The 50 Greatest Goalposts of All-Time: 20-11
We kick off this evening’s selection in the relatively humble surroundings of the Football League in the early 1980s, in the home counties of England. The meteoric rise of Watford from the Fourth Division to the First was one of the success stories of an otherwise dismal era for football in this country, and it was all accompanied by two of the more remarkable sets of goal posts seen in the country at the time. The D-stanchions on the goal at Vicarage Road were… extraordinary, and one can only wonder at where the instruction to build them that big came from. Were they installed at the behest of Graham Taylor, who arrived at the club from Lincoln City in 1976? Or could they have been the brainchild of chairman Elton John, who was known for being ostentatious, if nothing else? We may never know. All we for certain is that they were finally replaced by a more conventional D-stanchion in 1985.
Some of you may have noted the absence of German venues from this list so far, and there’s a fairly simple reason for this. Germans love a straightforward box net, and have done for as long as there has been professional football in the country. Even box nets can have a story to tell, though. On the 3rd of April 1971, Borussia Moenchengladbach were chasing their second successive Bundesliga title when they welcomed mid-table Werder Bremen to the Bökelberg Stadion. With the scores tied at 1-1, Gladbach striker Herbert Laumen fell into the goal, causing it to collapse. It was established that one of the wooden posts had become rotten over time, and had completely snapped.
Gladbach were expecting the authorities to order the match to be replayed, but instead they awarded a 2-0 win to Bremen and fined Gladbach 1500 marks because they felt that the club should have been checking the condition of the goals and should have been able to fix any problems that occurred. They went on to win the league title by two points from Bayern Munich anyway but Laumen, who won two caps for his country in the late 1960s left the club that summer. His destination? Werder Bremen.
The rumour goes, and I have been unable to confirm this definitively, that it was all the Ipswich Town groundsman’s fault. In the summer of 1981, Ipswich replaced their L-stanchion goals with (tiny) D-stanchions, and the following summer, their groundsman had a bright idea. If he could attach a large U-shaped bar to the base of the posts with a hinge, he wouldn’t have to unpeg the netting in order to cut the grass. He could simply lift the entire base instead, and save himself some valuable time. Those bases now exist as standard on all goals. Bars around the base of goals certainly existed prior to this, but building them into the design of the posts? We can’t remember an earlier example.
Spin forward a decade, however, and the rogue Portman Road groundsman seems to have lost his mind. Ipswich had been relegated from the top flight in 1986 after eighteen years, but they were promoted into the first Premier League in the summer of 1993. The tiny D-stanchions had been replaced by this time and the nets were blue rather than white, but the club had something special in store for the top flight supporters making their first visit to Portman Road in six years – two almost entirely superfluous poles added to hold the netting up for no apparent reason whatsoever. Somewhat surprisingly, these monstrosities survived until the club inevitably moved to box goals in the summer of 1996.
Following the success of the 1970 World Cup finals in Mexico, the drinks manufacturers Martini & Rossi poured money into a six team Women’s World Cup to be held in the same country the following year. The tournament was a massive success. Crowds of 80,000 and 100,000 people turned out to watch the host nation’s two group matches against Argentina and England, and their appearance in the final of the competition, where they were finally beaten 3-0 by Denmark, was watched by 115,000 people. Even getting to the final is an achievement that the Mexican men’s team has never managed – they’ve never advanced beyond the quarter-finals. In tune with the clunking sexism of the era, however, the somewhat startling decision was taken to – apparently in order to appeal to women (and we would love to hear the explanation of how this would work in practice) – paint the goalposts in pink and white stripes. Because the girls can’t resist a bit of pink can they, eh, lads?
The irony of playing a match between Malta and England at The Empire Stadium not easily forgotten. When Malta and England were drawn in the same qualifying group for the 1972 European Championships, Malta had only been independent for seven years, and lot of tension was expressed that day. Almost 30,000 people crammed into the stadium in February 1971 for a match that many considered would be a walkover for the visitors. England had, after all, reached the quarter-finals of the World Cup in a strong field and might have gone further less than a year earlier.
On the day, though, England laboured to a one-nil win thanks to a goal from Martin Peters, who’d scored a goal in the World Cup final just five years earlier, and when the two sides met again at Wembley three months later, the suggestion that England might run up something approaching a cricket score proved to be somewhat overstated, too. They won five-nil, and Malta put up a second creditable performance against strong opposition.
The Empire Stadium was unlike any other international arena of the era. It had a sandy pitch on a concrete base and fans hanging from just about any viable vantage point and, more significantly to us, it had black and shite striped goalposts, as had been seen a couple of years earlier in Hungary when Newcastle United played Ujpest Dozsa in the final of the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup. Malta moved into a new stadium, the Ta’ Qali Stadium, in 1981, but The Empire Stadium remains to this day, albeit unused and overgrown.
