THE other morning, instead of the other way around, I woke my son. “Come on,” I said, “the greatest goal ever scored is on in two minutes!”
That was what Sky was calling it. Ten minutes later, the BBC was more circumspect: “One of the greatest goals of all time…” While the football world argued, my laddie needed no second opinion. It was definitely the bestest he’d seen in his entire five long years, scored by a player wearing aquamarine boots with tangerine flashes, and could he get a pair for Christmas?
Well, was it? Was Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s 30-yard bicycle kick for Sweden against England the all-time tops? We who are older, who have history on our side but also fading memory, don’t want to believe this. We have, locked in our heids, spools and spools of wonder goals, absolute stormers, with an interchangeable No.1 depending on mood. When, and especially how, they were added to the library is crucial. Great goals used to be so hard-won, and not just for their scorers.
How can Zlat’s goal compare, say, with George Best’s for Manchester United against Sheffield Wednesday in 1971 – that long diagonal dribble and swinging shot across the keeper and in off the post? After the half-dozen replays on both channels the following morning, Zlat’s goal could be instantly re-watched by freezing live TV and, by that point, it had already been uploaded massively on to YouTube.
With no home taping in George’s era I probably had to wait until the next season when Wednesday returned to Old Trafford for a second glimpse of his goal, almost certainly on Sam Leitch’s Football Focus, with a sausage in a bun. All of that, banger included, was going to make you rate and cherish it even more.
Poor Zlat’s goal has already been over-watched and over-assessed, dulling it somewhat. But we should do this some more. For the sake of all the scorers of great goals when there were no cameras present, it should be subjected to proper rigour. Great goals are subjective. My archive includes strikes in Scotland qualifiers by Kenny Dalglish, Joe Jordan and Charlie Nicholas, some of which I was present for but, in any case, TV is a great enhancer of goals, via combustible commentaries and images of flying toilet-rolls. Oh and of course there’s Archie Gemmill’s against Holland when I wasn’t in Argentina (thank God).
Zlat’s goal was against England which adds an extra frisson – not because of any anti-Sassenach feeling, simply that too many English pundits have sat splay-legged and parroted each other about how he’s really not very good, a daft notion picked up by white-shirted fans earlier in Wednesday’s game who chanted about him being an inferior version of their own medieval battering-ram, Andy Carroll. Was the goal better than Diego Maradona’s against English in a far more meaningful game? Maybe not. But was Maradona’s tarnished ever so slightly by the Hand of God? Probably. And did that goal lose a bit more of its dazzle when Lionel Messi produced two carbon-copies in quick succession? Possibly.
What about all those incredible Barcelona team goals featuring double one-twos between Messi and this column’s favourite tiki-taka twinkler, Andres Iniesta? Wasn’t the best-ever team goal Brazil’s last in the 1970 World Cup final? And shouldn’t a great team goal always beat a great individual goal, especially when the individual believes, more so even than Mario Balotelli, that it’s all about him? Yes, but Zlat is king of his own island, where he hunts wild boar. That must push him right back up the chart.
A great goal by a Hungarian from the 1960s haunts me. I can’t remember who scored it, and for whom (Ferencvaros?), but am trying to retain a flimsy monochrome memory for the archive. Great ghost goals fascinate me. Just how great was one by Murdo MacLeod in a TV blackout to win a 1970s Old Firm league decider? My father was always raving about Hibs’ Gordon Smith and how once he played keepy-uppy from halfway line to penalty box before lashing the ball into the Airdrie net. Smith was before my time and there’s no footage. But now I have a son who believes me when I tell him that Zlat’s is the greatest, period.
Truly, I feel like I rule my own island. Just watch out for boars and indeed bores.