This goal technically never happened. Or did it? To this day I’m not sure.
Beating Liverpool in January 1994, in an FA Cup 3rd round replay, is probably the finest moment in my team Bristol City’s mediocre history. That replay was actually the third match between the teams that month, after the first game had to be abandoned due to floodlight failure.
I’d celebrated when the two teams came out of the draw together, and again when I’d managed to secure one of the rare-as-hen’s-teeth tickets to that initial match. City were nothing special: we finished that season 13th in Division One, or the Championship as it is these days. But although Liverpool were a massive club, they were in decline under Graeme Souness – surely we could give them a game.
I remember the game in flashes and blurs of colour: scrappy challenges in the muddy midfield; the annoying kid in front of my in the outsize beanie. John Barnes shrugging off a couple of challenges to cut in from the right and present another man in the twilight of his career, Ian Rush, with a tap-in. City’s keeper Keith Welch’s Grobbelaar moment nearly gifting a fresh-faced Robbie Fowler a goal. Liverpool’s iconic South African regaining his erratic custodian throne soon after by beating two men in the left-back position before having to be rescued by his defence. Heroically profligate City striker Liam Robinson spurning two great chances to equalise.
But I remember our equaliser like it was yesterday. The ball broke from midfield to stoic left-back Martin Scott, who advanced before sending over the perfect near-post cross. Where, arriving like a train, was cult striker Wayne Allison. Oh Waynie Waynie is Dr Wayne Allison these days, but as he powered a sinewy header past a despairing Grobbelaar a knighthood seemed appropriate.
It was an explosion of pure euphoria; the crowd spilling out of seats and towards the hoardings. Black spots swimming before my eyes, my vision clearly unable to cope with the majesty of it all. And somewhere, a voice complaining, “Someone’s stolen my hat!”
Shortly after half-time the lights went, and that was that. 10 days later they tried again, the same players scoring in a 1-1 draw; and finally, at Anfield, Brian Tinnion’s curler got Souness the sack.
I wasn’t there. I’d had to turn down a ticket because my mum wouldn’t let me skip school for the afternoon to travel up to Liverpool. But I’m content with my memories of that Allison header, and the life-affirming, visceral celebration that followed. It’s unlikely to ever be toppled as my favourite football moment.
Does it even count as a proper, in-the-history books goal? I’d rather not know. That pathos only makes me love it even more.
Hopefully your weekend’s betting activity won’t be ruined by a ghost goal! While this can’t be predicted, you can make sure you get the best odds. Compare the odds at hundreds of bookies at freebets.org.uk today.
Ben Weich writes for the EPL Talk and Soccer Fan Base blogs. You can follow Ben on Twitter @BenWeich
While there may have been more beautiful goals scored, few have been as remarkable as this one. This was a hugely important goal, not only for French football but also for the country as a whole.
France and Croatia were locked at 1-1 in a tight, closely fought World Cup semi-final. Neither team had made it past that stage before, but it was Les Bleus who were undoubtedly playing under the greater pressure. With an exceptionally talented squad, and the advantage of playing at home, 1998 was the year France were expected to finally lift the famous trophy.
But they were playing for much more than just footballing glory. The ’98 France team were one of the first truly multi-ethnic national sides in history. The squad boasted players who could trace their ancestry to Armenia, Algeria, Guadeloupe, New Caledonia, Argentina, Ghana, Senegal, Italy, French Guyana, Portugal, Spain and Martinique. Star player and poster boy for this multi-racial generation, Zinedine Zidane was born in Marseille to Algerian immigrants.
Before the tournament, the Fédération Française de Football had come under fire from the country’s far-right. Front National leader Jean-Marie Le Pen had criticised the side’s mixed make-up, complaining that the team did not look sufficiently French. He complained that the black players didn’t sing the national anthem before matches, and in doing so attempted to make them look unpatriotic. At a time when the country was fraught with racial tension, Les Bleus were playing to protect the future of social integration. They represented French multicultural fraternité.
Having played Davor Šuker onside for Croatia’s opening goal, unassuming right-back Lilian Thuram levelled the match with his first ever international goal. With the tie finely
balanced, both teams were looking to swing the match their way.
Thuram is one of football’s most admirable figures. In the age of players’ excesses and
ostentatious consumerism he is the perfect tonic. Intelligent, articulate, reflective and politically-aware; Thuram embodies all that is missing from today’s professionals. Throughout his entire career, his play was diligent, always putting the team’s needs before his own. Never one to push forward in search of personal glory, he understood exactly what his role required of him and he went about it without fuss. It’s a shame there aren’t more like him.
It’s fitting that it was Thuram who scored arguably the most important goal of France’s World Cup campaign. Unsung hero and member of the rock-solid defensive line which only conceded two goals in the whole tournament, Thuram almost had to be dragged into his own moment of glory.
In the 69th minute, Zidane picks up the ball on the left wing at around the halfway line.
He sees Thuram across the pitch, well inside his own half, reliably occupying his full-back position. The ball is crossed intentionally in front of him, forcing him to advance up the pitch. Outside of his comfort zone, he seems for an instant uncertain – he gestures to Thierry Henry to come nearer, almost as if to ask his teammate what he should do now. He plays the ball into Henry’s feet.