Television coverage of it at the time looked like football beamed in from another planet. A mixture of NTSC cameras – the reason why old American TV shows have that odd, slightly washed-out look on British television sets – and the graininess of old VHS cassettes means that it looks even more other-worldly these days, and that’s before we even touch on the disco-inflected kits, star-spangled match balls and artificial playing surfaces. But the NASL – the North American Soccer League, for the uninitiated – was briefly highly successful, and the jewel in its crown was the New York Cosmos. Sprinkled with stars such as Pele, Franz Beckenbauer and Carlos Alberto, crowds at the Giants Stadium briefly topped 70,000 as the Cosmos peaked in 1977 and 1978.
And the goalposts on the plastic pitch were equally other-worldy, orange nets strung across deep narrow stanchions, all attached to thick posts. Had NASL been more widely broadcast in this country and had it lasted longer – the entire league collapsed under the weight of its financial contradictions in March 1985 – football in this country might have ended up resembling it even more than it did over time, with the introduction of a handful of artificial pitches.
Considering the oddities that we’re starting to find as we get higher and higher up this list, you might be forgiven for wondering why a fairly standard set of D-stanchions appear this high up in this list. In fact, if you’ve stuck with this insanity for this long, it’s exactly the sort of question I’d be expecting you to ask. The reason is fairly simple. These are my personal favourites. The set that I would build if I were a groundsman at a football club. And they’re somthing of a curiosity, as well. Manchester City did away with their L-stanchions in the summer of 1976, but they replaced the nets for the following season with loose-fitting sky blue nets. All very appropriate, considering the colour of the club’s shirts.
So why, then, were they a different colour for that year’s FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Everton? Was this an FA edict from a body concerned that blue nets of any hue might be considered bias towards Everton? The sky blue nets were still there on the 2nd of April, for the visit of Ipswich Town. But three weeks later they were gone. And they were still gone when Spurs visited Maine Road a couple of weeks later. But by the start of the following season they were back, for the visit of Manchester United. I strongly suspect the involvement of the illuminati.
The third largest stadium in Mexico and home of Guadalajara, one of the oldest clubs in the country, the Estadio Jalisco has witnessed more iconic moments than most. It’s hosted fourteen matches in the World Cup finals, including two semi-finals. In 1970, it hosted the group match between England and Brazil as well as Brazil’s quarter and semi-finals matches. And the Jalisco had memorable goals at the time, as well. Black, angled stanchions with the netting pulled down in front of them, all the more impressive because the angles on the stanchions seem to be connected with what look like plumbing bends.
12. Camp Nou, Barcelona (1982):
It is one of the rich ironies of the 1982 World Cup that, for all the grandeur and splendour of Camp Nou, one of the most memorable matches of the tournament came elsewhere in the city at La Sarria, the now-demolished home of Espanyol. Cam Nou does, however, leave us with an enduring mystery from this particular tournament. When Belgium defeated Argentina by a goal to nil in the opening match, the nets at the stadium were green and shallow. This stadium, however, was not used for any more group matches (they were all played in Elche and Alicante), and by the time the first match of the second group stage, between Poland and Belgium, was played there, they’d been replaced altogether. So, what happened? Were the nets for the later matches lost in the post? Did the groundsman have a change of aesthetic heart? Did FIFA step in? We may never know.
The 1978 World Cup finals were notable for the goal posts and netting being the same at all six of its host stadiums. The stadium held nine matches during this tournament including the final, but almost forty years on a story emerged that wrapped the goal posts there in intrigue. The story had first appeared on the redoubtable In Bed With Maradona and ended up on the Guardian Sports Network. It can be read in full here, and it is an appealing story. A small act of defiance against a despotic junta, a message of resistance sent to a global audience behind the backs of a government that would almost certainly have murdered anyone who made such claims publicly at that time.
There were, however, issues with this story. Firstly, the use of black bases around goal posts was commonplace for years prior to this tournament. Here they are, being used at the same stadium five years earlier, before the junta had even come to power. It’s believed that they were painted on in order to provide some extra contract for strikers to aim it. Some of the groundsman’s other comments don’t ring true either. “The ground staff in Mendoza defied both Fifa and the junta to install “European” Continental D supports. Ezequiel shrugged, like, what can you do. “We’re just not a uniform people,” he repeated.” Well, that’s not true. Mendoza was the venue that played host to Scotland’s 3-2 win over Holland, and… they weren’t D-Stanchions, although curiously the bases of the goals there are painted red, which perhaps would have been a more appropriate way to mark the deaths of the disappeared.
More than anything else, though, what stands out is that FIFA didn’t demand D-stanchions in 1974 or 1982, or at any tournament since then. Box goals, as used in West Germany, Spain and all stops since then bar 1994, have been the authorities preferred method of supporting a goal net because, with no metal near the goals, they are considered safer. As mentioned elsewhere in this series, goal line technology requires them. And FIFA didn’t start to come down too hard on uniformity within World Cup venues until Joao Havelange renegoiated commercial terms with sponsors after the 1982 World Cup finals. We have little reason that the writer didn’t report a story that he was told in good faith. We do, however, also believe that there are grounds to believe that he may have been told exactly that: a story.
Coming up next: The top ten! Maybe in some sort of order! But perhaps not! Can you stand the tension?