The 50 Greatest Goalposts of All-Time: 30-21
As part of their preparations for the 1970 FIFA World Cup being held in Mexico that summer, the England football team planned to play two friendly matches in South America against Colombia and Ecuador to help them prepare for the high altitudes they would face once the tournament began. What followed, of course, provoked international news headlines, when the England captain Bobby Moore was accused of stealing a bracelet from a jewellery store, a baseless charge which still resulted in Moore in front of a judge, answering the accusations.
The Estadio Olimpico Atahualpa is, at a little over 9,000 feet above sea level, situated at an extremely rarefied altitude, and some degree of oxygen starvation may account for the extraordinary goal posts that greeted the England team when they ran out onto the pitch there. These goalposts, with black bases and multiple stanchions holding the nets back, might be best described as “ornate”, and they didn’t seem to do any harm to England’s performance. A 2-0 win was a solid performance for the tournament ahead.
Sometimes, goalposts and goal nets can be divisive, and few are more so than those used by the United States of America at their nine venues chosen for the 1994 World Cup finals. On the one hand, they are undoubtedly luxuriant and billowing. On the other, though, the argument has been put forward that they’re almost too much. Too opulent. Showing off. They certainly wobble pleasingly when a shot of sufficent velocity hits them.
But this in itself indicates an inherent vulnerability, and this was demonstrated in the most vivid manner possible during Quarter Final match between Mexico and Bulgaria, when play came to a halt after one of the stanchions supporting the Mexican goal collapsed under the weight of several players falling into the net at the same time. In this instance a replacement goal enabled the game to continue, but few should have been surprised by this happening. A portent for something similar had been seen during the opening ceremony for the tournament, when Diana Ross’s penalty kick flew wide, only for the goal to explode anyway. A worse penalty kick wouldn’t be seen again throughout the entire tournament until Roberto Baggio asked the whole world to hold his beer in the final.
Cairo International Stadium is the spiritual home of Egyptian football. It was the stadium at which the country won its first ever qualifacation for the World Cup finals, in 1989. It’s held the final of the African Cup of Nations four times, including last year. It’s hosted numerous derby matches between Al-Ahly and Zamalek. In 1986, over 120,000 fans watched the 1986 African Cup of Nations Final match between Egypt and Cameroon. In 1974, the country held the African Cup of Nations for the first time, but when the hosts were knocked out in the semi-finals by Zaire, the bottom fell out of interest in it.
Just 5,000 people turned out for the final between Zaire and Zambia, and they missed a dramatic final, with two goals in the last four minutes of extra-time forcing a replay. Just 1,000 people turned out for that. All of this was played out in a stadium with huge, voluptuous L-stanchions, stretched in a manner befitting such a huge stadium. The Cairo Internation Stadium was completely renovated in 2005, ahead of the 2006 African Cup of Nations, and now holds 74,000 people.
The love of a good goalpost doesn’t necessary have to solely be a visual experience. Sometimes, the sound can be just as important. Molineux had had a form of D-stanchions since the 1930s, but their crowning glory came as the team battled (ultimately unsuccessfully, as things turned out) to get back into the Premier League in the middle of the 1990s. A decent FA Cup run had taken them past Mansfield Town, Sheffield Wednesday and Leicester City, and when they drew 1-1 at Crystal Palace in the quarter-finals, it seemed as though there was a distinct chance that they could reach their first FA Cup semi-final in almost a decade and a half.
When the replay came about, though, Wolves found themselves up against a Palace team that really had its shooting boots on. Palace won by four spectacular goals to one at Molineux, and the emphatic nature of the win only seemed underlined by the “CLUNK” sound as both the third and fourth Palace goals smacked against the goal stanchions, the last one getting as wedged there as Trevor Brooking’s shot had for England in Budapest had fourteen years earlier. Wolves were out the FA Cup, and come the end of the season, they were beaten in the play-offs as well.