Perhaps it’s the confidence gained from his earlier goal. Perhaps it’s the sheer will to win. But now Thuram does a most uncharacteristic thing – instead of retreating to his
familiar deep role, he surges towards the penalty box with attacking intent. Henry plays the ball back to Thuram but it reaches Croatia’s Robert Jarni first. The move looks over. But Thuram, now pumping full of adrenaline, controls the ball in between his opponent’s legs as he pushes him off the ball. It’s a completely fair challenge, and he shows what an imposing physical presence he is as he totally outmuscles the Croat. Jarni is sent stumbling in the other direction as Thuram shapes to shoot.
What happens next surprises everyone, including his teammates. He lashes at the ball with his left foot, sending it curling around the diving goalkeeper. It bends in to
nestle perfectly inside the post, causing the Stade de France to erupt. Thuram, propping himself up on his knees, places his index finger over his mouth in the classic ‘thinking man’ pose, befitting his future role as a social philosopher. The French players mob him as Fabien Barthez raises his hands to his head in disbelief. “Sensational!” cries the English commentator.
It turned out to be the winning goal. Les Bleus reached the final where they comprehensively defeated Brazil 3-0. The first French team to win the World Cup, they were celebrated as heroes of a new, multicultural France. Thuram, despite going on
to become the most-capped player in French history, never again scored for his country.
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In many ways, this goal is quintessential Manchester United. The youth of the scorer, the lateness of the hour and the nature of the comeback all emblematic of United under Ferguson’s stewardship. Aspects of a period of success, tied neatly together in one moment of startling poignancy.
The setting was, fittingly, Old Trafford. Devoid of luck, United welcomed Aston Villa with the wounds of Liverpool’s annihilation three weeks prior still fresh, still burning.
In second place, United needed a win to return to the summit; their seemingly impenetrable seven point advantage sliced to ribbons by two consecutive defeats.
In retrospect, it is bizarre that the 2008/09 incarnation of Manchester United ever struggled to regain their crown – reigning European and world champions, blessed with the talents of Carlos Tevez and Cristiano Ronaldo, their greatest challengers were Liverpool, a team that a year later would find themselves struggling to qualify for European competition.
Nevertheless, there they were on April 6th, 2009 – the dream of an eighteenth league triumph slipping further and further away. Brief hope was kindled early in the first half, when a Cristiano Ronaldo free kick flew into the top corner; the type of goal only he could score, of a sparkling variety that sadly has been rarely replicated in English football since his big money departure.
After losing 4-1 to Liverpool, this United side had acquired somewhat of a penchant for self destruction – a trait no better illustrated than by the events of the next hour. First, John Carew rose elegantly to nod in a Gareth Barry cross before, fifteen minutes after the interval, Gabriel Agbonlahor headed home from close range. 1-2.
I remember vividly sitting in my basement, the memory of premature victory celebrations after Liverpool’s 2-1 loss to Middlesbrough fast taking on a sort of karmic significance. Chants of “beat someone, beat someone” echoed across Old Trafford; as for me, I was too stunned to say anything.
My anxious, twelve year old mind was inexperienced in dealing with United’s love of brinkmanship. Against Bayern in ’99 I had watched in a cursory manner, not consciously aware of goings on, reportedly more interested in the little dog twoing and froing across the house. My grandmother’s celebratory phone call, quickly stymied by pleas of ignorance, was made minutes before I popped in the cassette tape to take in Moscow ’08, and shielded me from tension’s unyielding grip when John Terry stepped forward to take his spot kick.
But now there was no protection. Martin Tyler’s melodious commentary made up for the articulacy that had deserted me, his summations of United’s position in the standings, quite dreary.
On eighty minutes, some sanity prevailed. Taking matters into his own hands, Ronaldo thrashed a low shot towards goal, where, somehow, it trickled by the goalkeeper’s despairing lunge. I remember seeing the seventeen year old Italian lad who had come on twenty minutes previously slap Ronny furiously across the chest in celebration. The guy’s got spunk, I thought.
As the game drew towards it’s latter stages, the prospect of a draw became increasingly attractive. When Fergie threw on another teenage forward 87 minutes in, I yelled some not very complimentary things at the television. And then, the moment which defines this article: My Favourite Goal.
Forever the forgotten architect of some of United’s landmark moments, it was Ryan Giggs who played the pass. Less than a year later, from a similar spot on the pitch, he would caress an equally vital ball through to Michael Owen. Needless to say, such symmetry could not be appreciated at the time of Macheda’s strike – Owen was battling relegation at Newcastle.
Standing readied on the edge of the box, one hand outstretched, the other prepared to hold off the attention of Luke Young, Macheda received the ball and turned. Right footed, falling to the ground, he unleashed a curling effort that softly glided into the net. Martin Tyler let out a shrill cry, his voice reaching previously uncharted altitudes. Machedaaaaaa!
Mobbed by teammates, Macheda staggered over to the nearest stand and – pushing past police officers – flung himself into the arms of his crying father. The beauty of the moment, untainted by a subsequent booking, will never leave me.
