story that will be relevant for a long, long time. Good job!

  18. I was lucky to work with spider a few months ago at a professional combine. Really humble and nice person I learned a lot from him, Trinidad football need guys like these on staff.

  19. Taking nothing away from Carter, I am surprised Corneal ranked him above Lincoln “Tiger” Phillips who he played against. But Corneal never liked Lincoln. He had safe hands, distributed the ball with them better than anyone because of his basketball skills, and got his nickname because of his ability to spring. He was the first local goalkeeper to use the drop kick with uncanny accuracy. To me what he had better than both Carter and Figeroux was his positioning and his reading of the game. He had no need to be Spidey like Carter or Figeroux because of that positioning. In fact, it was “Figgie’s” poor positioning that ended his career prematurely because when you save that way you inevitably keep dropping unabled on your back.

    • Earl Best

      Not sure Alvin played against Lincoln, Gerard, except perhaps in college, one at Fatima and the other at QRC. They both played for Maple, North and Trinidad thereafter. Subject, of course to correction…

  20. Great article, Spiderman is/was my hero in the goal post. That man is a magician full of confidence, humor and love…..

    • Funny enough, I remember one cheeky goalie yelling “who threw that ball” after making saves back in the early 1990s.
      We all thought it was hilarious. Only today do I realise who his inspiration was.

      • Earl Best

        Mr Liburd, did he pat down more than one of your shots? And would you have called him ‘cheeky’ if he had made the comment after patting down somebody else’s shot with so much ease?

  21. He should of passed on his legacy being a goal keeper coach