Thursday, 24 November 2016

Goal nets, posts, and stanchions of the 1980s

Is it just me, or do all goal nets pretty much look the same in every stadium nowadays? You know, the bog standard square shaped net that you see at Wembley, the Emirates, Old Trafford, Anfield et al. Yet it hasn't always been like this. Way back in the 1980s, the small band of football lovers who actually care about this sort of thing were spoilt for choice when it came to the variety of goal nets available for us to enjoy, and you can call me a geek if you like, but I kind of miss this.

So this week I have decided to take a look back at some of my favourite football goals and nets of the 1980s. You may think this is a bit sad - in truth, it probably is - and you might not enjoy a supposedly grown man describing net tension, stanchions, and the shape of goal posts, but just let me get this out of my system. Forget porn on the net; this is goal net porn.


Football may have come home during Euro 96, but something disappeared from Wembley Stadium that I have never really got over. Those famous old goals, with the green stanchions and arched nets, immediately transport you back to a time that seems alien now, when the FA Cup and League Cup mattered to every team, and England home internationals and friendlies didn't get in the way of the domestic calendar. Just before Euro 96, the goals were removed, and replaced with the common square net. Football has never been the same since.

Of course I'm not blaming the ills of the modern game on the removal of the Wembley goals. After all, half and half scarves, music blaring out after a goal has been scored, and clubs playing weakened teams in cup competitions has nothing to do with the iconic goals being sent to a skip marked "Do one". It is merely a coincidence that Euro 96 ushered in a new era, with money and celebrity fans beginning to flood the sport, and people actually phoning David Mellor to talk about football.

So let's just consider some of the famous times the back of those nets were hit during the 80s. Mackenzie and Villa exchanging goal of the season contenders in the 1981 FA Cup final; Whiteside's curler against Everton; Ian Rush hitting a camera in the back of Bobby Mimms' goal to seal the double; Houchen's diving header; Ronnie Whelan's winner in the 1983 Milk Cup final. And I'm only scratching the surface here.

Why, the Scottish loved the goals so much, that they even tried to dismantle them and take them home in 1977.

Villa Park

A simple design, but again it is the occasions hosted at the stadium that bring back happy memories. Including replays, Villa Park hosted eleven FA Cup semi final matches during the 1980s, during an era where the FA had the wacky idea of hosting these matches at a neutral venue that wasn't the same location as the final.

The goals at Villa were not particularly unique. There were similar types at other Midlands clubs such as Birmingham City, West Brom, and Coventry, and these can probably be seen during many a Sunday league match today. Yet the triangular stanchion with the sloping net running unsupported to the pitch is not used enough today. The fact that this means we miss out on Trevor Brooking moments like this is also disappointing.

The Dell

There is something about a tight net that is appealing. It's probably to do with the fact that one finish can lead to another as a joyous player slams in the follow up, or the ball that rebounds out of the goal can be lashed away in disgust a la Bruce Grobbelaar in 1984. The Dell was always my pick of these goals and nets, although I had a soft spot for Upton Park and Ayresome Park too.

The Dell was such a compact ground, with spectators almost on top of the pitch, so this probably forced the hand of the goal designers. Deep nets like the Nou Camp or my next selection would have been touching the perimeter fencing, and it was with great sadness that I shuffled away from The Dell after the last League match there in 2001.

Hampden Park

Another memorable component of football in the 1980s, the Hampden Park goals were a unique element of the stadium. With the curved stanchions that seemed to stretch back miles, and those famous square posts, FA Cup final day in England was never complete without a quick journey up north to catch some highlights of the Scottish equivalent.

FIFA, being the killjoys that they are, banned the famous squared posts in 1987, and they were sold in an auction for £6,200. A business consortium led by pub landlord Bill Campbell won the bid, and after living in a Hampden Park museum, French club Saint Etienne bought them as a reminder of the 1976 European Cup final which they lost to Bayern Munich.

After hitting the woodwork twice in that final, I'm just glad Saint Etienne didn't burn "les poteaux carrés" (the square posts). Saint Etienne President Roland Romeyer, speaking in 2013, thankfully indicated that the club loved the posts as much as the rest of us: "These square goalposts were in part a symbol of this 1976 final, which created an emotional tie between the French people and AS Saint-Etienne." Phew.

Deep nets

The Hampden Park nets may have been pretty deep, but there were others around that seemed longer than the wardrobe that led to Narnia. Barcelona's Nou Camp housed nets that spanned two time zones, as witnessed here against Dundee United in 1987. And some of the nets at Mexico 1986 were like nothing I had seen before.