Two years after winning the adoration of millions, Federico Macheda’s career has taken a turn for the worse. Relegated with Sampdoria, his future at United is anything but safe. However, even if the winner against Villa remains his greatest goal, the man called “Kiko” will forever find comfort in that one moment. The one moment, in my eyes at least, which ensures his immortality.
Dylan O’Neill shares a childhood memory of a fantastic moment in the history of Irish football. You can follow Dylan on Twitter @Dylan_Oh
I was seven at the time this World Cup rolled around. I’d been extremely excited to find out that my country was going to be competing at the World Cup when we edged past Iran in the play-off. Little did us Irish know that we were about to embark on something magical come June 2002.
We were dealt a serious blow even before the competition began as Roy Keane decided to exclude himself from the competition after he – as usual – overreacted to poor facilities on show at the Irish training camp in Saipan. Keane granted exclusive rights to an Irish times reporter, Tom Humphries, in which he told all. He claimed that their training pitch was “wrong”, having not been watered, as well as complaining they had no balls (actual footballs), and that the Irish were only given two goals to train with. He also mentioned that having no goalkeepers for a five-a-side was the last straw. He decided that he was leaving the squad in Saipan although reversed the decision a day later following conversations with Sir Alex Ferguson, his family and Michael Kennedy [his agent]. Reminiscing about Ferguson he said “He was on holidays but he’d seen the news. I had a good chat with him. He’s someone I respect. In football, he’s the only person I would listen to. We spoke about my family. I knew what he was saying but it helps when you get other people saying it. We’d discussed it before because of my injuries curtailing my international football. He said hang in there because of my family.”
The decision to stay was fantastic news for the Irish but the following day when Mick McCarthy questioned Keane over the article, Keane released a stinging verbal attack on McCarthy which effectively ended his international career. “Mick, you’re a liar… you’re a fucking wanker. I didn’t rate you as a player, I don’t rate you as a manager, and I don’t rate you as a person. You’re a fucking wanker and you can stick your World Cup up your arse. The only reason I have any dealings with you is that somehow you are the manager of my country! You can stick it up your bollocks.”
Keane left the Irish camp in late May and never returned. Pity.
Anyway, since the competition began in June, I had to be satisfied watching it from school. I was in 2nd class at the time and my classmates and I were roaring the Irish on in South Korea against Cameroon in the opening game. We held them to a creditable draw which wasn’t the worst result mind you, but it wasn’t what we needed going into the toughest group game vs Germany just 4 days later.
I’ll be honest with you, I actually don’t remember much about the game. I was seven, what do you expect? But, I do remember Klose’s opening goal for the Germans with just under twenty minutes gone. My colleagues began to panic and rightly so as Germany had destroyed Saudi Arabia the game previously 8-0 and we feared our outcome could be somewhat similar to their fate. Wave after wave after wave of German attack came but we held our own and were quite lucky to reach the break just a goal behind. Mick McCarthy decided to take off Jason McAteer and bring in the then Liverpool right-back Steve Finnan in hope of some renewed energy for the Irish.
The second half continued the way the first half had ended with the Germans constantly buzzing around the Irish box, somehow unable to find a second goal to kill off the tie. As the game wore on, chances for Ireland came few and far between but then it happened. A 92nd minute hopeful punt upfield by none other than Steven Finnan was flicked on by Niall Quinn and talisman Robbie Keane latched onto it, before steering his shot in off the post to grab Ireland a vital point which eventually saw them progress from the group.
The goal itself sparked massive celebrations in the classroom back home. I myself, vividly remember jumping around jubilantly, hugging anyone I could get my hands on – even kissing a fellow classmate. What could I say? It was a feeling I had never experienced before and I just had to get it all out of my system. Sure, prior to that I had only been a football fan for the best part of a year. But what a year that turned out to be.
Here’s Tom Goulding with an excellent addition to the ‘My Favourite Goal’ series. You can follow Tom on Twitter @TomGoulding
I don’t think this goal gets enough credit.
The hashtag #goalswhichgetforgottenbecauseoftheircontext on Twitter (which never really took off, for some reason) was bandied around a few months ago, and you got the usual picks – Essien vs Barcelona, Goulding vs Ardingly 3rd XI. This goal should now be added to that glittering list.
The setting is Arsenal vs Manchester United on 31st January 2010. The game was 3rd vs 1st in a season in which Chelsea, 2nd at the time, eventually won the title. Now, as a Spurs fan, part of my enjoyment of this goal is undoubtedly that it is against Arsenal. As someone who has grown up with football in the Wenger era, the pleasure of seeing my rival team lose and get humiliated has rarely occurred, and if it has, it has usually been at the hands of teams better than my own. Enjoying the failure of my arch rivals is rarer than most fans; Arsenal have lost at home only 13 times in the past 8 seasons, and so when it happens, it is something to take pleasure in. You might claim that this is sad, and you’d probably be right. That is the unfortunate predicament a football fan is sometimes in – a bitter tribalist who finds it impossible to spin reality in a way which elevates his own team above his rivals.
