Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Overhead over heels.

Andy Rodgers: he looks like a wee lad wearing his dad's
shirt in this photo.

When Andy Rodgers scored an overhead kick in the 88th minute in the 2-1 victory over East Fife just under a month ago, many supporters (myself included) were quick to label the goal the finest ever scored at Ochilview. It is rare to see moments of extraordinary beauty in Scottish football, but to see a strike of such graceful splendour in the Second Division is an exquisite rarity. So impressive was Rodgers' winning goal, it even made it onto the Guardian Sports' YouTube section the following week.

Several days later, after the dust began to settle on the victory, I started thinking about the strike and how it compares to other great goals scored by Warriors. In my seven years watching the club, there have only been a few that rank on that same lofty pantheon: Tommy Sinclair's volley from twenty-five yards against East Fife, perhaps? Maybe John Paul McBride's last minute lob against Elgin in 2007? Or what about Andy Stirling's header from the edge of the penalty area against Threave Rovers in the Scottish Cup last year? Rodgers' goal is better than all of those. While the other three have their merits, I just don't think they can compare. The overhead kick is inarguably better than all three - I can't think of a more difficult technique to master than the bicycle kick. When successful, there is simply nothing as graceful in football.

The only goal that can possibly compare to Rodgers' is Colin Cramb's fabled volley against East Stirlingshire in the Scottish Cup in 2005. It's almost six years to the day since his goal decided the tie and until Rodgers' bicycle kick, I had never seen anything like it at Ochilview. After the East Fife game, I sat in the Wee Bar with my friends and we talked about the performance and the goal. Do you think that goal was better than Cramby's?, I asked them. Last minute winner, eh. Overhead kick in the last minute, ken, one of them told me. He may have had a point.

Had Rodgers scored in, say, a meaningless friendly, would his goal still have carried the same impact? Had it been a late consolation in a 5-1 thrashing, would it have still be as lauded? Perhaps not. The context of the goal is almost as important as the goal itself. In the context of the East Fife game, it was spectacular. Rodgers had played poorly throughout and had passed up a series of very presentable chances before he arched his body and connected sublimely with Willie Lyle's cross. It must have taken an outrageous amount of daring to have even attempted such a strike. I've watched the goal about twenty times during the writing of this article and I'm still astounded by his technique and audacity.

Colin Cramb: between July-December 2005, the man was a God.

The context of the goal is also crucial in understanding the importance and significance of Cramb's strike. The game at Ochilview between the Warriors and the Shire had been postponed four or five times because of a frozen pitch. When the tie eventually took place on that cold November night, expectations between both fans were high.

Stenhousemuir led by two goals after eight minutes through Jim Mercer and Tommy Sinclair before Paul McGrillen was red carded for violent conduct. Adam Owen reduced the deficit with a twenty-five yard freekick and on the stroke of half-time, the home side were reduced to nine men after Denham was dismissed after receiving a second yellow card for apparently calling the referee a "cunt".

Using their two-man advantage, East Stirlingshire began to stretch their hosts and poured men forward to attack. After a period of sustained pressure, Steven Dymock's volley hit both posts before narrowly crossing the line to tie the score (I remember Willie McCulloch rushing from his goal to remonstrate with the officials and claim the goal should not have stood).

By this point, many expected the Shire to prevail. With around twenty minutes remaining, a wild clearance from the Warriors' defence deflected out of play somewhere around the halfway line. John Paul McBride's throw-in fell in front of Joe McAlpine and the fullback motored down the flank, stopped, and swung in a cross. I cannot overstate just how perfect his cross was. Pacey and deceptive, it was utterly flawless. As the ball dropped, Cramb peeled away from his marker and shaped to shoot. His connection was pure and he sent a glorious volley crashing over the head of Derek Jackson and into the net.

Looking at both goals, it's hard to separate them and decide which is the "better" of the two. Both goals were spectacular and proved to be the winners in crucial matches (Cramb's more so given the competition and the opposition) but in terms of technique and timing, Rodgers' was perhaps better.

That said, my favourite goal (and ultimately my favourite goal of all time) is Cramb's. I don't think I could give you a proper answer as to why that is, even if I was to sit and think about it for the rest of the year. Perhaps my senses are dulled by nostalgia and an unconscious refusal to move on. Maybe I can't quite shift my romantic notions of Des McKeown's 2005-2006 side. I can't even remember just how far out Cramb was when he struck the ball. I can't remember if he was eight yards, ten yards or eighteen yards from the goal. I can't even really remember the strike itself, just the ball slamming beyond Derek Jackson and the celebrations that followed.

Rodgers' goal has the benefit of Warriors TV and we can watch it again and again and revel in Murray's cute backheel, Lyle's wayward cross and the stunning execution. Cramb's goal doesn't have that. Without a replay, it will always become more and more mythical. The distance, the ferocity of the strike, the task the team faced, will be greater and greater each time the story's told. My friends and I still talk about it. On long bus journeys to away matches, we still describe the strike and talk about how astonishing it was. A goal will always be eulogised when a striker cries OHYA FUCKER, YOU'SE ARE OUT! before attempting to score.

1 comment:

  1. I just watched the whole highlights of Stenny-East Fife there. I couldn't give a fuck about either team, and I knew the final score, but I was on the edge of my seat for the whole thing. The best thing was the EF miss around 3:15 and the "WHAT THE F-" cancelled out by a tasteful fade of the sound. I was on the verge of tears when Rodgers finally hit the back of the net. Classic lower-league stuff.