The Greatest Goal Ever Scored
I’m not really one for sports. That is to say I love watching them and I count football (or soccer for you Yanks) and Formula One as my main hobbies. However since I’ve never really had the opportunity to drive an F1 car, the only real sporting activities I’ve ever taken part in have been football related.
In the summer of 1998 I was working in a Jewish summer camp for kids with attention deficit disorder in Pennsylvania. I was a mere 20 years old and this was the first time I had really travelled anywhere by myself. As far as first steps go it was quite a biggy, and one that I haven’t really been able to live up to in the years since.
At this summer camp there were around 40 counsellors from all corners of the Earth. Most of them were Brits like myself, but there were also South Africans, Canadians, Australians, Irish, Germans and a small smattering of Israelis. Though we were separated by borders, languages and religion, we all had one thing in common: A love of the beautiful game.
During this summer the Football World Cup was being held in France. As per usual Wales failed to qualify and I was left supporting the English in the 98’ championship. Being in the middle of the Pocono Mountains with no TV we missed pretty much the entire tournament, so as something of a compromise we decided to hold our own World Cup (not officially sanctioned by FIFA).
Not only would this be a great bonding session for us and the kids, but it would continue to ramp up the simmering tension building up between the different cabins that made up the camp. As the teams were chosen and players were picked, I ended up leading team France. Those of you who can remember the World Cup from 98 will remember that France went on to win the actual trophy. This was something that I certainly remembered as we took to the field for our opening round of matches.
Each team was made up of 2 or 3 adult counsellors and about 9 kids aged around 13 years old. Being American kids its fair to say that they weren’t exactly familiar with the rules and etiquette of the glorious game. As hard core football fans, us Brits made it our mission to make sure that these kids left camp with a closer connection to Moses and a fundamental understanding of the offside rule.
As much as I love football I do have one problem with it however. That is to say that I’m not very good at playing the game. I have the perfect build and speed needed to be a top class winger, but sadly my feet have never been that understanding when it came to telling a football what to do. I’m going to come out and say it bluntly; I was a journeyman player. I never had the skill of some players or the tireless athletic drive of others. I just kind of hit it, hoped for the best and occasionally jogged around. That isn’t to say I was totally without skill though, but I suppose you could always argue that I was the broken clock of football players. If I played enough games, I was bound to do something right at least twice a day!
The opening rounds went well for Team France. With my fellow Welsh counsellor Pedr also on my team (who had the fortune to be a hugely talented footballer), we cruised into the final, taking apart teams like a hot French knife through a cappuccino.
While Pedr took most of the glory scoring all the goals and displaying obscene levels of skill, I busied myself taking care of the somewhat less flashy, but equally important position of “player breaker-upper”. This player is the guy who sits just in front of the defence and tries to break up any midfield attacking play by the opposition, whilst providing adequate cover for his defence.
Our tactics had worked brilliantly, so well in fact that the team that we were going to face in the final; Brazil, had taken note of our playing style and cunningly figured out a way to stop us from scoring. In piece of football management that you can’t help but take your hat off to, the opposition had decided to put 4 youngsters on man marking duties on Pedr! Despite his skill, he found himself unable to get anywhere near the ball with 4 Ritalin addicted younglings nipping at his ankles.
The game played out in a hectic and bruising fashion. One thing you have to know about kids with ADD is that they have no fear. They dived in studs up, in an attempt to break our goal keepers’ legs. The match was evenly poised. Neither team could make the breakthrough required to win the game with the score locked at 0-0, with only seconds remaining.
A long hopeful ball was punted up the field by the Brazilian defence. The ball landed squarely at my feet, which I somehow managed to control with a single caress of my big toe. I looked up the pitch. Options… I needed options. Pedr was swamped with kids, now totally given up trying to pretend to mark him legally and were now literally hanging off his arms and legs. I looked around for one of my own kids, hoping that one of them would seize the day and live out every Summer Camp movie I had ever seen by raising up to the challenge and becoming a hero. Sadly these kids must have been watching different movies as they all just kind of stood around and looked at me.
I looked up field again and saw 6 or 7 mentally disturbed children rushing towards me. Then it happened. To this day I still cannot explain what came over me or where this piece of magic came from? Maybe the gods of football had sprinkled just enough pixie dust on me for 20 seconds of life changing footballing ability?
I knocked the football forward and started running straight at them. What the hell was I doing? I was nowhere near good enough to execute this kind of play? I would surely lose the ball any second, concede possession and allow Brazil a free run on our goal. The first opposition player lunged at me, I swivelled my hips, jinked the ball with the inside of my left foot and left him chasing shadows. WOW! Where did that come from? I had gotten a taste for the twinkle toed drug and it felt gooood.
I increased my pace, burning past stranded children like they were traffic cones. One lump of a kid tried diving into me from the right, but I did something resembling a Jackie Chan back flip, while tucking the ball between my feet and circled him in a motion that I’m pretty sure defied all known laws of physics.
Using my speed and newly found skills I rounded, danced and glided past an entire team of angry, borderline psychotic children. Pedr had managed to free himself of his shackles and was making a darting run towards the goal, eager for me to pass to him. But this was my time; this was going to be my moment. Bearing in on the goal having beat the entire team I readied myself for the shot that would win us the World Cup, when suddenly a crunching challenge came in from my left blind side. Sending me off balance I struggled to stay upright. I had three choices, I could go over and try and claim a penalty, pass to Pedr and let him score or hit that son of a bitch ball and win this thing!
With the top half of my body at a 45 degree angle I took the briefest of moments to take a look up and see where the goalkeeper was. Surprisingly he had come off his line and was charging towards me. This is a rookie mistake and one I’m sure would not have been made if the kid didn’t think football involved 60lbs of armour and a brown egg!
I took every last ounce of strength and balance I had to right myself for just enough time for me to look the goal keeper square in the eyes and announce to him, the camp and the universe; “Au Revoir”
I chipped the ball with my right foot, sending it flying over the head of the onrushing goalkeeper. The ball sailed through the air in slow motion like a planet in orbit, watching it fly whilst I tumbling to the floor. The cross bar of the goal loomed painfully close as the ball finally started it’s downwards trajectory. The entire camp held its breath in anticipation. Pedr stared in wonderment at my Maradonna-esq piece of skill, but it would all be for nought if the ball didn’t go in the goal.
Down it flew in an ever increasing motion as it clipped the tip of the cross bar as it bounced over the line and into the goal. I raised myself to my knees, tears in my eyes. I have never been able to reproduce anything every remotely close to that piece of skill since, but it matters not. For not only did I win the World Cup, but I scored the greatest goal EVER!