To the goal. 32 minutes have gone and it is 0-0. Nani picks up the ball out wide and takes on the left-back Gael Clichy. It is great to see a player take on a man – it gives us a duel, a one on one battle in which somebody wins and somebody loses. It is a bare test of aptitude. However, Cesc Fabregas comes to help so there are now two men on him. What to do? Nani feints to cross and produces an inside chop in between both his opponents, undoubtedly learnt from the master of the chop. This leaves Clichy and Fabregas standing there helpless, rendered only spectators. He approaches Thomas Vermaelen with pace, drops the shoulder and glides past him.
When most people beat a couple of defenders, they get all excited, have a rush of blood to the head and smash the ball into row Z. Not Luís Carlos Almeida da Cunha. He chips the ball, making it glide over goalkeeper Manuel Almunia towards the far post; a sand wedge chip shot, cutting across the ball, designed to get it over a particular obstacle and down as quickly as possible, whether that be the lip of the bunker or an opposing goalkeeper. With United players running in, Almunia has to do something; but he can only tip it into the goal.
Nani has forced the goalkeeper into a position where he has to palm the ball into the exact place from which he is paid to keep it away. Nani has left three Arsenal defenders completely bamboozled, with an extraordinary display of skill in the type of match where efficiency and keeping-it-tight is stressed at all times. He had the ball out on the wing, far away from the goal, with two opponents surrounding him, and he has said “I’m going to put the ball in the far corner of that net. And I’m going to do it with an exquisite level of skill, and I’m going to embarrass Arsenal Football Club while I’m at it”. That’s why it is one of the best goals of that season. And I mean that.
The goal was overshadowed by the emphatic scoreline, Arsenal’s continued lack of success against the big teams and United’s second goal in that game, a breathtaking counter-attack. But I remember it well. It had a linear beauty to it, from the chop inside at the start to the devilish spinning of the ball over the doomed goalkeeper. Wonderful.
This video is doing the rounds after the weekend but I couldn’t resist saluting L’Aeroplanino himself, Vincenzo Montella, after he gave everyone a glimpse of the skills that made him famous. The man is simply coolness personified.
I think it’s the matter of fact reaction afterwards that makes it. Even so, it’s not the best effort from a former great on the touchline. I won’t apologise for once again linking to this wonder strike from Dragan Stojkovic. His near namesake Dejan Stankovic may have lit up the San Siro earlier this month with a remarkable volley but, once again, these things just look better when you’re suited and booted.
This goal had to be on the list really didn’t it. Thanks to Liam Blackburn for doing the business. You can follow Liam on Twitter @LiamBlackburn …
“Instinct is action taken in pursuance of a purpose, but without conscious perception of what the purpose is”
Instinct can sometimes be a wonderful thing. In the professional era, sportsmen and women spend years finely tuning their skills and meticulously practicing for different scenarios. But sport, like life itself, never quite goes by the script.
The fact you simply cannot account for what happens once you’re out there is one of the things that makes football so captivating. You can’t turn to your playbook halfway through the match like you can in American football. You can’t turn to a specific bowler and set your field up to play a certain way like you can in cricket.
Three of my favourite goals of all time would have to be Marco Van Basten, Zinedine Zidane and Roberto Carlos. Each is a single masterstroke by their creator’s right or left boot. They represent three of the finest examples of technique that I have ever seen. All three in their own way push the boundaries of what I thought physically possible on a football pitch, yet each knew exactly what they were planning to do. They had to because they happened so swiftly. Van Basten and Zidane would have spent hours smashing volleys in at their prospective training grounds and Roberto Carlos no doubt knew he could bend the ball that way before he even set foot on the pitch that night.
This was simply not the case when Ryan Giggs scored against Arsenal in April 1999. When he picked the ball up, he could barely have envisioned what was to come.
The situation is important to consider because what Giggs did was actually rather foolish. At the time, Manchester United were struggling. In extra time of an F.A. semi-final replay, they were down to ten men and weathering a storm from the current double holders.
When the ball broke to Giggs some ten yards inside his own half, the last thing his manager would have wanted him to do was run directly at Arsenal’s vastly experienced back four.
Even accounting for his chosen route, there were at least two occasions where Giggs could have found a colleague and his team would have enjoyed a vital spell of possession. Moreover they’d have welcomed the respite from Arsenal’s attacking onslaught.
But Giggs ran and kept the ball under close control, slaloming his way past defenders before unleashing a rasping finish past Seaman. It wasn’t a run propelled by searing pace or defined by monumental trickery, it was a run based purely on instinct.
It was almost childlike naivety to think that he could sway past three defenders before slamming home. For those four seconds, Giggs was the annoying kid who thinks he can bypass his teammates and take everyone on before scoring. But this was never Giggs’ intention. His intuition simply told him to keep running and the scenario played out before him. There was little thought, little preparation, dare I say little in the way of technique, certainly not to the same degree of the three strikes I mentioned before.