But I'm not sure either Barcelona or Mexico could compete with Real Zaragoza's La Romareda, with the club proudly boasting a cracking claim to fame in that their nets stretched back four metres, or roughly two Peter Crouches. It was a miracle that some of the goals scored in this wet and wild UEFA Cup semi final in 1987 actually reached the back of the net.

Coloured nets

Off to Merseyside for my next two choices, as the red and blue nets of Liverpool and Everton come into focus, although I have to admit that it was sometimes quite hard to see that there actually nets at Anfield or Goodison Park, but that might be down to my eyesight more than anything.

There were plenty of goals flying into those nets during the trophy winning seasons of both clubs: Ian Rush bagging four at Goodison in 1982; Graeme Sharp's goal of the season winner at Anfield in 1984/85; that unforgettable evening for Everton against Bayern Munich; John Barnes waltzing through the QPR defence in 1987. I probably shouldn't mention Michael Thomas' goal on May 26, 1989, though.

Other teams adopted the same approach as the Merseyside giants, including Dundee United and their tangerine nets, Grimsby Town's black and white stripped effect, and Nottingham Forest in the latter part of the decade. Brendan Rodgers may not be everyone's cup of tea, but at least he had the sense to restore Liverpool's coloured nets in 2012, in a nod to the glory years of the club.

Old Trafford

During an era where the search for a League title continued for Manchester United, their goals were definitely top class. They were a strange arrangement. The stanchion was similar to Wembley, perhaps just a little less curved, but the net was not fully supported by the stanchions, and did not stretch all the way to the back of the frame. Thus, the net slightly sagged and billowed, but what a sight they were.

For me, the old goals will forever be a symbol of United and their quest for the title under Big Ron. This classic goal disappeared after the 1986/87 season, and eventually the silverware would arrive under Alex Ferguson. But were United fans happy with this development and the loss of their famous goals? Oh, they probably were I'm guessing.

Going on a European tour

A few European goals to end the blog, Sportsnight and Midweek Sports Special providing me with many interesting variations across the continent. There was Anderlecht's shallow, curved goal frame; the goalposts in Bilbao with black sections at the base; Sweden's green net with the small holes, and frame that looked like it might possibly blow away at any moment.

More deep nets at Steau Bucharest; a simple goal frame such as those seen at Lyon during Euro 84; the anti-Lyon style goal in Chorzow as England scraped through to Italia 90; the strange goals that pretty much had another goal behind them for support, as England stuffed Yugoslavia and qualified for Euro 88.

And many, many more that I'm sure that some of you may wish to recall.


  1. I'd also have to mention (not 1980s in fairness) the classic saggy nets of the Olympic Stadium when Liverpool won the European Cup in 1977. 'That's nice, that's McDermott, and that's a goal' went the commentary, but Barry Davies might have added 'Even though the ball is in the back of the net, it's only about a foot over the line.'

    One of my favourite editions of the blog. Keep up the good work.

  2. This is spot on.

  3. I've never read anything better on the internet. I'm serious. The Mexico 86 nets - brilliant.

  4. Mexico 86 top 20 goals - unbelievable. What would Josimar be worth in today's money?

  5. Look - a whole blog dedicated to this exact subject

  6. 2 additions to this wonderful blog. The nets at the Estadio Sarría in Barcelona for Italy-Brazil 1982 World Cup which were perfectly fitted to allow the ball to spring back a little; and the goals at the Nep stadium because it brings memories of Brooking'so wonderful goal that got stuck behind the stanchion. Also, for some reason I loved any goals that had a section of black paint at the bottom of the post. They evoke memories of away games with the wonderful tinny, buzzy commentary sound that made your team seem to be battling in a distant land.

  7. I have had an onion bag fetish all my life.....great stuff.

  8. Now a facebook group dedicated to goals and stanchions.

  9. What about the unusual, striped goal frames in Belgrade, as seen in the Busby Babes' final outing in February 1958. Mention must also go to the silver goal frames in Gothenburg, used in the 1983 Cup-Winners Cup Final when Aberdeen beat Real Madrid.

  10. Norwich City’s yellow nets were great but the old Wembley goals top the lot

  11. I liked the old Elland Road nets in the 70s with the blue stanchions but the net was pulled back about a metre further back than the bottom of the stanchion

  12. Totally agree with you, especially the Wembley goals. They were part of what made the FA Cup Finals so special.