Goals, highlights and grainy TV memories.
I was born in England in 1994 and grew up watching football without Sky TV. These are the three goals that I remember most clearly from my childhood (goals by the team I support not included).
1) Thierry Henry, Arsenal vs Chelsea, FA Cup quarter final 08/03/2003
Like most people who supported an perpetually lower-league team in the late 90’s/early 00’s, and therefore had no vested interest in any one Premiership team, I had a soft spot for Arsenal and Thierry Henry in particular. Having deliberately not watched this goal in years, I remembered him turning on the ball a bit more, rather than (far more sensibly) predominantly pivoting his body into and away from Cudicini. I also remember it as more of a solo goal rather than the result of a pinpoint long ball from Viera and a pretty awful offside trap from the Chelsea defence.
In any case, I love this goal. Every time I had a chance to score when I was playing for a team as a kid, I’d get a rush of blood to the head, a feeling of excitement, anticipation and a tinge of oh-fuck-im-going-to-fuck-this-upitis. Henry gets the ball, sees one of the best keepers in the league charging towards him and decides to just spin around him and slot it home. Va-va-voom. For some reason I thought this goal was a bit more fondly remembered, but for most it’s probably just another Henry goal (it didn’t even turn up in this list of his top 10 Arsenal goals ). Measure of the man, I suppose.
Still, I think this is still my favourite non-MIllwall goal ever and that spin on the ball thing is one of the only skills I can still do without falling on my arse. The game finished a 2-2 draw and Arsenal won the return leg 1-3, eventually winning the cup by beating Southampton 1-0 in the final.
2) Artim Shaqiri, England vs Macedonia, Euro 2004 qualifying, 16/10/2002
A very boring football commentator cliché is when someone scores a great goal and they say something along the lines of ‘they’ll be recreating that goal on the playground tomorrow’. Playground football is almost entirely made up of attempted nutmegs, half the team standing/sitting around chatting and fights. In a game of 15-a-side, there was at most 2 people decent enough to attempt ‘recreating’ whatever goal Van Nistelrooy or Shearer scored the night before, and even then they would inevitably get tripped up by someone jealous like me.
That being said, this goal ruined corners at my school for at least two weeks after it happened. Anyone who could kick the ball off of the ground would try in-swinging the ball directly at the far post. As a left-footer, I had exclusive dominion over right-sided corners for a beautiful couple of days in Autumn 2002 until everyone realised I couldn’t kick a ball for shit.
On a school pitch without any markings, the position of the imaginary corner flags were always the discretion of the kick taker, but as the days progressed and no-one managed to curve it between the two carefully placed school jumpers, the starting point moved further and further from the byline to compensate for the lack of curve eight and nine year olds could put on the ball. Still no one scored from a corner. Then the rain came and we had to move to playing with a tennis ball on a concrete playground at lunchtime, no corners necessary.
Anyway, this goal is still the first thing I think of when I hear about Macedonia (before Alexander the Great, even after two years of A-Level Classics), and until a couple of years ago I still primarily associated the name Shaqiri (or Šakiri as it was stylised at West Brom) with Artim rather than Xherdan. At the time, it was an unfathomably technical strike that defied all the logic I’d previously absorbed about approaching set-pieces.
Now, it’s a bit more clear that Macedonia benefited from some pretty shoddy Seaman keeping, and that the delivery may well have been intended for one of the players flying towards the far-post. Still an absolute beauty, though. Macedonia drew with England 2-2 in the end- Beckham lobbed the keeper and Gerrard hit a lovely half-volley from the edge of the box, but I didn’t remember either of those goals before looking them up.
3) Ronaldinho, Chelsea vs Barcelona, Champions League Last 16, 08/03/2005
Out of the three, this is definitely the goal the most people remember, but I hadn’t looked it up in a while so for all I knew could have also been lost to the ether. I always liked Ronaldinho, but not as much as other people did. My brother loved him, I liked him. This was probably largely because I didn’t get to watch him do what he did every week, and most of my favourite players at the time (Henry, Neil Harris and a rotating cast of Premier League or Millwall players) were founded in regular viewing, developing, growing an understanding of what they were like as a player. In a time before YouTube and dodgy streams, a lot of people’s direct exposure to Ronaldinho was limited to international tournaments and the Champions League.
This goal, though, was something else. Barcelona were losing on the night and on aggregate (they’d eventually concede another goal, and Chelsea would progress and go on to lose 0-1 across two legs to Liverpool in a very boring but retrospectively sort of interesting tie). A fairly shit long diagonal is floated in by what looks like Van Bronckhorst. Terry heads it to Iniesta. He lays it off to the Brazilian, who traps the ball. Then time slows down. Either Ferreira or Carvalho (the video is blurry, alright?) plants his feet, waits for movement. Ronaldinho moves his right foot like someone making a selection with an analogue stick on Playstation- back forward back. This move lasts about half a second, but it’s slowed down, frame by frame, for ages in my head. I can’t decide if he scoops it, flicks it, punts it or fires it into the bottom left corner, but either way he clears out three defenders and Petr Cech and the ball goes in the net. Unreal.
I think most people could plant their foot behind a ball, pivot from left to right and then at least have a decent shot on goal. If I tried it in a game of Sunday League, I’d get closed down before I’d move my foot the second time. You can say that the defender is fault, but in my mind the reason Ronaldinho is afforded so much time on the ball is because of the threat that he could do something else. When you know an attacker can beat you in any number of ways, he’s already inside your head. That’s probably why this goal stuck with me so much.
