The debate about the best goals of all time is much like a debate about the best album of all time. When Q magazine conduct their poll seemingly every seven or eight months the likes of Ok Computer, Nevermind and Revolver always float around the
top end. But surely every single person has an album that reminds them of a time or a place or a romance or a stupid teenage phase that means more to them than any critical evaluation possibly could. And, in the same vein, technically speaking the best goal ever scored is probably a tie between Marco van Basten’s torpedo against the USSR in 1988, and Brazil’s masterpiece in the World Cup Final of 1970, credited to Carlos Alberto merely because he got the final touch. But these are goals that I remember, goals that stand out for me in the 22 year love affair I’ve had with the glorious game of Association Football, I don’t expect you to have memories of that many of them, but that’s why we have youtube. Incidentally, my favourite album of all time changes every day, this list is pretty much set in stone.
10. Jurgen Klinsmann vs Sheffield Wednesday, Premiership, January 1995.
It’s hard to recall in the age of the transfer window and Roman Abramovich the impact made by Klinsmann signing for Spurs after USA 94. Tottenham were in deep financial straits at the time, and in the aftermath of the last genuinely great World Cup, Ossie Ardiles secured the signatures of three of the finest players on show. Ille Dumitrescu and Gica Popescu had enjoyed superb tournaments as part of a Romanian side that were arguably the best team in the competition and were desperately unlucky to lose to a functional Sweden side in the quarters. Klinsmann, on the other hand, came to England as a pantomime villain, with a (deserved) reputation for diving and oh yeah, give or take Romario, he was probably the best player in the world at the time.
Ardiles hit upon playing his star man in one of the most ridiculous systems ever seen in English football, effectively a 4-1-5 formation in which the wretched Popescu would play as the solitary midfielder, Dumitrescu and Klinsmann would play upfront along with Darren Anderton, Teddy Sheringham and the 22-year-old Nicky Barmby. Which left “talents” such as Stuart Nethercott, Dean Austin and Justin Edinburgh holding the backline.
Klinsmann scored against Wednesday on his debut at Hillsborough, and celebrated with his famous swallow dive, but this was the best goal he scored in his brief sojourn in English football, following a long ball from the left wing, out-muscling the six foot four carthorse Andy Pearce, and positively beaning a 20 yarder past Kevin Pressman, who was the best keeper in England at the time (I don’t care what anyone says, he was the best keeper in England at the time.) It’s a real shame he didn’t stay longer.
9. Tony Adams vs Everton, Premiership, May 1998
The influx of classy, ball-playing, foreign centre-halves shouldn’t have caused such a storm as it did in the mid-nineties. Players such as Paul McGrath, Gary Pallister and Neil Ruddock knew how to take the ball down and play it on the floor, much in the same way as Franck LeBeouf, Phillipe Albert and Jaap Stam did. Tony Adams, however, didn’t fit into this category. People called him a donkey, and he was one of the players that, under Graham Taylor’s reign as national coach, was held up by the critics as everything that was bad about English football. And he was an alcoholic.
Let’s look a bit closer. He was part of the greatest back four ever to grace the English game. He was the best man-marker our country has ever seen. And he was a magnificent leader of men on a football field, arguably the best captain we’ve had since Bobby Moore. He played the same game that John Terry plays today. And he was worth ten of that shit-stirring prick.
Under George Graham, Adams was obviously a great defender but an undisciplined and troubled man. After Arsene Wenger took over, he emerged from a six-month re-hab spell as a roll-necked, cappuccino-drinking philosopher off the pitch, and a completely rejuvenated footballer on it. And in the last match of this season, after he inspired the Gooners to claw back an 11 point deficit (a few bookies had paid out in March on Man Utd winning the league), he found himself on the end of a perfectly fitting through ball from his defensive bezzy mate Steve Bould, and clattered a half volley past big Nev Southall, as the ever-excellent Martin Tyler yelped, “It’s Tony Adams WOULD YOU BELIEVE IT!?!?!?!”
