It’s Only a Game, Dear!

Many people have asked myself and many others, how one can become so passionate about a sport that largely involves over-paid, ego-fuelled men to run around a field chasing an inflated ball. When put as such, it does sort of sound like something a child would do on their holidays to Rhyl beach in the 80s. Despite this, I have tried in a number of blogs to explain how feelings become intensified when our teams take to the field.

Thankfully, such periodical entry focuses not on the why I love the sport…. More like the parts that leave me with mouth agape on the ancient terraces and side-lines.

In my time as a football fan, I’ve been fortunate to bear witness to some fantastic things. Great covering tackles, decisive blocks, wondrous passes and outstanding saves. I’ve seen skills, determination and guts during my 15 or so years attending these feats of footballing greatness.

But it’s goals that people want to see. After all, to describe the objective of the beautiful game in one sentence would be something along the lines of ‘score more goals than your opponent.’ So here for your reading pleasure, I’ve decided to share with you my favourite goals.

Sublime

Only once have I been late for a match at Anfield. Despite this being a mediocre game between the reds and Middlesborough, the traffic around Scotland Road was abysmal. With five minutes before kick-off, I found myself running the paths of the Marie Curie Fields of Hope that separate Anfield from Goodison Park in a blind effort to reach the beginning of the match.

Arriving some 3 minutes into the game, we sat down to enjoy Mendieta score for the visitors to put us 1-0 down almost immediately. The game was a dull one and despite chance after chance, the reds couldn’t find that decisive spark in front of the opponents’ net.

Step up, Steven Gerrard. With around half an hour to go, a half-chance from around 35 yards out falls to the Liverpool captain who, incidentally, doesn’t need any more of a chance to have a pop at goal. The sheer power left the ‘Boro ‘keeper with no chance, despite his speculative effort at a save. Anfield erupted, the reds had their tails up…. But we still drew.

Amazingly, in another match between the two sides a few years later, I was present to see another out-of-the-box beauty from our captain marvel to level the score at 1-1 after the Egyptian, Mido, put the north-east-England side one goal to the good.

We drew that one, too!

Spectacular

Aside from John Arne Riise and a few others, I’ve never seen a man strike a ball quite like Dietmar Hamann. The German, who incidentally scored the last goal at the old Wembley stadium giving Germany a fantastic 1-0 win over the English, graced the fields of Anfield Road from many a successful year.

But it was not his contribution to the Champions’ League Final in Istanbul on that famous night in May that I remember the most about Didi…. It was a screamer against Pompey.

Didi had scored a decent goal the year before in the same fixture and I’d noted that he’d graced the front of the match-day programme that day. This game was no different as an image of him shooting to score that particular goal was present on the programme again.

Michael Owen had taken on a few midfielders after picking the ball up somewhere around the centre circle. Coming up against some tall defenders, he ran towards the corner flag in front of the travelling away supporters and pulled off a cross on the turn that was destined to land around 20 yards out. And it would have landed there, had it not been for Hamann!

Didi laced the ball so hard that Shaka Hislop could do nothing but twitch his right arm at the bullet – to no avail.

We won that one!

One-man shows

Most of my footballing heart-ache has been had at the Racecourse ground, Wrexham. It’s not easy following a club, who for the time I’ve followed them, have not seen the greatest of successes.

Granted, I saw us win 3-1 against Boston to keep us in the football league and I witnessed our brave lads pick up the LDV Vans trophy – only the second Welsh side to do so – in 2005. But even so, Wrexham have never been a team that has been expected to win every game and find themselves in cup finals galore. After all, it was only some 3 or 4 years ago that Wrexham found themselves out of the football league after a period of some 82 years.

But Wrexham have always warmed my heart. To see our boys battling for my home-town is nothing short of gold dust for me. And believe me, I’ve seen some cracking goals there too.

Mark McGregor against Gillingham, Andy Morrell putting us ahead in the FA Cup against Championship opposition in the shape of Brighton and Hove Albion…. But none have left me as speechless as little Jay Harris did a few weeks ago against Barrow.

Cutting in from the right-hand side and picking up a loose ball, Jay Harris let fly on a shot that was going nowhere else but the top corner of the goal. The 25-30 yard strike shot like a moving train and lifted until it tickled the underside of the away crossbar and all but destroyed the back of the net. Twitter went berserk with disbelieve and Wrexham fans once again had to pick up their jaws from the floor.

The annoying this is, had a player in more of the limelight than Jay scored such a goal, we’d still be talking about it today, tomorrow, and for eternity. That’s how good it was!

Ambitious

Ambition in football is what drives players to achieve more. Xabi Alonso was, and still is, my favourite player ever and he had heaps of the stuff. His work-rate and effort, coupled with the skill to pick out a pass from more than 60 yards, was breath-taking.

Forget Beckham’s vision catching Wimbledon’s Neil Sullivan off his line in a game that saw him rise to fame in one kick of the ball – Alonso went two better!

In an FA Cup tie against Luton, Xabi caught the opposition ‘keeper off his line as he stood some 10 yards into his own half. Not a problem for the Spaniard…. Liverpool were in the lead.

But this blog is about goals I’ve actually personally witnessed and Xabi didn’t let me down. In a league game against Newcastle, goalkeeper Steven Harper, found himself wandering around his box during a period of Newcastle pressure. Picking up the ball yet again in his own half of the field, Alonso lofted a ball over the waiting defenders towards the Kop goal. Realising his lack of decent position, Harper rushed to claim the ball, slipped, got back to his feet and just about got a hand to the ambitious effort. But it was not to be and ball teased its way into the net to increase Liverpool’s lead. I found it wonderful that the Kopites and Anfield faithful felt the need to shout ‘shoot’ each time Alonso gained possession of the ball…. Can’t fathom why!

Needed

A victory of at least two goals was required from Liverpool against Greek side, Olympiakos, to progress from the group stages of the 2004/05 Champions’ League competition. Trailing 1-0 at half time, step up the reds!

The score was 2-1 to Liverpool with 5 minutes to go. A cushioned header by Neil Mellor was met by a certain Steven Gerrard. With the ball coming towards his run, which incidentally aimed towards the corner flag, Gerrard angled his shot (somehow) to curl out of the ‘keeper’s reach and into the bottom corner of the Kop net.

I nearly received a stab to the eye from a Scouse fan holding a flag – but golly was it worth it! Perfection!

Bale

As a Welsh international football fan, I’ve had little to shout about lately. But let’s put it this way, I now refer to pêl-droed [bêl-droed] (Welsh for football) as Bale-droed!

Scotland vs Wales at Cardiff’s City Stadium last weekend. A stadium full of Scots…. A stadium with blue seats. It was pretty much an away game for us. And considering I travelled some 150 miles to watch it, it definitely felt like an away trip for me personally.

Somehow, the Scots found themselves level after 88 minutes after a game dominated largely by the boys in red. But we needed a win.

Then…. Gareth Bale! Ladies and gentlemen, this goal had the lot! He had already scored a penalty which he’d won himself too!

Taking on two Scottish defenders to find an inch of space around 25-30 yards from goal, Bale hit a shot with his left foot that looked destined to smack the Barry Horns above the goal-side seating area. Somehow it dipped just after Scotland’s ‘keeper was beaten and found its way into the top corner. I for one stood in disbelief while others went wild.

For this goal…. for this sublime, spectacular, ambitious, much needed one-man effort….

I have no words!

Smiley face for young Gareth!🙂

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