Even the eventual finish was not taken from the coaching manual. Giggs was facing an acute angle with the imposing Seaman stood tall in front of him and Paul Scholes coming in at the far post. The situation screamed for Giggs to adopt one of the more familiar mantras of ‘hard and low across the keeper’ where an expectant Scholes would no doubt have been on hand to apply the finish should Seaman have parried it. But instead Giggs absolutely smashed the ball into the roof of the net. Instinct had got him that far and it provided the cherry on top too. Well, almost.
As Giggs wheeled away in celebration, there was no pre-rehearsed Welsh jig or t-shirt message for the masses to devour. Instead he whipped off his top and proceeded to allow the world to see a quite impressive ‘chest rug’. That, like the goal itself, was a spur of the moment thing. But it was just as iconic as the match winner.
The goal also had massive implications in this game and beyond. The match was stacked with drama from David Beckham’s magnificent opener, to Peter Schmeichel’s injury-time penalty save and then Roy Keane’s sending off. Winning such an epic battle was important in terms of the United-Arsenal rivalry and in terms of the end of season run in.
Giggs’ goal and the resulting win spoke volumes of United’s character that year. An unrelenting commitment to finding ways to win followed them throughout the 1998 and 1999 campaign. That was never more evident than the 1999 Champions League final where United sealed a quite remarkable treble.
But this goal ranks as one of the more pivotal moments of that season. Not only did it put United in their first final but it also installed a sense of belief. Had sensibility overcome instinctiveness who knows what would have happened in the final two months of that glorious year.
Björn Björnsson has been a Víkingur fan since birth, and a Manchester United fan since age of six. You can follow him on Twitter @bjornfr. This is Björn’s account of his favourite goal:
When you live in a country of 300,000 people, football is sometimes a bit different. The quality of football on show is not that high, unless you’re catching the first seasons of a youngster destined for overseas success. You support your local team, which in Reykjavik means your neighbourhood team. And when you want to play football, you just go train with your local team’s youth setup like your friends do.
I was slightly different, having lived in a village far from the next proper team, and dad happened to be an ex-player for Víkingur of Reykjavík. So when moving to Reykjavík aged 8, I was already a Víkingur fan, and this meant a bus trip across town to go to training (I was crap, but it was just for fun anyway). Championship wins in 1981 and 1982, the first since 1924, helped to keep the love alive through the fickle years of childhood.
But success can be fleeting especially in a ten club amateur top division, and within three years the team had broken up and been relegated. Crap football seemed there to stay especially after not bouncing straight back. At the second try, though, we succeeded, thanks in large part to five goals in the last two matches from a 25 year old named Björn Bjartmarz who’d never quite made it as a regular but kept on playing for the local team he’d been with since a kid.
The next three years were a struggle against relegation, the odd good player came in, mostly castoffs from other teams. Then 1991 happened.
A proven goalscorer had been brought in, a couple of Yugoslavs and a wanderer or two and suddenly there seemed to be some promise. The first half of the season didn’t go too well, but at least we weren’t quite relegation fodder. But suddenly it all seemed to click and a six game winning run brought us to the top on goal difference. A draw for both top teams in the second to last round and suddenly all Víkingur needed to do was to win at already relegated Víðir from the town of Garður, a 50 minute drive from the capital.
The nice folks at the National Road Service decided to do some roadworks that day, so as a result, I and hundreds of others were on the road when Víðir scored after ten minutes and our challengers were also taking the lead in their match. We got to the game and it all seemed a bit bleak.
But early in the second half Víkingur forced a corner and from it a certain Björn Bjartmarz, now 29, fresh off the subs bench which had been mostly his lot ever since the promotion season, headed towards goal and a Víkingur defender steered it in. 1-1.
And then within a minute of the restart Víkingur pressed on and my favourite goal was scored.
Tall, gangling, and only a bit talented, even by our standards, Björn Bjartmarz had done a Maradona, an Owairan… at least it looks like that to me, to this day. Trying to describe it in further detail would only take the magic away.
Technically if we won by three goals less than our challengers we’d lose the title, and 2 minutes after his first Björn scored his second of the game, and of the season and made sure that even if the wait from the final whistle in our game to the final whistle for our challengers was exciting, it wasn’t too horrible.
And in the end we were champions, and the local lad who’d never been the best of players had cemented his place as one of the greatest stars in the history of Víkingur football club.
The uncut video, from the lead up to the goal-producing corner to the end of the celebrations of the third goal takes up exactly five minutes, and can be found here.
As for the years since then… well, winning the title proved too costly, relegation happened, and most of the years since then have been spent in the second tier. But we’ll always have Garður and possibly one of the best goals ever to clinch a Championship, anywhere.
A goal’s a goal, of course, and they all count the same. Except it isn’t, and they don’t. A winner is better than a consolation, a 20-yarder better than a tap-in and a goal in the last minute tops one in the first. Usually. Within those guidelines, beauties and scrubbers are distinguished. There are no hard and fast and rules. Goals, by their very nature, divide opinion. By and large, a goal will upset as many people as it will excite. Except in Scotland. Scottish football has its own rules and principles. Well, two rules and two principles: goal against Celtic, good; goal against Rangers, good.