In St. Etienne a few months later, Adams would find himself up against one of the genuine all-time greats, Gabriel Batistuta, and he barely gave the Argentine a kick. That game would be thought of in reverie as one of England’s many glorious failures. It would however, go down in history, that with this goal against Everton, Adams’ redemption was complete.
8. Andy Morris vs Middlesbrough, FA Cup, April 1997
Considering some of the amazing feats of skill and flair mentioned elsewhere in this piece, a 2 yard tap-in from a player no-one has heard of shouldn’t be here, but sometimes great goals are all about context. Andy Morris played for Chesterfield, in case you didn’t know, and at the time they were about eighth in what was then called the 2nd division. The game in question was an F.A. Cup semi-final against Premiership Middlesbrough, and it was the best game I’ve ever seen.
The F.A. Cup simply doesn’t produce games like this anymore, mainly because the big teams don’t take it seriously these days, but this tie had absolutely everything. Middlesbrough had spent enormously over the past year, bringing in Nicky Barmby (£5.5M), the superb Juninho (£4.75M), Emerson (£4M), Gianluca Festa (£2.7M) and in one of the most bizarre transfers of recent times Fabrizio Ravanelli (£6.5M). Andy Morris signed for Chesterfield from Rotherham for….. £500 and a bag of footballs.
After an end-to-end first half, during which Vladimir Kinder was sent off for looking too much like a vampire bat, the plucky Spirites made the man advantage count and the enormity of this strike probably didn’t sink in until five minutes later, when Morris won a penalty which Sean Dyche completely battered down the centre of the goal. That put them 2-0 up, but for all their efforts, Chesterfield didn’t make it through that day, and although it didn’t quite end in tears, at that point people were really thinking a club in the third tier could reach Wembley, such was the glory of the F.A. Cup in the twentieth century, and possibly the best thing about this goal is Morris’s celebration; a man who has never been heard of before, and has never been heard of since, calmly strolling off, waving to the crowd, enjoying his fifteen minutes of fame.
7. Les Ferdinand vs Man Utd, Premiership, December 1994
We have apparently, according to various sources, spent the last eight years presiding over a “Golden Generation” of English talent. Yeah, that’s right, a Golden Generation, the finest generation for generations. Who the hell are they trying to kid? And who exactly are “they” anyway? Can I just take you back to the mid-90’s to compare?
Our national team’s current forward line consists of the following options; Wayne Rooney, Jermaine Defoe, Danny Welbeck, Daniel Sturridge, the permanently injured Andy Carroll and the infinitely bookable Peter Crouch. There are no more quality English forwards ready for international football, and its debatable whether the word quality really applies here. Now, at Euro 96, we took Shearer, Sheringham, Fowler and Ferdinand. Here are some of the players that didn’t get in the squad: Stan Collymore, Andy Cole, Chris Sutton, Ian Wright, Peter Beardsley and Matthew Le Tissier. Golden Generation my arse.
I have tried to find a youtube clip of this goal but to no avail, so you’ll have to rely on my memory to convey how explosive it was, and the reason I love it so much is because it reminds me of a time when English footballers were capable of producing moments of magic like this on a regular basis. Ferdinand was playing for Queens Park Rangers at the time, on a Loftus Road pitch that was practically a swamp. He went up for a header with Steve Bruce roughly 25 yards from goal, and as the ball broke he swung his right foot with such utter violence that Schmeichel didn’t even see it blaze past him into the top corner. Sky’s Ian Darke yelped “Bruce up with Ferdinand, and Ferdinand hitting…” and the noise he made after that could only be described as a growl, which fitted the sheer velocity of the strike perfectly. Had it hit the woodwork, it would’ve knocked the goal over.
6. Anthony Yeboah vs Liverpool, Premiership, August 1995
As I said earlier, sometimes the goals you remember the most remind you of a time and a place. This goal is the prime example of that for me. I remember it chiefly because it was my household’s first experience of Monday Night Football, as after two or three years of me and my kid brother Andy badgering my mother and two or three years of my father sulking, we finally had SKY installed that summer.
