Sometimes, one has to wonder whether this sort of thing follows Neil Warnock around. In 2007, Sheffield United were relegated on the last day of the season after Carlos Tevez scored an unlikely winner for West Ham United at Old Trafford. In February 2008, he accused a linesman of celebrating a goal for Bristol City in a match against his Crystal Palace team. Last weekend, in what threatened to overshadow everything else that took place over the three divisions of the Football League, Crystal Palace ran into more problems at Ashton Gate with a “goal that never was” in their Championship match against – again – Bristol City.
They had been playing for half an hour at Ashton Gate on Saturday when Palace’s Freddie Sears drove the ball past the onrushing Bristol City goalkeeper Dean Gerken and into the bottom corner of the net. Except for one small detail. The ball bounced up off the metal rim that holds the net down and bounced out. The referee and his assistants presumably thought that the ball bounced out off the post and refused to give a goal. In the final minutes of the match, insult was layered upon injury when Nicky Maynard scored the only goal (that was awarded) of the match for Bristol City. Cue an expected amount of apoplexy from Warnock and the Crystal Palace owner, Simon Jordan.
Warnock was unsuccessful in his bid to get the match replayed, and was always unlikely to be. No matter how terrible a refereeing decision might be, getting a match replayed will only happen in extreme circumstances. A single bad decision won’t usually be enough to get a match replayed, even if the decision concerned is an absolute stinker. Referee Rob Shoebridge has been removed from the Football League list for two weeks, but the incident has left something of a sour taste in the mouth, with accusation and counter-accusation being made by officials from both clubs, Palace having accused Bristol City of bad sportsmanship and City’s Chief Executive Colin Sexstone accusing Palace of “shouting and bawling without knowing the facts”.
Of course, it isn’t the first time that anything like this has happened. Probably the most famous example of the phenomenon of “The Goal That Never Was” came during a televised match between Coventry City and – something of a coincidence, this – Crystal Palace, when a free kick from Clive Allen bounced back off the stanchion at the back of the goal and back into open play. The goal wasn’t given and Palace were relegated at the end of the season. In part, the goal achieved the notoriety that it did because of the comparative lack of football on the television time, but also because it was a staggeringly poor decision.
Another example of the genre came in Scotland in 1993 during a match between Partick Thistle and Dundee United. United’s Paddy Connolly scored from close range, but the ball hit the stanchion at the back of the goal, but nothing was given by referee Les Mottram. In this case, the sin was compounded by the fact that the rebounded shot was caught by a Partick defender and thrown back to their goalkeeper although since, in this case, United won 4-0 anyway the incident didn’t have any serious ramifications for either club. Mottram, for the record, went on to represent Scotland as a referee at the 1994 World Cup Finals.
Since then, goalposts with stanchions have largely been phased out and replaced with poles that sit back from the goals. The ball bouncing back from the stanchion is a thing of the past. Or so we thought. Perhaps Freddie Sears’ goal was the Football Gods taking a moment to remind us that, no matter what attempts at standardisation are brought in by the powers that be, a way will be found to continue to cause controversy and infuriate the likes of Neil Warnock. In this case, if Warnock wants somebody to blame he needs look no further – apart from Rob Shoebridge, obviously – than Portman Road, Ipswich and one Stan Prendergast.
According to Simon Inlgis’ exhaustive book “The Football Grounds Of Great Britain”, Prendergast was the groundsman at Ipswich Town in the early 1980s, and it was he that first came up with the idea of attaching the goal nets to bars that were in turn attached to the goal posts with hinges. This minor innovation allowed him to lift the netting with ease for the purposes of cutting the grass around the bottom of the goals. Prior to this, groundsmen had to either take the nets down completely or tie them up away from the ground. The result of this has been strangely aesthetically displeasing. Shots on target have a tendency to twang straight back out rather than nestling in the netting (as any true afficianado knows, ideally the ball should still be spinning at this point). The act of even scoring a goal has been ever so slightly besmirched with this particular attempt at progress.
Seven days into the season, then, the debate over goal-line technology has begun yet again. The arguments in favour of them are well trodden and the television companies, who would see their relationship with the game formalised to unprecedented levels, are always keen to add their support to such schemes, but none of the advocates of goal-line technology and fourth officials have ever been able to square the circle that is the fact that so many of us merely enjoy seeing the likes of Warnock winding themselves up into such a lather. Long may it continue.