When David Cameron was trying to hammer home the difference between ‘big government’ and ‘big society’ he should have used the analogy of the SPL. Big government, you see, is like The Old Firm. It’s a bunch of big city boys power wielding, intent on spoiling things for the rest of us. Big society? Well that’s the rest of us. That’s Aberdeen and Dundee United, Kilmarnock and Motherwell. Old and tired clubs being slowly suffocated by the bloated bullies at the top. If he’d said that Scotland would have understood. Then voted Labour anyway.
If anything, Scottish football was even more top heavy as 2001 drew to a close than it is now. At season’s end The Old Firm had a combined goal difference of +131 goals and second placed Rangers finished 27 points above their nearest challengers (Livingston). When the eventual champions traveled North to snowy Pittodrie, Aberdeen on the Saturday before Christmas, they did so with Henrik Larsson, John Hartson and Chris Sutton in their ranks. There isn’t quality like that in Old Firm strike-forces these days.
Their hosts, however, were on a rare post-80s high. Having won our previous eight home matches, the Dandy Dons were one match short of equaling a Fergie-set record of nine consecutive, home league victories.
I was 16 and seated in the incongruously tall Richard Donald Stand (or Dick’s Erection). In the first half, in front of us, Eugene Dadi performed the Marseille turn, Derek Young had an effort blocked on the line and Rab Douglas (in a precursor for what was to come) let a Robbie Winters shot trundle through his legs to clip the post behind him. Celtic were struggling.
At half-time it was 0-0 and cautious optimism reigned. No one got carried away, at least not after Neil Lennon had sprinted into the cover of the tunnel to avoid the barrage of snowballs. Celtic were famous for the lateness of their winners and Tam Cowan was making a career out of jokes about Celtic matches ending too late to be included in the evening papers.
Even when Hartson handled in the box and Winters dispatched the penalty to send us in front we were worried. Our keeper made a great save, Phil McGuire headed off the line. We were very very nervous. Captain Derek Whyte’s late red card made things worse.
Then, with watches being checked all round 19 year-old Darren Mackie hared alone after his typically heavy touch into the Celtic half. The Belgian international Joos Valgaeren showed his experience in getting his body between the spry striker and the ball and carefully rolled it back to Scotland’s number one. Probably, a more experienced player than Mackie would have backed off then, and rejoined his teammates in defence. He didn’t. Instead, he absolutely exploded from behind Valgaeren taking the big Celtic goalie by surprise and possibly causing his slightly weighty first touch. Bravely, Mackie lunged at the ball, won it and leapt to his feet, somehow closer to the ball than Douglas. It rolled slowly goalwards and probably would have crossed the line without the final dash of youthful exuberance Mackie applied in lashing it into the net from millimetres out before sprinting off again in delighted celebration.
2-0. The Dick Donald Stand throbbed with excitement.
A win-clinching goal from a few millimetres, in the final minutes, with no assist, for a team with 10-men, courtesy of a goalkeeping howler, to secure a record-equaling run combines the good and the bad of goal evaluation criteria. The opposition tip the balance. Celtic lost one league game that season, and Darren Mackie’s precocious lash sealed it. On that day my young eyes saw that things could be different. That youth could triumph, that the little guys could fight back and stick it up the man. Of course, the status quo returned. We lost our next home match. Celtic won the league. Big society turned out to be aggressive conservative bollocks. But goals are about moments, and in Darren Mackie’s moment things were different.
I should open by saying that, as a Norwich fan, this is shamefully obvious, but my favourite goal remains Jeremy Goss’s volley that put City 1-0 up at Bayern Munich’s Olympiastadion on 20 October 1993.
I know John Motson’s commentary off by heart: “Bowen battling away … Fed in by Newman … And Robins well forward, and Goss is well forward too … and Norwich have taken the lead! Jeremy Goss again! Unbelievable stuff! When he scores goals they’re either spectacular or important and that one’s both!”
Mark Bowen’s goal which made the score 2-0 – a prosaic header from Ian Crook’s free kick – was more important within the tie, but central midfielder Goss’s spectacular finish had far greater symbolic significance, both in the UEFA Cup second round, first leg match and within English and European football history.
Viewed again, the goal looks marvellously simple. Bowen tenaciously fights Jorginho for the ball and stabs it back to Rob Newman, who casually lofts it into Bayern’s penalty area. Lothar Matthäus backtracks to pick up Mark Robins, but falling, his weak header drops to Goss, who rifles home a dipping volley from outside the box. As Motson put it: “[Bayern goalkeeper] Aumann stood and admired that – that’s how good the shot was!”
Christian Nerlinger reduced Bayern’s deficit on forty minutes, and City goalkeeper Bryan Gunn had make several brilliant saves to ensure that Norwich became the first English club to beat Bayern at the Olympiastadion. Bayern took the lead after just four minutes in the return leg, but Goss equalised in the second half, tapping home a left-wing cross to end a move launched with his gutsy challenge, and Norwich held on to win 3-2 on aggregate.