Tony Yeboah had exploded onto the Premiership radar in about February the previous season as a muscular and pacy centre forward, leading the line in an otherwise unspectacular Leeds side. He scored something like 12 goals in 14 appearances that season, and in the 1995-96 season preview Andy Grey actually tipped Leeds for the title and freely admitted he’d formed this opinion due to the emergence of Yeboah. My Ghanaian work colleague has repeatedly told me that until Michael Essien came along he was rated as Ghana’s finest ever player, and he really did look like a phenomenal talent at the time.
Of course, Leeds wouldn’t come anywhere close to the title that year, and Yeboah picked up a hamstring injury in November. He then got involved in a contest with Tomas Brolin to see who could be the first to reach the 18 stone mark, but I remember myself, our Andy and our mate Stephen Thornton leaping off my mother’s settee shrieking with amazement at this strike. Look at it, the suspense of waiting for the ball to come down, the angle of his stride, the added bonus of going in off the woodwork….. it’s beautiful.
5. Matthew Le Tissier vs Wimbledon, Premiership, October 1995.
Johan Cruyff is widely recognised as the 3rd greatest footballer of all time. He should know what he is talking about. And in one 1995 soundbite he pretty much summed up one of the major problems with the English football mentality. “In any country other than England, Le Tissier would have 60 caps by now.”
We don’t like creative players here in England. Terry Venables certainly didn’t, awarding him merely four of his farcical eight, yes EIGHT, full England call-ups, when he was by an absolute mile the best player in England. Graham Taylor had put him on the bench once, but didn’t play him. Instead he started with Geoff Thomas. Got sacked, you know, Taylor.
In the mid 90’s the Match Of The Day Goal Of The Season contest was pretty much a straight one-to-one between Le Tissier and Eric Cantona, similar players but plying their trades in totally different circumstances. Cantona played for one of the biggest clubs in the world, he was intense and temperamental, aggressive and hated by those who didn’t love him. Le Tissier simply couldn’t be arsed.
Matthew Le Tissier is my favourite footballer ever, and his most brilliant moment is either the game of keepy-uppy he played with himself while waltzing through the Newcastle defence in ’94, or the frankly preposterous 40 yard lob after beating three Blackburn players in 95, both of which are in the above clip, but I’ve chosen this goal because it encapsulates the way he played football in a nutshell. It wasn’t the first time this had been done (John Sheridan hit the bar with an identical effort in a league cup tie against Bradford a fortnight earlier) but only Le Tiss could really pull it off. It’s so utterly nonchalant; it makes you think that if he’d had pockets in his shorts, he would’ve played with his hands in them.
Le Tissier means “The Weaver” you know….
4. Glenn Hoddle vs Manchester Utd, League Cup, August 1979
My father is solely responsible for my love affair with football. He took me to games when I was a child, games that I didn’t want to go to such as North Ferriby vs various teams named after cakes or real ales on snowy and/or drizzly January afternoons when I was between the ages of eight and eleven. He once had a row with my mother, an actual marital disturbance, because he was trying to impress upon her that David Ginola’s magnificent talent at crossing should be considered an artform. He also furnished me and my brother with numerous football videos, one of which was 100 Years Of The Football League, and a brief snippet of this goal was featured on it. I must have watched it 500 times. Incidentally, this is the only goal on this list that wasn’t scored in my lifetime.
It’s impossible to get across to someone who’s never played football just how difficult it is to master this sort of skill. It’s all about balance and momentum, it’s almost like some sort of martial art. In fact, Andrew Ware, this is why football is a better game than rugby league. This is a true moment of utter class, and something which simply doesn’t have an equivalent in rugby. And although I was baffled as a 13 year old watching my parents shout at each other, my father was right; sometimes it is an art form.
