The 50 Greatest Goalposts of All-Time: 10-1
It could have been just about any year, really, because the goal posts and netting at Highbury say one thing more than anything else: permanence. There was much to admire about Highbury – the beautiful art deco stands, the earliest example of floodlights being built into the roofs of stands – but it was the goalposts, large and stately and with green L-stanchions, completely befitting The Establishment Club – which spoke of the permanence of the club more than anything else. 101 years unbroken in the top flight of English football deserves such a tribute.
And when Arsenal finally did decide to move on in 1990, they did so in the most tasteful way possible, replacing the green stanchions with identical red ones, and draping the nets down in front of them rather than hanging them over the back. These remained in place until the inevitable arrival of box goals, in time for the 1995/96 seasons.
Mexico has done pretty well out of this list, with four positions in total, and two of these are for the same stadium, the Azteca, in Mexico City. But whereas those used for the 1971 Women’s World Cup were included for the sheer tastelessness of being painted in pinck and white stripes for a women’s tournament, those used for the men’s World Cup finals the previous year are included for their iconic status. Completed in 1966 for the 1968 Olympic Games and the 1970 World Cup finals, the Azteca is known for its sheer scale. Upon opening, it had a capacity of 107,500, and this was increased to 120,000 within a a couple of years, with a stadium record of 119,853 being set in July 1968 for a friendly match between Mexico and Brazil.
It was the 1970 World Cup finals, however, that earned them their place in football folklore. The first World Cup finalsa to be televised in colour were always likely to be seen this way, even if the vast majority of those watching it at the time would have been doing so on black and white television sets. And the goal net erupting as Carlos Alberto thrashed in Brazil’s fourth goal, one of the most celebrated goals in the history of the game, almost seemed to match the entire world rising to its feet for one of the greatest teams in the history of the game.
With the Italian broadcaster shovelling money into buying the best television cameras they could and sumptuous computer graphics by Olivetti, kit manufacturers apparently in a battle to out-do each other to make the most stylish kits they could and venues that had been completely renovated or rebuilt for the event, the 1990 World Cup finals was one of the most aestehtically satisfying of all them all. Such a pity, then, that the quality of the football being played was frequently so mediocre, and this was as true in the final in Rome as it was anywhere else.
Italy’s defeat to Argentina in the semi-finals brought to an end a run in the tournament that had enjoyed a sense of scale about it, and the final of the competition very much missed them. The vast, billowing goal nets of the Stadio Olimipico, which rose as though gasping every time the ball hit them certainly did, and the 1990 final between Argentina and West Germany turned out to be worst since they’d been committed to video tape, until Brazil and Italy said “hold my Budweiser” in Pasadena four years later.
There was something very beautiful about the 1967 European Cup final between Celtic and Internazionale. The contrast of the green and white hoops of Celtic with the blue and black stripes of Inter, and that venue. The Estadio Nacional was built along the Jamor ravine, a big open bowl surrounded by trees. There was something Olympian about it. And for all of that it didn’t host clubs football and it certainly wasn’t even the biggest stadium in Lisbon.
Just 45,000 people watched the last stand of Helenio Herreira’s catenaccio against this last unlikely but fully deserving team, all born within twenty miles of Celtic Park but transported on this night into eternity. And the goals, when they came, were scored in goals that reflected the similarities between Portuguese and Brazilian culture, simple supports holding the nets back and big, black nets so large it was possible to believe that a goalkeeper may get lost looking for an errant ball.
Goodison Park underwent fairly substantial renovation at the end of the 1970s, replacing its distinctive shape at each end and replacing its L-stanchion goals with D-stanchions. This renovation work, though, gave the ground stands that felt as though they were right on top of the pitch. There was was also more space at one than the other, so Goodison’s goals were for many years pleasingly lop-sided, with the Park End (to the left, for the purposes of TV cameras) further back from the pitch than the Gwladys Street End, meaning that the goal netting, a pleasingly deep shade of dark blue, could be pulled back at one end, but remained squashed in the narrow space between the goal-line and the terraces at the other.
And Goodison Park could be a bear-pit, when a big match was being played. Loud, noisy and cramped, it will be very sorely missed should it go, and it has been suggested that this is inevitable for years, although the current health crisis and the possible financial downturn that all of football may well take as a result of this might make the construction of a shiny new stadium less appealing than it has been for many, many years. The Goodison goals saw perhaps the last great Everton team, the league champions of 1985 and 1987, and they’re the highest ranked English club on this list.
Ask people of a certain age to recall their memories of the 1986 World Cup finals, and their eyes will glaze over, and somewhere close to the tops of many people’s recollections of the tournament will be the huge box goals that were used throughout it by all of the host cities. These were goals big enough to park a camper van in. They looked thoroughly modern and befitting of a tournament of the stature of a World Cup finals. There haven’t, as you may well have noticed, been many box goals in this entire top fifty, but Mexico 86’s make the top five.
