So… goalposts. They’re an absolutely integral part of the game, but you don’t really hear that much about them, do you? Before every World Cup, there’ll be a debate about the balls that they’re using. How much lighter they are than before, what colour they are, how long it’ll be before they just give up and start using beach balls, and so on. There is, you’ll be amazed (but doubtlessly delighted, as I was ) to learn, a book about dugouts. On goalposts, though, nothing. Well, there was a book of photographs brought out a few years ago, but it was a collection of artistically rendered pictures of posts in unusual places. Apart from that, and the occasional article on how goals should be increased to such a size that goalkeepers will require a stepladder to get anywhere near a shot towards the top corner, nothing. So, in the spirit of trying to fill another little hole in the internet’s rich tapestry (and without, hopefully, coming across as being too much of a geek), here we go again.
First, a little history. Goalposts are almost, but not quite, as old as the game itself. There was, perhaps unsurprisingly, no uniformity in size until the FA wrote the first set of rules in 1863 (very little is said on the matter, but their decision to set the width of the goals at 8 yards appears to have been a fairly arbitrary one). Shortly afterwards (and as the result of a goal being awarded for a shot that went crossed the goal line ninety feet up), the FA insisted on a tape being put between the two posts. The Sheffield Association, who had been continuing to use a different sized goal, started to put a solid bar between their goalposts, but the FA banned this practice in the wider world until 1875. It took a further fifteen years for nets to be attached to the back of said goals. JA Brodie, an engineer from Liverpool came up with the invention, and this time the FA recommended that clubs use them straight away. The modern game had taken another little step towards the game that we recognise today.
Until the 1980s, posts were made from wood, but the tide of hooliganism changed that forever. When Scotland beat England 2-1 at Wembley in 1977, the Scottish supporters invaded the pitch at the end and, as part of their celebrations, invaded the pitch and destroyed the goals. Stanchions, to hold the nets back and out of the way had been introduced more or less straight away, but even their existence wasn’t without controversy. In 1970, Aston Villa “scored” in a Division Two match against Leicester City, only to see the goal disallowed because the referee thought that the ball had hit the post rather than the back stanchion of the goal. Villa were relegated by one goal on goal average (the precursor to goal difference). Conversely, at Stamford Bridge, a refereeing error awarded Chelsea a goal against Ipswich Town. At about the same time, clubs started introducing nets with a closer mesh than before, which were sold as “anti-hooligan” nets, because they were reportedly more difficult to climb, of all things.
There are, essentially, three types of goalpost – the L-shape, the D-shape and the stanchion-less (or “Continental”). The L-shape is, I guess, the “traditional” shape of goal. Problems such as those faced by Aston Villa and Ipswich Town, as seen above, did for this style of goalpost. In the early 1980s, the fashion was to hang the nets in front of the back stanchion. Watching videos back of “Match Of The Day” from the time, I suspect that this was as much penny-pinching as anything else. Watch any clip of Liverpool playing at Anfield between about 1972 and 1992, and you can’t help but notice that they didn’t change the goalposts once. By the turn of the 1980s, they looked like the sort of thing that you’d find on a run down pitch next to a sink estate. The D-shape did away with many of these problems. This type of goal was the only type that could be used at some grounds, such as The Dell and Loftus Road, where space restrictions meant that the nets had to be shallow. Possibly the most famous incident involving this type of goal came in 1982 at The Nep stadium in Budapest, when a long range shot from Trevor Brooking got wedged in the stanchion behind the goal.
Both of these designs have become less and less popular with the spread of the continental stanchion-less goal. The nets are held back by “back posts”, which ensure that there can never be any confusion over the ball hitting something made of metal and bouncing straight back out. They made their widespread debut at the 1974 World Cup finals, and are now used at almost every professional football club in Europe, at least. Personally, I don’t like them. Firstly, there are the metal poles that run round the base of the goal. Now, I know that they’re there for a reason (they’re there so that they can be lifted up between matches, removing the need for groundsmen to take the nets down when they cut the grass), but they remove that most special of moments from a match – when the ball hits the net and nestles in the corner. Ah, the wretched look in the goalkeeper’s face, as he lifts the net dejectedly to get the ball, and half punts the ball back to the centre spot for the game to restart.
Curiously, goals and nets have evolved very little since the end of the nineteenth century. The posts are aluminium rather than wood and the nets are now synthetic, but the principal remains the same. Hampden Park, almost unbelievably, kept the same wooden posts from 1909 until the mid-1980s. Developments in technology (such as the electronic nets used at the Parc Des Princes in the late 1980s, which lit up the word “GOL!” when somebody scored) are likely to continue to be little more than gimmicks. It’s nice to know that some things will never change. At least, not that much.