The trick to a good volley is the shape or stance of the protagonist’s body, there are great examples here:
at 0:35 here
and of course, here
but Hoddle’s wins in my opinion for the sheer speed of the move, Ardiles’s stabbed pass is exquisite, and the way Hoddle leaps to strike the ball is incredible. Look at the position of his left foot when he makes contact…
3. Richey Humphreys vs Leicester City, Premiership, September 1996
I’m well aware that this choice is entirely esoteric and nobody will remember it, but let me have my Wednesday moment. When the full-time whistle was blown at the end of this match, my beloved Owls were top of the Premiership, with a 100% record, and when then F.A. chairman Bert Millichip presented David Pleat with the manager of the month award he said, and I quote, “Sheffield Wednesday are the epitome of everything that is good about English football.” We all know what’s happened since, and while I wipe away a single tear, I’ll compare it to remembering a girl who you thought was incredibly beautiful at school, and ten years later in a club a sweating, drunken wildebeest lurches towards you with a Bacardi breezer in her hand and a boss-eyed smile on her face and you realise in a horrific flash that it’s her.
1996-97 was my best season as a Wednesday fan. I was a regular writer for the supporter’s club magazine even though I was only fifteen, I went to a good few games and we had a great side. We had the best keeper in the country in Kevin Pressman, Des Walker and Dejan Stefanovic at the back and two great midfield scrappers in Graham Hyde and Mark Pembridge. On a sadder note, Mark Bright, John Sheridan and Chris Waddle would all leave, as would my all-time Wednesday hero David Hirst, but Benito Carbone, Regi Blinker and Andy Booth would prove capable replacements.
Richey Humphries, however, is a stranger story. For the first half of that season, he looked like the hottest prospect in English football for years, he wore the number 9 shirt for the U21’s that year, but after a hat-trick in the third round of the FA cup he wouldn’t score again in a Wednesday shirt. It was said that he was upset by the departure of Waddle who had taken him under his wing, and after Pleat was sacked the following season he was horrifically mis-managed by the clueless Danny Wilson. Thirteen years on, he is now at Hartlepool, where he is viewed much in the same way that Ian Ashbee is at City, and it must be terrible for a player with such obvious talent to have hit his peak at the mere age of seventeen. For the first few games of that glorious season though… well, just look at that goal. I remember screaming at the telly, “Pass it to Hirst, Pass it to Hirst!!!” He didn’t need to.
2. Paul Gascoigne vs Scotland, European Championships, July 1996
There is a theory that all genius is flawed, and in football this is as true as in any other discipline. If you peruse the history of the game, you’ll find true mavericks such as Garrincha, Best, Maradona and Cantona who had a definite flipside to their wonderful talents. In England though, we don’t do flawed genius that well. In my opinion, our country has produced merely three bonafide geniuses. Players such as Charlton, Moore, Lineker and Beckham, while iconic figures, were very good players rather than geniuses. And men like Barnes, Waddle and Beardsley were close but not quite there. So we have two players who I’ve already mentioned. Matthew Le Tissier, whose flaw was the fact that he liked the odd kebab and had a work-rate that even Kieron Dyer would be ashamed of, and Glenn Hoddle, whose misgiving was that he was a bit of a God-botherer. So it is, as I’m sure you’ll agree, in stark contrast that the best player this country has ever produced wasn’t just flawed, he was an absolute fucking lunatic.
Some of Paul Gascoigne’s more ludicrous moments include refusing to sign for Lazio until they bought him his own trout farm (they did), playing an imaginary flute in front of the staunchly catholic Celtic fans after he scored for Rangers (riot outside the ground), paying £1500 to a Chinese market trader for a £5 watch because he couldn’t work out the exchange rate, urinating on sleeping team-mate Richard Gough, paying best mate Jimmy Gardener £1000 a go to let him throw darts at his bare arse, and attempting to remove Garry Parker’s chin with his studs in the 91 Cup Final.
