The 50 Greatest Goalposts of All-Time: 40-31
Yesterday we brought you part one of this series, on the 50 greatest goalposts and goal nets of all-time. This is, in many respects, a love story. We all connect to the game in different ways, some through statistics, some through kits, and others through the idolisation of individual players. We all have our peccadilloes, and perhaps this is mine. To a point, it’s a paean for a lost age, one that’s never likely to come back, but it’s also a series of small stories. Through such simple objects as these, it’s possible to tell a version of the history of the game. It’s probably not the most important one, but at a time when there’s no other football on and we’re all clicking our heels , why not indulge ourselves? We’re all putting ourselves through a lot at the moment. We deserve this.
But that’ll do for my blatherings for now. Let’s move on to numbers 40 to 31, shall we?
By the autumn of 1982, Chelsea were in deep trouble. Crowds had fallen to four figures and, whilst the team remained mired in the Second Division and seemed to be sliding towards the Third, the entire club was teetering on the brink of bankruptcy. When ITV’s television cameras visited Stamford Bridge for their match against Charlton Athletic on the 23rd October, then, viewers saw a team that was a pale shadow of a decade earlier. And the question of WHAT THE HELL ARE THOSE GOAL POSTS ABOUT, CHELSEA seems like a fair one to ask. These are possibly the closest to a home-made set seen in anything like recent times at a professional club.
Chelsea won this match by three goals to one, but their season didn’t improve a great deal after this and they only narrowly avoided relegation, come the end of it all. And Colin Pates’ thunderous second goal was of such high quality that a view from it filmed from behind the goal were on display for the remainder of the season as part of the opening titles to The Big Match, which is rather like your high school prom picture being one of you wearing a dressing gown and a cigarette hanging out the corner of your mouth, taken at seven o’clock in the morning. If anyone could fill me on how these came about, I would be enormously grateful.
It’s entirely plausible that the state of Chelsea’s goals during the 1982/83 season is explainable by the club’s desperate financial state at the time. If their previous set got damaged – and considering how much hooliganism there was about at the time, that wouldn’t be completely unsurprising – and they didn’t have the several hundred pounds required for a replacement set, it’s not difficult to imagine the YTS groundsman’s assistant being given a can of white paint, a bag of nails, a hammer and a saw, and being told to get on with it and do his best.
At Nottingham Forest in the 1980s, though, there was a curiosity of similar mystery that can’t be explained by desperate financial circumstances. If you look very closely at the linked video above, you’ll note that the D-stanchions on both goals at The City Ground were different shapes on the two sides. This, it would appears, was a design feature. Either sort of stanchion was in use elsewhere, but this mix and match attitude raises several questions. Could they be a symbol of the breakdown in the relationship between Brian Clough and Peter Taylor? Was this an oblique reference to having won the European Cup twice? (Seems unlikely.) The masses should be told.
Continuing the theme of D-stanchions in unusual predicaments (look, if you replaced “D-stanchions” with “cats” and put it all on YouTube, it would be racking up millions of views), it’s time to head to Eastern Europe for another England away day, this time to play Hungary in Budapest in a qualification match for the 1982 World Cup. England desperately needed the win, and the scores were tied at 1-1 with time running out when Trevor Brooking, who’d already scored England’s opening goal of the night, struck with a thunderous shot from the right hand side of the penalty area that got thoroughly wedged in the right hnd stanchion of the goal. It was the defining moment of Brooking’s England career, and it also turned out to be something of a swansong for him. This was the last goal he scored for his country, and he made the last of his 47 appearances for his country at the following summer’s finals.
“The phones don’t work, taxis are as rare as faithful husbands, a cable to Europe costs an arm and a leg and a letter takes five days to turn up”, and its population as prone to “malnutrition, illiteracy, alcoholism and poverty. Chile is a small, proud and poor country: it has agreed to organise this World Cup in the same way as Mussolini agreed to send our air force to bomb London (they didn’t arrive). The capital city has 700 hotel beds. Entire neighbourhoods are given over to open prostitution. This country and its people are proudly miserable and backwards.”
Fighting words, you might think, and you’d be right. Chile had been devastated by the 1960 Valvidia earthquake, the strongest ever recorded, and it was little short of a miracle that they were even able to host a World Cup finals two years later at all. So it’s understandable if the words of two Italian journalists at the tournament upset the host nation, somewhat, and when the two countries met in a group match, it was predictably fractious. At the Estadio Nacional in Santiago, where the match was played, the groundsman seems to have been torn between what style of goal to go for. At one end, the nets were pulled over the curved (somehow reminiscent of the art deco stylings of the 1920s and 1930s) stanchions as tightly as they could go, whilst at the other they are stretched back like a bride’s wedding train. This venue was, of course, also used for the final between Brazil and Czechoslovakia.