Match of the Day circa 2000
So that’s that sorted. Whilst I watched Match of the Day every Saturday night (or preferably on a Sunday morning, if I didn’t have a 10:30 kick-off) and would read about goals in the paper the next day and in magazines in the coming weeks, I think it’s telling that the three goals that stuck with me most were ones that were scored while I was watching live on TV (the next one would have been Joe Cole’s volley against Sweden in the 2006 World Cup, FYI). As such, none of them took place in the Premiership, even though I was (like most people) for all intents and purposes obsessed with that league on a weekly basis.
Whilst we undoubtedly benefit from the variety of mediums that we receive football information, knowledge and footage from, there is something unique about viewing it ‘live’ (albeit through a TV) within the flow of a game that feels more significant at the time and, evidently, lives longer in the memory. Although I do genuinely believe the three goals listed are all beautiful even 10-15 years later, I know none of them would be at the top of any broad list from the period.
However, it’s seeing them happen in the midst of 90+ minutes of midfield passing, aerial battles and the countless other routines of a football match that leaves the biggest mark, that makes you go ‘oh!’ and spill your drink on yourself, that makes you shout for friends or family in different parts of the house.. This is obviously more pronounced at actual live games, but I don’t want this to descend into another ‘go to more matches’ borefest. Instead, I think it’s important to think about how we memorise football matches both individually and collectively, and to consider how these might differ.
This isn’t to disregard or discredit the ways that we collectively get knowledge and significance from football. Tobias Werron’s chapter in a recent collaborative book, ‘European Football and Collective Memory’, demonstrates how we remember football matches on a personal level, how this subsequently feeds into a more central web of knowledge and narratives and visa versa. At its most simple level, we gain two layers of meaning from watching a game- the information from the match itself (such as goals, highlights, individual performances) and, as Werron writes, ‘the integration of these contexts into continual public comparisons’.
Whereas this first layer is the sort of thing that led to my favourite goal being from an FA Cup quarter final between two teams I don’t support, it’s the second layer that contributes to this broader web of narratives and knowledge that ties global football together. This can be done formally, such as through a league table (which flattens games into numerical results), or could simply be an informal recognition that Cristiano Ronaldo is good because he’s played well in the past. This is projected onto the future to help predict how a particular match or season will unfold, or how a player will perform and develop in the future.
We take all this for granted because it’s how we relate to the game on a daily basis, with the help of an eternally growing toolkit of resources and ways to view or analyse matches. Even the much-maligned-by-your-dad ‘skills videos’, which decontextualize movements from the broader context of the game or even the relevant passage of play itself in favour of a six second long clip, inform our impression of a player and eventually shape our memory of how they played. This isn’t a new phenomenon either- I never saw George Best play, and have never been interested enough to seek out many of his highlights, but the image of him that sticks in my head is him taking his boot off and passing the ball in a game with only a sock on.
Maybe it’s a shame that people who don’t watch La Liga (or Ligue 1 next season) might associate Neymar with rainbow flicks more than his link-up play and ability to create space for a striker, but it still an insight that helps to broaden the scope of understanding for fans. I don’t watch the Bundesliga, but I know that Robert Lewandowski is clinical for Bayern (and can easily find that he scored 30 goals last season) thanks to the web of information that ultimately comes from people watching him play, and then project that knowledge onto my expectations of what he’s going to be like when I see him play for Poland every two years or so.
Still, there’s something unique that comes from watching a game unfold that means it resonates in our individual memories more than an event or action that we’ve been told carries significance by people on TV or online. Whilst my love for that Thierry Henry goal is undoubtedly informed by his longer history at Arsenal and elsewhere, that Macedonia corner has lived long in my head with almost no broader commemoration or wider affection for the player’s involved. I feel like this phenomenon is even more pronounced when the viewer’s access to football is limited, by the restrictions of terrestrial TV or by other means. It’s why fans in countries such as Singapore ascribe competitive importance to pre-season tours there while people in Britain shake their heads. It’s also at least partially why people a generation older than me, who had access to full-length matches broadcast on terrestrial TV via Football Italia, eulogise Francesco Totti and other Serie A stars when they retire more than they would with equivalent players in the Bundesliga or La Liga.
James Richardson of Football Italia
The ever-expanding access to domestic football as well as leagues around the world via TV and less-than-legal streaming means that today’s football fan both has access to matches that would have been limited 5-10 years ago, but also means that viewing experiences are more varied and pluralised than ever before. Supporters of lower league teams have more opportunities than ever to watch their side online, whilst someone with a vague interest of a young prospect in the Dutch or Belgian leagues can easily watch them in any given match on any given weekend. Whilst this expanded knowledge of the game is surely a good thing, does it mean that those moments of mass convergence over widely broadcast ‘big’ games that live long in both individual and collective memory will become even rarer? Only time will tell.
In any case, I think that both collective and individual memory are important when thinking about football, although we inevitably cherish those personalised memories that feel distinct from the footballing zeitgeist, even if they don’t involve a team or player you have any particular attachment to.
Millions of people grew up loving football without Sky TV, and will each have picked out their own highlights that stuck with them for years for any number of reasons. Memory works in funny ways, and someone might score a goal somewhere this weekend that you’re still thinking about 15 years later. Have a look.