HERE’S something that freaked me out. This afternoon, 14 minutes into a game against Barnsley, I saw Derby County centre-back Dean Leacock score his first-ever goal, almost eight years after making his senior debut.
That wasn’t what freaked me out. (It freaked his manager Nigel Clough out a bit, but I’ll come to that later.) What freaked me out was this: In the eight minutes it then took me to confirm via my laptop internet connection that it was Leacock’s first senior goal, someone had managed to add that fact to his Wikipedia page.
Having done a quick check through Leacock’s page history, I found out that the addition was made at 3.17pm. If you assume that Barnsley v Derby kicked off bang on 3pm, that means the change was actually made within three minutes of the goal.
Discussing this with an incredulous journalist behind me in the Oakwell press box (who I had to persuade that it wasn’t me who had made the change), we came up with two possible theories.
Theory 1: Footballers’ Wikipedia profiles are linked up to some kind of live match database, which automatically feeds in little facts like these at appropriate moments. This seems a technologically difficult thing to pull off, but it’s less frightening than theory 2.
Theory 2: Someone has been tracking Dean Leacock’s every move on a football field for the last eight years on the off chance he might score a goal.
In a week that the Pope came over to Britain and started banging on about aggressive secularism as if people have to cross picket lines to go to church, Dean Leacock’s Wikipedia entry is surely evidence of an omnipotent being watching over us all.
How else can you explain an online article about a half-decent central defender in a middling Championship side being updated so quickly? It’s not even as if you can argue that he must have updated it himself – he was on a football pitch at the time, and he didn’t have so much as an iPhone on him.
Anyway, Leacock had played 136 first-team games since making his debut for Fulham against Wigan in the Worthington Cup in December 2002, without ever scoring a goal. It would seem that 137 is his lucky number.
Barnsley manager Mark Robins described it afterwards as “a horrendous goal”. Without taking anything away from Leacock, it was easy to see what Robins meant.
The goal came after Barnsley conceded a corner in just about the most ludicrous manner imaginable. Derby midfielder Alberto Bueno’s attempted through ball bounced off Barnsley full-back Bobby Hassell’s foot and up on to his arm. As Derby’s players appealed for handball, keeper Luke Steele dozed off and somehow allowed the ball to run under his foot out of play.
It took the referee several seconds to award the corner, probably because he couldn’t quite believe what he had seen.
Barnsley didn’t deal with Ben Pringle’s kick, Shefki Kuqi nodded the ball to Bueno, who nodded it to Leacock, who nodded it in. If I’d had to wait eight years for a goal, I’d have wanted something more memorable. Leacock, though, celebrated as if he’d just won the lottery. Perhaps his odds on scoring the first goal were 14 million to one.
Although Derby winger Kris Commons then had a goal ruled out for offside, Barnsley gradually edged their way back in, with Stephen Bywater beating out Garry O’Connor’s shot. And in a particularly mad goalmouth scramble just before half-time, Diego Arismendi’s shot was cleared off the line by Dean Moxey, before O’Connor’s follow-up was blocked too.
The other main feature of the first half was an incessant yelling coming from somewhere in the main stand. Just as I started to think, “Hmm, that fan seems a bit over-enthusiastic,” I realised the noise was coming from Derby coach Gary Crosby, shouting at the kind of volume that might have cause Noddy Holder to ask him to pipe down.
Actually, I can come up with a more appropriate comparison. Crosby yelled so loudly, for so long, that even John Gwynne thought it was worthy of remark. Gwynne, best known as a TV darts commentator, possesses one of the loudest voices in broadcasting. (You’d certainly never crash into a ship if he was on it.)
On returning to his seat at the start of the second half, Gwynne – covering the game for Sky’s Soccer Saturday – passed on the information that Crosby had been told by one of Derby’s directors to quieten down a bit.
Crosby’s instructions seemed to consist almost entirely of variations on “Come on” and “Get the ball”. I may be doing him a great disservice there. But I couldn’t make out anything more sophisticated amid the bawling, and I was a lot closer to him than most of Derby’s players.
Anyway, as the second half kicked off, Derby immediately went on the attack, with Crosby bellowing them on – louder than ever, it seemed. I couldn’t help thinking that if Crosby had been as loud as this 20 years ago, during his Nottingham Forest days, it would have saved Andy Dibble a whole lot of embarrassment.
Barnsley were soon level, courtesy of another defensive cock-up. John Brayford completely missed O’Connor’s pass and Adam Hammill raced in to score his fourth goal in five games. Hammill, who came through the youth ranks at Liverpool, may just get a second crack at the Premier League one day.
That seems rather less likely for Barnsley keeper Steele, who was once on Manchester United’s books. I don’t see Barnsley that often, but every time I do, he makes at least one significant mistake. Today, he made two.
After his blunder led to the corner from which Derby scored, he got off lightly when he made a total mess of Dean Moxey’s harmless left-wing cross and almost spilled the ball into his own net. Instead, it hit the post and Jay McEveley cleared.
Either side could have won it late on. Kuqi fluffed a great chance for Derby, while Bywater’s reflexes denied O’Connor a winner, and it finished 1-1. Both teams looked for all the world as if they will finish in mid-table. Derby would be happier with that at the moment.
It was suggested to Clough afterwards that Leacock was an unlikely scorer. “Dean Leacock? Very unlikely,” came the reply. “If you’d seen him in training, you wouldn’t put a quid on him to get the first goal.”
Hammill’s goal was less of a surprise. Robins might struggle to hang on to him if he continues his impressive start to the season. Perhaps his best hope is to put Premier League clubs off the scent.
Asked about Hammill’s potential, Robins deadpanned: “I thought he was really poor. I think he’s a poor, poor player and there’s no way on this planet that he can make the step up to the Premier League.”
And with that, he got up and walked out of the press conference to a hail of laughter before anyone could get his true thoughts.
Maybe Robins can keep the world quiet about Hammill for a little longer. After all, as I type this, the winger’s Wikipedia entry hasn’t been updated since Tuesday. How slack is that?