There’s a lot to be said for longevity. By the start of 2005, Exeter City were starting to clamber out of the most desperate period in the entire history of the club. Relegated into the Football Conference in 2003, the Exeter City were rescued by their supporters trust, and in 2004, a Creditors Voluntary Arrangement (CVA) was put in place to reduce the club’s debts. In January 2005, however, came a massive slice of luck when they reached the Third Round of the FA Cup and drew an away match against Manchester United. They made a little over £650,000 in shared gate receipts from this match alone, and when they managed a goalless draw, they made even more money from from a home replay that was televised live by the BBC. It seems unlikely that Cristiano Ronaldo, who was playing that night for Manchester United, has seen anything like it since.
But Exeter City had kept the faith with their L-shaped stanchions. It’s likely that the club’s financial position didn’t exactly help mattters at the time in terms of updating the club’s equipment, but by 2005 St James Park was something of a throwback in several respects regardless, with houses clearly visible along one side of the ground and a small open terrace at one end. This particular terrace has been replaced with a new one with a roof now and the goals have been replaced with box goals, but St James Park remains one of the most charming grounds in the entire Football League to visit.
Football is available in ultra high definition these days, with surround sound and very familar names. It’s a global game. To say that it wasn’t ever thus is becoming something of a cliché these days, but this doesn’t make it any less true. Go back almost forty years, however, and things were somewhat different. Take, for example, the World Club Championship final from December 1981. The grass is a different shade, the horns are ringing loudly in the air, and the commentary is distorted. And there’s Flamengo, featuring some of the best players from a Brazil team that was widely expected to win the World Cup the following summer and wearing shirts with red and navy blue halved sleeves. Football through a filter.
I’ll never get to many of the stadiums in this list. Some of them have already been demolished. But I did make it to the Olympic Stadium in Tokyo, at the end of 2006. It was built for the 1964 Olympic Games, and it didn’t look much as though the toilets had been upgraded since then, either. The goal posts had changed too, of course. Box goals having long since superceded those seen at the end of 1981, when I was a child, the pictures were fuzzy, the horns were discordant, the goals were tidy, and of a South American style.
Now, now, now. No chuckling at the back of the class. The Wankdorfstadion played host to one of the most important football matches of the entire 1950s, the 1954 World Cup final between West Germany and Hungary. West Germany was back on the international stage after a period of exile following the Second World War. Hungary had been the golden team of the last four years, the team that had completed the demolition of English pretentions of superiority on the international stage. And Hungary had already beaten West Germany by 8 goals to 3 in a group match.
With Ferenc Puskas injured (but playing regardless), Hungary went 2-0 up before West Germany fought back to win 3-2. It was a result that set in motion the growth of the German team that would see it become one of the most powerful in the international game. And the goalposts at the Wankdorf are notable, with nets tethered down along the side by strips of wood so broad that they could pass for wainscotting, whilst at the back there is a length of metal tubing shaped to pull the nets back from the goal. Austerity goalposts for an age when a whole continent was still recovering from a calamitous war.
The most recent video you’ll see on this list is from earlier this year, and a League Two match between Leyton Orient and Mansfield Town. On most levels this should look like a fairly standard lower division football match, but there’s something significant about all of this. Brisbane Road is the last hold-out against the tyranny of the box goal in the entire Football League now. The D-stanchion still reigns supreme in this little corner of East London, and we should all be grateful for that. For how much longer that will be the case, of course, remains very much open to question.
Ullevi is a multi-purpose stadium in Gothenburh with an illustrious history. It was built for the 1958 World Cup finals and hosted seven matches, including a quarter-final and a semi-final, the European Cup Winners Cup final twice, the first leg of a two-legged UEFA Cup final in 1987, the UEFA Cup final itself in 2004, and five matches at Euro 92, including a semi-final and the final itself. On top of this, it also held the first American football match played in Europe between two NFL teams (a pre-season match in 1988), and both the European and World Athletics Championships. In 1985 it almost collapsed under the weight of a Bruce Springsteen concert and had to be reinforced.
It is the 1983 European Cup Winners Cup final between Aberdeen and Real Madrid that really grabs our attention here, though. On a thoroughly rain-sodden night, Aberdeen won their first (and to date only) European trophy on a pitch that was resplendent with silver goal posts at each end. FIFA’s laws of the game now stipulate that goal posts have to be white, but this can’t have been the case 37 years ago. The hosts topped this off with green goal nets, giving the over impression that this match might have been played from a vision of the future imagined by Gerry Anderson.
Situated in the Luz area of Lisbon (all of which makes Sunderland calling their stadium the Stadium of Light a little strange, even though “luz” is the Portguese word for “light”), Estadio da Luz was the largest stadium in Europe and the third largest in the world at one point, when a 1985 renovation increased its capacity to 120,000 people. It was demolished in 2002, with a replacement being built for Euro 2004, and was the home of one of most Europe’s most successful teams in the 1960s, with the Benfica team of Eusebio called it home.
And a big stadium, of course, required big goals. The linked video shows them knocking five goals past Sporting in 1986, and if you can get past the slightly unusual camera angle, which is far closer to one end of the pitch than it is to the other, you can see hulking great L-stanchioned constructions with black painted bases and luminous orange nets.