One of the greatest blights of modern football is that it looks the same wherever in the world you go. Teams from Addis Ababa to Zurich play with equipment made by the same handful of manufacturers and, with this, we have lost something. The global game has become homogenised and stripped of a couple of the layers of its colour and panache, and perhaps the most visual aspect of this on the pitch are the goalposts and netting themselves. Almost all clubs and countries now avail themselves of the now ubiquitous free-standing box net style of goal, with two poles holding the nets up and out of harm’s way.
As recently as twenty years ago, however, the posts and nets themselves came in almost as many varieties as it would be possible to imagine. Hooliganism meant that nets often came in a finer mesh so that pitch invaders couldn’t climb the goals, and such were the proportions of some of the constructions on offer that the joyous sight of a goalkeeper disconsolately pulling the ball from the netting and sullenly kicking it back towards the centre spot was commonplace. These days, the use of steel bars around the base of the netting rather than the older method of pegging down the netting in order to tether it to the ground means that the ball often pings straight back out in a strangely unsatisfying manner after a goal is scored.
With this in mind, it’s time for some meaningless Friday night nostalgia. Each of the goals featured in this top ten is accompanied with a video showing one of its greater moments, and you are of course more than welcome to put forward your own suggestions in the comments below. You are, of course, asked to remember that this list is is based on thing other than the aesthetic pleasure that the goals themselves bring, and that no club has been included (or excluded) on the basis of any other factors. And we can, for a little while at least, convince ourselves that someone reading this might just be inspired to create something a little more inventive in the future.
10. Southampton/Queens Park Rangers/Luton Town/Barnet/West Ham United et al – A good number of traditional football grounds were built in central or residential locations and space is at a premium to the extent that the pitchside environment can be very cramped indeed. Clubs in this situation had to make do and mend, meaning that the touchline itself would be no more than a few feet from the crowd and the shallowness of the goals at such grounds (some of which, alas, alas, are now departed or have been radically overhauled) meant that goalmouth scrambles would almost invariably end up with someone getting tangled up in the back of the goal.
9. The Maracana, Rio de Janeiro (at least 1950 to date) – The goals at the Maracana have changed somewhat over the year (as can be seen in this clip, they now use the currently vogueish hexagonal goal nets that can be seen elsewhere), but the fundamental design – basically, an L-shape with a slight curve to it – is as it was when Brazil lost the 1950 World Cup final to Uruguay. They changed the national team’s kit after that match, so tainted was it by their defeat, but the shape of the goals has remained broadly the same ever since. The current incarnation is particularly voluptuous.
8. The Rasunda, Stockholm (1958) – The nets on the goals at the Rasunda bore witness to the arrival of Pele on the international football scene, and they were of a different design to those used for most of the rest of the tournament. Most of the grounds used in Sweden for the 1958 World Cup finals had a D-support stanchion (1958 was the only tournament at which these were seen), but the national stadium went instead for the more traditional full support stanchion, with nets hanging loosely over them which gave them the impression of leaping to their feet as Pele thundered his opening goal in the match.
7. La Romadera, Zaragosa (current) – Real Zaragosa use, as does more or less every other senior club in Europe now, the free-hanging box net, but the Spanish club has a neat twist on their layout. The base of the net is flared out, meaning that the ball doesn’t just bounce straight out. The sheer depth of the goals and the diagonally striped nets also give the goals a faintly psychedelic feel to them.
6. River Plate Stadium, Buenos Aires (1978) – Say what you like about military juntas, they may (as persistent rumours have stated over since) rig the World Cup so that their countries win, but they at least do it with a little aesthetic elan. With ticker tape welcomes for the host nation and spotless concrete bowls, there is something pleasingly 1970s about the 1978 World Cup finals and the goals at the River Plate Stadium, with their tidily minimalist L-stanchions, taut nets that look as if they have been measured out by a geometrist and the black bases to the goal posts, there is something very mathematical about the goals at the 1978 World Cup finals.
5. Wembley Stadium, London (1939-1996) – Possibly the most distinctively shaped goals in world football, those at Wembley Stadium were introduced for the 1939 FA Cup final and lasted, with various minor adjustments, until the 1996 European Championships saw them go to a modern design and Wembley was never quite the same again. The green, full support stanchions have a stately air to them which was unique in world football. We shall not see their like again.
4. Estadio Nacional, Santiago (1962) – For the 1962 World Cup final between Brazil and Czechoslovakia, the groundsman at Chile’s Estadio Nacional seems to have been torn between what style to go for. At one end, the nets were pulled over the curved (somehow reminiscent of art deco) stanchions as tightly as they could go, whilst at the other they are stretched back like a bride’s wedding train.
3. Estadio Jalisco, Guadalajara (1970) – It was a tight call between the goals at the Estadio Jalisco and those in the Aztec Stadium in Mexico City, but Guadalajara shades it for two reasons. Firstly, the rakish decision was taken to put black netting on the goals, and it is netting that is pulled so tight that the pattern of the netting itself distorts into some crazy shapes in the corners of the goal (check, for confirmation, behind Gordon Banks after that save from Pele). Secondly, if you look at the stanchion from this angle, you can see that, rather than being made of one piece of metal that has been bent twice, it is actually three different pieces of straight metal held together with what looks like two plumbing pipe bends.
2. Hampden Park (1903-1987) – The depth of the goals that were used at Hampden Park – here seen as Aberdeen brush Hearts aside in the 1986 Scottish Cup final – was so great that going to retrieve the ball had an air of a walk of shame for any vanquished goalkeeper. Remarkably, the square, wooden goalposts used at Hampden Park were not just the same design between 1903 and 1987 before being sold at auction for £6,200 – they were the same posts. In 1987, however, their time came. Completely square posts had been banned by FIFA, and the Hampden goal posts couldn’t be planed down to fit the new rules as round wooden crossbars cannot retain their strength and sag in the middle over time. What a sad loss.
1. Maine Road, Manchester (1977) – On the surface of it, the goals used at Maine Road look like many others of the era, but the devil is in the detail with these matters and it is the netting that sets these goals apart, even though they were only used for the closing stages of the 1976/77 season. The nets hang so limply that, when the ball hits them, they move up and over the ball like a wave rolling in from out at season. Having stopped moving, the ball sits in the corner of the goal, probably still spinning slightly as if to tease the beaten goalkeeper. It’s the icing on the cake, the point at which the non-sentient ingredients of a football match take on a life of their own. And we should cherish our memories of moments like these, because they’re on their way out and unlikely ever to return.
Just me, then? Thought so. Still, good to have got it out of my system.