St Etienne dream of squaring up to Hampden goalposts

IT WAS 35 years ago yesterday when Scottish fans snapped a crossbar at Wembley after a famous 2-1 victory over England. Now we Scots are getting a taste of how it feels to see our own goalposts come under threat from invaders.

Never mind moving the goalposts, Scotland could be set to lose them. And much loved ones at that. There are many iconic objects associated with Scottish football, from the old slanting press box at Hampden Park to Arthur Montford’s checked jacket. But perhaps none are so mourned as the old square-shaped goalposts at Hampden, which stood at either end of the park for a remarkable 83 years, between 1904 and 1987.

Strange, then, that those who covet them should be the ones who cursed them on a May night in 1976, when Hampden hosted its second European Cup final.

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Bayern Munich were pitted against the underdogs from St Etienne, who had already beaten Rangers in their run to the final. The French side still believe they would have overcome Bayern as well had it not been for a pair of pesky goalposts – or, to be more accurate, a big plank of crossbar.

Twice they saw efforts rebound off the bar in the opening half, before Franz Roth’s winner meant Bayern were anointed champions of Europe for a third successive time. But no-one can convince St Etienne fans that they did not deserve to win the trophy that night, prevented from doing so only by the peculiar style of the Hampden goalposts. Had they been a more normal round shape, they argued, Jacques Santini’s header and Dominique Batheney’s drive would have rebounded into the net off the woodwork, rather than bounce back into play.

‘Les poteaux carres’ – the square posts – have since slipped into St Etienne legend, and the phrase is even used to mock them by rival fans. Now, it seems, the club have put a claim in for possession of the posts. They wish to confront their demons.

An e-mail was received yesterday by staff at the Hampden museum from an official at St Etienne, enquiring as to whether these same goalposts might be available for either purchase or hire. The French club are putting together their own museum and see the posts as a prize exhibit. “They have no real value to the Scots, so we want to retrieve them and put them in our new museum,” said club director Philippe Gastal.

With his comment about them having no real value to the Scots, Monsieur Gastal might have picked an argument with Arthur Montford, the veteran commentator who was on duty that night in 1976, and for many other great Hampden occasions to boot. “I can never understand why the SFA/Queen’s Park wanted to change them, they were beautiful,” he said when contacted by The Scotsman yesterday.

“I know that’s an odd word to use about goalposts. The stanchions themselves went further back than most so there was never any doubt that the ball had hit the back of the net, whether it was Puskas or Di Stefano.

“They were there when the greatest game of all was played, the European Cup final of 1960 between Real Madrid and Eintracht Frankfurt. There were ten goals scored so there was not much wrong with the goalposts that night.

“I personally would like to see them restored to Hampden. But the fact St Etienne want them is a compliment, even though they may have had some misgivings about the posts on the night in question. They were iconic, and I am glad they survived. I would like to see them back in place. They were there for all the great games, why not now? Who knows, they might bring Scotland some good fortune.”

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Their whereabouts after they were finally up-rooted, apparently because Fifa issued an edict banning the use of completely square goalposts, was a matter for conjecture. One report claimed they had been sold at auction. Another had them re-located to one of Rod Stewart’s gardens. In reality, they have been gathering dust in a Hampden store room. Having stood proudly facing each other for so long, they are now heaped ingloriously together in a corner of a room recently described as “looking like the sort of place a jannie reserves for a fly fag”. Maybe St Etienne can provide the posts with a mooring more appropriate to their age and status.

“They might want to restore them in some way,” mused Jim Thomson, a Hampden museum guide who was also present inside the ground on the night St Etienne came so near and yet so far to a famous victory. “The woodwork, as you can imagine, has not been looked after, so it’s not perfect. The ends where they have gone in and out of the ground are a bit worn. But the emotional impact the posts have on St Etienne supporters is incredible.

“At the start of each tour we ask who supports who, and if they say they support St Etienne we ask whether they want to go down and see the posts,” he continued. “The answer is always yes. And I have seen many moved to tears when they see them, thinking back to what might have happened. That’s football for you, the emotion gets to you.”

With all of the curatorial staff at the museum on holiday, St Etienne will have to wait for a response to their request, which is further proof that they remain partly in thrall to the romantic idea that only the shape of a bit of wood stood between them and the greatest club prize in football. The club continue to appreciate the support they received from Scottish fans that night, who roared on the underdogs.

Indeed, business still thrives at the long-established bar/restaurant called Le Glasgow in St Etienne. Scots, of course, have their own reasons to remember the city with a mixture of nausea and pleasure, since it is there where the international side played their last match at a major finals. As for the goalposts into which three Morocco goals flew past a startled Jim Leighton, they are welcome to them.