At full-time, Goss swapped shirts with Bayern captain Matthäus, one of several people at the club to publicly underestimate Norwich. This capped a brilliant calendar year for Goss, who, having been with the club for a decade, patiently waiting to break into the side, became emblematic of City’s unexpected success – the pinnacle of years that the team’s core played together, making three top five finishes and two FA Cup semi-finals in six years.
Norwich had qualified for the UEFA Cup after coming third in the first ever Premier League, a point ahead of big spending Blackburn Rovers. They had started the season as favourites to be relegated, having parted with manager Dave Stringer and sold star striker Robert Fleck to Chelsea for £2.1m. But with just two signings – Robins, bought from Manchester United for £800,000 to replace Fleck, and experienced midfielder Gary Megson – City sustained their challenge until April 1993, when they lost three crucial games.
City’s best ever finish was overseen by Mike Walker, whose promotion from reserve to first team manager was seen as unambitious by fans who had long begrudged chairman Robert Chase’s policy of selling Norwich’s star players. After a brief spell in charge at Colchester United, sacked whilst top of the Fourth Division, Walker joined Norwich as youth team coach in 1987, and had worked with several of the side that beat Bayern Munich for years – he was the club’s third successive manager to be appointed from within.
Norwich had only ensured their Premier League place in the penultimate game of the 1991-92 season, and blown their best ever chance of an FA Cup Final with a meek semi-final surrender against second tier Sunderland, but Walker made an instant impact, as two Robins goals helped City beat title favourites Arsenal 4-2 at Highbury in his first match. Despite some heavy defeats (notably a 7-1 thrashing at Blackburn), each of which prompted pundits to anticipate their collapse, Norwich kept pace at the league’s summit. City’s team had few stellar names: seven of their first choice XI were uncapped, and only Bowen and midfielder David Phillips had played more than ten internationals (both for Wales).
What these pundits forgot was that the team’s core had frequently recovered after selling its outstanding individuals. Chase had become Norwich chairman in 1986, after the entire board had resigned during a row over the rebuilding of City’s Main Stand. The stand burned down in 1984-85, when Norwich became England’s first club to win a major trophy (the League Cup) and be relegated in the same season. The club blooded a few members of their 1983 FA Youth Cup winning side during the relegation season, but their immediate return to the top flight was built on a settled side, and the young players – including Goss – were confined to the reserves.
Throughout the Eighties, Norwich raised a number of talented players: Chase was fortunate to inherit a strong youth system which had carefully laid down local roots. For years, the late Ronnie Brooks visited Norfolk secondary schools, building a relationship with sports teachers, giving presentations in assemblies to promote the club. Once they made City’s schoolboy teams, Brooks would work on players’ weaknesses and, if they earned professional contracts, found them digs in Norwich. At this point, responsibility for their development came to the youth team managers, and plenty eventually became first team regulars – two of the best, striker Justin Fashanu and winger Dale Gordon, were sold for £1m sums.
Several others formed the basis of City’s mid-Eighties teams: Louie Donowa, Mark Barham, Peter Mendham and Paul Haylock all played in Norwich’s League Cup winning side, but were phased out over the next two years. Despite starting just two league games in four seasons after signing professional forms in 1983, Goss remained whilst many of his Youth Cup winning teams dropped down the divisions, or into local football.
This youth scheme was supplemented by a strong domestic scouting network, which looked for talented reserves at big clubs and promising youngsters with lower league experience. These were the players on whom Norwich most often profited, buying low and selling high: centre-back partnership of Dave Watson (signed for £50,000 in November 1980 after failing to make Liverpool’s first team, sold to Everton for £900,000 six years later) and Steve Bruce (bought from Gillingham for £135,000 in August 1984, sold to Manchester United for £800,000 in December 1987) being cases in point.
Norwich were known as a skilful, if lightweight, passing side, and tended to sign fringe players from clubs with a similar style. Four of the 1993 team came from Tottenham: full-backs Bowen and Ian Culverhouse, and midfielder Crook, who learned much from Glenn Hoddle and Osvaldo Ardiles. They were signed between 1985 and 1987: after defender Andy Linighan joined Arsenal for £1.2m in July 1990 (when Chase told him that he was being sold), John Polston from Spurs arrived to replace him.
Often, these reserves were signed to cover for Norwich’s outstanding players, even before they were sold, competing with youth team graduates for first team slots. City’s transfer policy meant that good seasons were often followed by bad ones. Norwich finished fifth on returning to the First Division in 1986-87: a disastrous start to the following season despite the fact that, unlike the previous summer when Chris Woods and Dave Watson left, no key personnel had left, resulted in long-serving manager Ken Brown’s sacking. Amiable and loyal, Brown’s tenure had been broadly successful, and the poor handling of his dismissal set many fans against Chase, who promoted reserve team manager Dave Stringer (previously coach of the FA Youth Cup winning side) in Brown’s place.
Crook and Goss competed for one central midfield slot in 1987-88, alongside Mike Phelan. Goss started twenty games, Crook sixteen, but Andy Townsend’s arrival from Southampton in August 1988 again limited their opportunities. As Phelan and Townsend formed an effective unit, Norwich came fourth in Division One – their best finish to date – and made the last four of FA Cup, losing to Everton. Crook struggled to hold a place, his error leading to Pat Nevin’s semi-final winner, whilst Goss did not play all season.