Picking any one set was always going to be difficult, because they looked virtually identical at every different venue, so we’ve gone with the Estadio La Corregidora in Querétaro, purely for the novelty of them having orange nets attached, rather than the white ones used everywhere else. Estadio La Corregidora was built in 1984 for these finals, and opened the following year. It hosted all three of West Germany’s group matches, against Denmark, Uruguay and Scotland (still arguably the most fatal Group of Death ever seen in a World Cup finals), as well as the second round match between Denmark and Spain, where Denmark took a lead but then fell to pieces, losing by five goals to one, with Emilio Butragueno scoring four of Spain’s goals.
England’s most iconic goalposts, and quite literally the venue of one of the World Cup’s greatest controversies. These stately posts were installed at Wembley shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War, and remained in place until they had to be replaced for the 1996 European Championships. Over the intervening five and a half decades, though they took a familiar place at the heart of the English game. They were there when Hungary overturned England by six goals to three in 1953 and finally exposed the lie of English superiority on the international stage once and for all. They were there when England won the World Cup in 1966, through several European Cup finals (including the 1968 final, which saw Manchester United become the first English club to win the competition) and, of course, through dozens of FA Cup finals.
The small matter of Geoff Hurst’s second goal in the 1966 World Cup final can hardly be overlooked, of course. Might a goal have been clearer had a different shape been used? Possibly, and few seriously believe these days that the whole of the ball crossed the whole of the goal line. Always pulled tight at the site, they went through varying degrees of bagginess over the years, before finding themselves stretched tighter and tighter throughout the 1980s and 1990s. When they went for Euro 96 and never came back, a small piece of the heritage of football in this country disappeared with them.
France makes its first and only appearance in this list, but it’s at the rarefied height of the number three postion. After winning the European Championships in 1984 and reaching the semi-finals of the 1986 World Cup, the French national team tailed off suddenly, failing to qualify for the next two successive World Cups – they wouldn’t play in another World Cup finals match until their opening match as hosts in 1998 – and only one of the next two European Championships, in Sweden in 1992, where they (along with England) failed to get out of the group stage.
In the aftermath of the 1984 European Championships, the businessman Jean-Claude Darmon was brought in to modernise the French game, which had been lagging behind other countries both in terms of attendances and commercial revenues for some time. One of Darmon’s bright ideas was to weave the three stripes of Adidas into goal nets, but after complaints from rival sportswear manufacturers Puma, FIFA confirmed that they considered the goal nets to be part of the fixtures of the pitch and refused to allow it. Still, though, from the summer of 1986 nets started to appear on Ligue Un goals with the word “BUT” (the French word for “GOAL”) printed across them in a scream bubble (a jagged speech bubble.) They only lasted one season and they didn’t appear at every Ligue Un stadium, but nothing like them has been seen before or since.
The Maracana Stadium is probably the most famous football stadium on the planet, so it’s probably unsurprising that it should feature highly on this list, despite the ongoing fact that television coverage of South American football, both club and international, remains disgracefully slight in the UK and Europe. The Maracana had a distinctly Brazilian style of goal posts for many, many years, only subtly changing from the 1950 World Cup final on, but there was a fear that this style of goal would fade from view after the FIFA-introduced box goals that were installed across the country for the 2014 World Cup finals.
Some Brazilian grounds have since chosen the path of least resistant and kept this design, but others haven’t and the Maracana has since returned to a style that satisfies the desire of the governing bodies for goals that are free deo any form of attachments with the desire of the Brazilian game to do its own thing. The above clip, from last year, shows how this compromise has been reached. Hexagonal netting held back by support poles, but still distinctly Brazilian in their look. When a ball hits this net, it stays in it.
On the 12th of May 1976, Saint-Etienne met Bayern Munich in the European Cup final at Hampden Park in Glasgow. A shot from Dominique Bathenay and a Jacques Santini header the woodwork at Hampden in that final, but Bayern Munich won by a goal to nil. In October 2013, Saint-Etienne bought the goal posts, which had previously had been stored in the Scottish Football Museum at the stadium. Saint-Etienne and their supporters had long believed that the square shape of the goalposts at Hampden Park, while most other clubs had circular or elliptical ones, had cost their club the European Cup. Such are the narrow margins at the top of the game.
The square posts of Hampden Park had been in place since 1903, and they stayed there until 1987. They were in place in 1960, when Real Madrid danced past Eintracht Frankfurt with a 7-3 that made a mockery of England and Scotland teams who had blamed a dreary game shortly beforehands on an unplayable pitch. They were there when a crowd of 149,415 saw Scotland play England there in 1937. They were there when A crowd of 136,505, a record for any match in UEFA competition, saw Celtic beat Leeds United 2–1 (3–1 on aggregate) to get through to the 1970 European Cup Final.
And they were beautiful. Vast, curved stanchions that seemed to go on forever and, at various points the nets were either stretched tight or hanging loose over them. But in 1987, they had to go. New rules outlawed square posts, and after 84 years they had to come down. But they were lovely while they lasted, and they fully deserve their place at the top of this list.