Saturday, 7 December 2013

On Seeing the 100% Perfect Goal

Everyone has their favourite type of goal, right?  For some it's a dipping pass met first time on the volley and angled past the unprepared goalkeeper.  For others only a solo effort will do, a lone player picking gaps through a defence before casually placing the ball in the net.  There are those who go for a curling free kick, others for diving headerslast-gasp winners,  long-range thunderbolts or this gloriously languorous chip.  Me? One beautiful April evening, exactly one hundred and seventeen minutes into the 1995-96 Premier League football season, I shared a crowded terrace with the back end of a supermarket and saw the 100% perfect goal.

It started with a goalkeeper. Bolton's Keith Branagan, who'd already let in three the previous Saturday and would concede a season average of almost two goals a game, punted a kick downfield, where Warren Barton, England's most expensive defender, outjumped the journeyman Dutch striker Fabian De Freitas, sending his header back over halfway.  Peter Beardsley cushioned the dropping ball to the feet of David Ginola, languidly advancing down the left wing.  As the opposing full-back, Scott Green, scurried back into position,  Ginola touched the ball forward with his right boot, shaping to cut inside and then arcing a left-footed cross from the just inches inside the touchline before the ambling Saša Ćurčić, more adept at chasing women than wingers, could make it back to help.

The dipping ball was perfectly placed, Les Ferdinand barely breaking stride as he rose between  Gudni Bergsson and Alan Stubbs, glancing a header down and away from Branagan's dive into the bottom corner of the net.   "That's a great cross, you know.  Ferdinand's in there....oh yes! It only took a touch, but it was a classy touch from Les Ferdinand," the commentator says appreciatively.   Beardsley, Robert Lee and Keith Gillespie embrace the beaming goalscorer. From start to end, it was a goal of almost effortless elan. 

Burnden Park had opened in 1895, hosted Nat Lofthouse and an FA Cup Final replay and had its hatted-and-suited crowds immortalised in LS Lowry's distinctive matchstick style. Two years later it was demolished and replaced by an Asda.  Gone too were Keegan's Entertainers, dismantled by the joyless Kenny Dalglish, whose New Model Army football saw Ginola's artistry replaced by Des Hamilton's arse and Ferdinand sold to Tottenham Hotspur after the purchase of a slight, nerve-stricken Dane.   "I can't play for that man," Ginola told a group of Newcastle fans in an unguarded moment at Nice Airport. In 1999, he won both the PFA and FWA Player of the Year awards.  Dalglish had already been sacked; Des Hamilton went on loan to Sheffield United and Huddersfield Town. 

Ferdinand left Tyneside after scoring fifty goals in just eighty-four games (you can see them all here). "The time I spent (at Newcastle) was the best period in my career," he later said.  It was a sentiment shared by most Newcastle supporters.  When the Magpies next travelled to face Bolton, the pitch was at an out-of-town arena by a motorway in Horwich, the only pub within walking distance refused to serve football fans, and Nathan Blake scored the only goal on a dispiritingly cold December night.

A sad story, don't you think?