Sometimes, everything comes together at the same time. There is nothing particularly spectacular about the sharply angled D-stanchions of The Racecourse Ground, but their aesthetic fits in perfectly with one of Wales’ best international results of the 1980s, their 3-0 win against Spain in a World Cup qualifier played there in 1985. It’s all there. The Adidas Tango ball. The sumptuous Wales kit. The packed crowd on the terrace behind the goal. And, of course, Mark Hughes delivering a magnificent bicycle kit of a shot which shaves the underside of the crossbar before ending up in the corner of the net. These same posts were also on duty seven years later, of course, when a thunderous Mickey Thomas free-kick helped Wrexham (then bottom of the entire Football League) to knock Arsenal out of the FA Cup.
The thought that you used to be able to identify a stadium is hardly a new one, but the idea that you may have been able to do so without previously having seen them before might just be. Sunderland replaced their goalposts at the start of the 1980s, and the new set probably couldn’t have suited any other club better. This match against Manchester United from 1984 shows them off in their full glory. The small mesh anti-hooligan nets may not have been popular with ground staff (as someone who has had to carry them in the past, you can trust me when I tell you how much heavier they were than nets with a bigger mesh), but the white here, combined with the red of the stanchions, is undeniably, unmistakeably Sunderland. They were removed in 1988, and replaced by an altogether more standard D-stanchion, which remained until Roker Park was demolished upon the construction of the Stadium of Light.
Continuity can count for a lot. When English football’s movements toward “continental” style goal frames became a rush, Newcastle United went for something ever so slightly different, and therefore completely distinctive. The stanchions at St James Park were a U shape rather than a D shape. It’s difficult to say exactly when they were introduced – I know for certain that it was between 1956 and 1967, though I’m unable to be any more precise than this – but they were immediately distinctive, and they stayed in place for a considerable amount of time. Sometimes the nets were taut, on other occasions they sagged. Sometimes they were plain white, and on other occasions they were black and white striped. But they were removed for Euro 96, as happened at many other grounds (including Wembley), and they never returned.
23 & 22. Dens Park & Tannadice Park (Dundee) (1986):
Two rivals with grounds so close to each other that they could hurl insults at each other from their respective stands, Dundee and Dundee United both had a strong nets game suring the 1980s. Dundee United won the Premier Division of the Scottish League in 1983, reached the semi-finals of the European Cup the following year, and won the UEFA Cup in 1987 with these L-shaped stanchions, with nets in proportion to the club’s home kot of orange and black. Pleasingly, the goals just over the road at Dens Park were the same, but different. Dundee went for a D-stanchion, but with nets that were navy blue with white side-netting. They had a considerably more modest decade than their rivals, but they were involved in one of the more memorable games of the 1980s there when, on the last day of the 1985/86 season, they beat Hearts 2-0 to deny the Edinburgh club their first Scottish league championship since 1960.
The home of Welsh rugby since 1881, Cardiff Arms Park went through several iterations before the National Stadium was completed there in 1984, but it took several years before the Welsh national football team started to use it. They finally started to use it regularly from 1990 on, and three years later found themselves going into their final group match in qualification for the 1994 World Cup finals knowing that a win against Romania would send them to the USA. They fell behind following a first half mistake by goalkeeper Neville Southall, but Dean Saunders pulled them level and then, almost straight from the kick-off, a foul on Gary Speed gave them a penalty kick. Paul Bodin stepped up and, in one of the most infamous moments in the history of Welsh football, hit the crossbar. A late goal from Florin Răducioiu put the matter beyond any remaining doubt.
With its facilities already antiquated and the requirement to turn all-seater threatening to drop its capacity to just 34,000, the National Stadium was already showing its age. The 74,000 capacity Millenium Stadium replaced it in 1999. Briefly, though, it was almost a national stadium for the Wales national football team. One of its crossbars, however, has a place in infamy, even if it did top off attractive looking red and white striped small mes netting. If only, as Wales football supporters likely still occasionally rue, it had been three or four inches higher on that evening in November 1993.