It was Crook who replaced Phelan, sold to Manchester United in summer 1989 for £750,000 (having signed for £60,000 from Burnley four years previously). Goss started just three times in 1989-90, as Norwich slipped to tenth. Linighan and Townsend’s departures did not help Goss assert himself: Tim Sherwood, signed from Watford in 1989, started all but one of City’s 1990-91 league games, and Goss, now 25, was only talked out of a transfer request when Walker showed him a list of six hundred similar players seeking a move.
In February 1992, Sherwood acrimoniously left for Blackburn, and Goss finally established himself. Several long serving players ascended from the reserves with him: with youth graduate Ruel Fox finally ready for regular football (having made his debut in 1987), Chase sold Dale Gordon to Rangers. Defender-turned-striker Chris Sutton came through the youth system far quicker, becoming crucial to the UEFA Cup team.
Whilst Norwich profited on many of their lower budget transfers, their big signings were only intermittently successful. One of Stringer’s first captures, for a club record £580,000 from Rangers, Fleck proved excellent, but subsequent record signings Paul Blades and Darren Beckford flopped, and Walker swiftly discarded both. Fox, Sutton and Robins – a (comparatively) big transfer that Walker got right – reinvigorated the team, especially Crook and Goss. The core’s mutual understanding paid rich dividends, thanks to far more long-term planning than the constant departures of City’s big names suggested.
After beating Bayern, Norwich played eventual winners Internazionale in the third round, losing both legs 1-0. Then their team-building policy, always high risk, swiftly unravelled: Walker left for Everton following a bitter row with Chase over transfer funds, and soon after Fox joined Newcastle for £2.25m. Assistant John Deehan replaced Walker, but finally, the manager’s eye for a player was insufficient: after Chris Sutton became England’s first £5m footballer, joining Blackburn Rovers in summer 1994, Deehan could not find replacements of similar quality.
A bigger problem was the deterioration of City’s ageing core, particularly its well established defensive line: centre-back Ian Butterworth smashed his knee in a waterboarding accident, whilst right-back Ian Culverhouse could not agree a new contract and also departed. A serious injury to popular goalkeeper Gunn did not help – nor did the sales of Robins and fellow striker Efan Ekoku. Eighteen months after beating Bayern, Norwich were relegated.
The following season was a nightmare: Martin O’Neill, recruited from Wycombe to replace Deehan, left after just a few months, having been denied transfer funds, and City finished just five points clear of a second relegation. As City collapsed, the fans turned on Chase, who had put plenty of the money from the recent sales of key players into ‘fixed assets’ with a view to floating the club on the stock market – the sales of Ashley Ward and Jon Newsome in March 1996, without the consent of manager Gary Megson, intensified the furious supporter protests against the chairman. Meanwhile, Goss’s star also faded: he never again hit his heights of 1993-94, when he scored spectacular volleys at Leeds and Liverpool, and he played his final Norwich game in April 1996, just before Chase’s resignation.
Norwich’s youth system still produced, but its most talented products (notably Darren Eadie and Keith O’Neill) struggled with injuries. New academy rules only allowing clubs to sign trainees within ninety minutes’ travel time further troubled City, as much of their catchment area fell within the North Sea or the sparsely populated Fens. This rule was rephrased to ‘ninety minutes’ travel time by road’ in 1999, after Manchester United started flying City’s Under-13 player Kalam Moonariuck from Stansted, near his Bishop’s Stortford home, to Manchester, and the Canaries complained to the Football Association.
The television money that came with the new Premiership and Champions League helped England’s elite retain larger squads. This changed the top clubs’ attitudes to young players, scouting them from smaller club’s schoolboy teams, paying (often minimal) compensation for their signatures and then integrating them into their existing youth systems. Not needing to sell, they began loaning out youngsters who had signed professional terms until they were certain of their abilities, less readily allowing capable players to join mid-table teams than they had in the past. Thus it became harder for mid-sized clubs to build teams, and mainstays such as Coventry, Nottingham Forest, Wimbledon and Southampton gradually left the top flight as they struggled to replace ageing cores.
As Champions League entry was expanded, leading to the formation of cartels that dominated Europe’s major leagues, UEFA’s other club competitions became less important, or were abolished entirely. Soon, with teams eliminated from the Champions League coming into the tournament, UEFA Cup ties between provincial outsiders and powerhouses became less frequent, and, when they arose, offered fewer surprises – with those that occurred diminished by the competition’s reduced status.
Fulham’s sublime win over Juventus last season offered hope: not just that my favourite goal might be repeated at a club of similar stature, but that such a club could seriously hope to win a European competition (it must be said that a comparison between Norwich 1993 and Fulham 2010, who included no youth team graduates in their regular XI, would be another article in itself). With many Premier League players gradually realising that they may (at least for a time) be better off in teams built around them, rather than warming the bench at a ‘bigger’ club, perhaps we could see some of the detailed planning, particularly on a local level, that made Norwich’s European run so memorable return to high level football.