However, he was the best player this country has ever seen. He was terrifically strong, in going forward and in the tackle, and he had the rare ability to carry the ball as a winger would but through the centre of the field. He didn’t run, he somehow glided across the turf, and he could score from anywhere. During Italia 90 he displayed the trait that Englishmen don’t seem to have anymore, that of being gee’d up by the big occasion rather than being frozen in terror. When he faced Ruud Gullitt in the 2nd group game, rather than being intimidated he simply strode up to him and asked him what his wage was at AC Milan. In the prelude to the semi-final against West Germany, Bobby Robson was worried about the midfield threat of Lothar Mattheus, the best player in the world at the time. Gascoigne apparently said “Don’t worry boss, leave him to me.” And promptly nutmegged him in the first minute.
After his self-destruction in the 1991 Cup Final, he was never the same force. The talent was there certainly, but his knees would increasingly let him down. When he signed for Glasgow Rangers in 1995, it was pretty much an admittance that he couldn’t hack it at the top level anymore, and this goal was his last hoorah. After this he would descend into media circuses and alcoholism, and was last seen trying to hop a police barrier to take some fried chicken and oranjebaum to a psychopath who’d gone mental with a shotgun. It all seems such a long way from the whole country being in a state of euphoria when he stroked this one past Andy Goram. As sad a story as professional sport has to offer.
1. Dennis Bergkamp vs Argentina, World Cup Quarter Final, July 1998
I work with a consultant anaesthetist during the week who’s name I shan’t mention, a phenomenally skilled individual, and deservedly very well paid. He refers to me as “The Angry Young Man,” we have our banter and it’s all very tongue-in-cheek, I like him and take his deliberate efforts to wind me up in good humour. One of our regular exchanges will go something like this:
Doctor: So Allen, what are your plans this weekend?
Me: I’m going to watch the football on the big screen in Linnet.
Doctor: I see. I’m going to the opera you know, high society. I try and keep my distance from sport I don’t want to be associated with working-class pursuits. If you’re going to the shop on your break could you get me a copy of the Daily Mail?
Me: Piss off.
Yes, football is a working-class interest, and should remain so. But, going back to my fathers argument about Ginola, at it’s best it really should be thought of as an artform. Just like opera.
Whenever they compile a list of England’s finest ever imports, its always Henry, Cantona, Zola and the like, but, just as there’s always a few arch bastards who say Hatful of Hollow is the best Smiths album, perhaps Bergkamp has a better claim than most remember. He had amazing close control and sublime shooting ability. He was humble and unselfish and had astonishing balance, and he was absolutely ice cold. Nerveless. This goal was scored in the 89th minute of a world cup quarter-final. Most players wouldn’t have the minerals to try doing this in a friendly against Goole Town when they were already 7-0 up.
When people remember this goal, Frank De Boer’s remarkable pass is often forgotten, but so perfect is Bergkamp’s control, it is overshadowed. Between the second and third touches, it seems that he doesn’t quite know what to do with his hands, like he’s trying to squeeze past a skinhead at a crowded bar. One almost imagines him saying to Ayala, “Can I just get by there mate, I’m going to humiliate you.” The finish is sublime obviously, as is Ayala’s reaction, hands on hips looking exasperated in the knowledge that some men will always be better than others. As Marlon Brando’s Kurtz said in Apocalypse Now, “Perfect. Complete. Genuine. Crystalline. Pure.” I’d be amazed if anyone could find me fifty people in the entire world who can do what Bergkamp did here. So bollocks to the opera, bollocks to the ballet, bollocks to the Royal Shakespeare Company, and bollocks to you Dr Wallace, as far as I’m concerned, with this goal, Dennis Bergkamp made football high society.
Oh bugger, I said I wouldn’t mention his name….
Allen Miles is 31 years old and lives in Hull. He is married and has a 20 month-old daughter who is into The Ramones. He is a staunch supporter of Sheffield Wednesday FC and drinks far too much wine. He spends most of his spare time watching old football videos on youtube and watching 1940s film noir. He is the author of 18 Days, which is widely recognized to be the best book ever written by someone from Hull. It is available here. http://tinyurl.com/8d2pysx