Here’s my column from last week’s Leader. It forms part of the paper’s comprehensive pre-match coverage every Friday, featuring interviews, an in-depth look at the opposition and lots of statistical analysis. All content in the column (c) www.leaderlive.co.uk.
What I’m about to write will make absolutely no sense to anyone involved in the professional game of football. I accept that, accept my naïveté, and admit that in a way I’m on their side. However, there is a difference between how football is played and how it is perceived by supporters, and what happened last Saturday made me want to explore it.
To a fan, the goal Dom Vose scored at Gateshead is as good as it gets. An aesthetic delight, a symbolic representation of your superiority over the opponent, a moment of fantasy.
To a manager, it’s just another goal. It’s worth the same as a tap-in from a yard out. In fact, if that tap-in came about from something you’ve been working on in training, it’s massively more satisfying than a moment of extemporised genius which doesn’t really reflect the hard work you and your squad have put in over the last week.
Then there’s the imbalance between how players see the game and how we view it from the crowd. Vose’s first goal was amazing, thrilling to watch as he embarked on that eccentric zigzag through the Gateshead defence, dumping a lunging centre back on his backside (and sending the whole Glyndwr University Stand the wrong way in the process!) before finishing. We’re never going to win the Premier League; moments of brilliance like that sustain us.
But when asked after the game Vose talked more about his second goal. On the face of it, that second strike was much less spectacular, but by some measures you might argue it was a better goal: as the ball skipped up across Vose off the slippery surface he did brilliantly to keep his knee over the ball and deposit a volley on the run into the top corner rather than into the crowd.
For the fan though, the sheer beauty and imagination of Vose’s first goal was perfection.
Indeed, the desire for something aesthetically perfect meant I actually felt slightly disappointed when I first saw the video footage. I’d seen it live from the opposite side of the ground, where the actual finish looked clean: Hemingway would have devoted pages to what I thought I’d seen if it was a matador applying the kill. But from the other side of the ground you could see that Vose didn’t quite get the finish right: it wasn’t into the corner and the keeper thrust out a despairing leg, deflecting the ball into the bottom corner. If felt a little deflated: the perfect goal had been slightly sullied in my mind by the slightly unsatisfactory conclusion. Like Norman Mailer said about the iconic picture of Muhammad Ali holds the pose above Sonny Liston after he knocked him out: there was something perfect about the moment which would have been spoiled if Liston had staggered to his feet.
And that sums up the difference between football people and football fans. I wanted the goal to be a thing of beauty; Gary Mills just wanted it to go in.