THE goal net, like the Wagon Wheel or ITV, isn’t what it used to be. There was a time, 20 or 30 years ago, when almost every league club in England seemed to have their own distinct style of net (and a lot of clubs in Scotland still had square posts).
One of the best articles I’ve read in When Saturday Comes this year was by Jonathan Wilson, who wrote about how goal nets used to differ between English grounds in the 1980s, from the curved green stanchions at Wembley to the sloping dark blue ones at White Hart Lane to the absurdly shallow goal nets at The Dell.
Simon Inglis’ brilliant late 1980s book The Football Grounds Of Britain includes a short section on goal nets, their differences and quirks, complimenting Ipswich Town’s groundsman for designing a goal which allowed him to flip up the netting at the back, so he didn’t have to remove it when mowing that area of the pitch.
That seems a quaint notion now, when you can be at a ground half-an-hour after the final whistle and see the club staff have removed not only the netting, but also the goalposts. What was once a notable feature of a club’s ground has become as removable as a corner flag.
I saw this idea taken to its extreme when covering a game at Wrexham about three years ago. Many clubs place a training goal about 12 to 18 yards to side of the normal posts during the warm up these days. The idea is to save the goalmouth from unnecessary wear and tear. They did this at Wrexham too, but only used one set of goalposts.
So three-quarters of an hour before kick-off at the Racecourse Ground, you would see the goals placed halfway between the six-yard box and one of the corner flags. When the warm-up was over, the ground staff would come along and shift the posts back into the right position for the game. I’d love to know if they ever forgot, and the teams ran out for a match with the goals in the wrong place.
In fairness to Wrexham, at least their goal nets still had a spark of individuality, as they had stuck with the sort of 80s-style D-frame stanchion which began to disappear from Premier League grounds around 1996. At most clubs now, one set of goals looks pretty much like another. As Wilson put it in WSC: “Colours occasionally change but they [the goals] all share the same basic shape, with a pole behind the goal holding up a basic functional cuboid.”
Anyone who remembers Clive Allen’s goal-that-never-was for Crystal Palace at Coventry in September 1980 will understand why the 70s-style A-frame stanchion eventually went out of fashion. Goal net design over the last 30 years has been intended to prevent a repeat of the sort of incident where a ball bounces in and out of the net so quickly that the referee doesn’t see it is a goal.
And yet, even with the “functional cuboid” design, exactly the same thing happened to Palace again at Bristol City in 2009, when Freddie Sears’ shot bounced out freakishly off a bar holding down the netting on the ground at the back of the goal, and referee Rob Shoebridge didn’t see it had gone in. Progress, advocates of video technology might be interested to learn, doesn’t always eradicate mistakes.
With goal net design so uniform these days, the only room for individuality is, it seems, in the netting itself. Even then, there’s not much variation. I remember Sunderland, a few years ago, did something fancy with the top of their netting so that, from high up in the stand behind the goal, it was possible to pick out the letters SAFC.
Otherwise, it’s much of a muchness – white netting with a wide square mesh, or sometimes a hexagonal one if a club is trying to project a more cosmopolitan image. “Now, of course, if you show me a photo of a net, it could be anywhere in the world from the Premier League to Japan to Cameroon,” Wilson wrote.
And mostly, he’s right. So it’s nice to see a club make a bit of effort from time to time.
Last night’s final match: Blackburn 2 Wigan 1
Commentator: John Roder
Blackburn Rovers are the only club in the Premier League, possibly in English professional football, to have chequered goal nets. There appear to be enough blue-and-white squares for a chess board behind Paul Robinson.
Indeed, it would nice if, later in the season, Rovers could get Garry Kasparov to take on Nigel Short in a half-time penalty shoot-out. (I suspect Short – who grew up in Atherton, not a million miles from Blackburn – might be easier to get to Ewood Park than Kasparov. Of course, the time limits would have be tighter than they are in chess. None of this pacing around for five minutes while figuring out what to do, or we’d never get the second half started.)
The chequered netting rippled four times yesterday, but only three of the goals counted. Charles N’Zogbia’s first-half strike for Wigan was ruled out, not because the ball had hit a stanchion and bounced out, but because of an alleged foul on Morten Gamst Pedersen. It looked unjust.
Pedersen and Jason Roberts scored to give Blackburn victory in the second half, although N’Zogbia did pull one back with a free kick late on. It was only Wigan’s eighth Premier League goal of the season. They are the top flight’s lowest scorers – and they can’t blame the goal nets for that. With that kind of scoring record, perhaps it is little surprise that they have been last on Match of the Day more often than anyone else this season.
1. Wigan: 4 (2L: 1, 3L: 1)
2=. Bolton: 3 (2L: 0, 3L: 1)
2=. Wolves: 3 (2L: 0, 3L: 1)
4. Fulham: 2 (2L: 4, 3L: 0)
5. Everton: 2 (2L: 2, 3L: 2)
6. Blackburn: 2 (2L: 1, 3L: 4)
7=. Stoke: 1 (2L: 2, 3L: 2)
7=. West Ham: 1 (2L: 2, 3L: 2)
9. West Brom: 1 (2L: 2, 3L: 0)
10. Birmingham: 1 (2L: 1, 3L: 1)
11. Sunderland: 1 (2L: 1, 3L: 0)
12. Newcastle: 1 (2L: 0, 3L: 1)
13. Aston Villa: 0 (2L: 2, 3L: 1)
14. Chelsea: 0 (2L: 2, 3L: 0)
15. Blackpool: 0 (2L: 1, 3L: 2)
16. Tottenham: 0 (2L: 1, 3L: 1)
17=. Arsenal: 0 (2L: 0, 3L: 1)
17=. Manchester City: 0 (2L: 0, 3L: 1)
17=. Manchester United: 0 (2L: 0, 3L: 1)
20. Liverpool: 0 (2L: 0, 3L: 0)
2L=On second last (Fulham 1 Aston Villa 1)
3L=On third last (Blackpool 2 Everton 2)
(Teams are awarded one point every time they appear last on Match of the Day. Teams level on points are separated by the number of times they are on second last, then by the number of times they are on third last. Teams still level at the end of the season will be separated by the drawing of lots at a glittering ceremony on Twitter, hosted by Sepp Blatter, Phil Neville, Chuck Norris and Tony Gubba, with music from Gary Neville and Kim Wilde.)