Chelsea's Gianfranco Zola back at The Bridge in time to destroy Norwich again

Zola's flick for Chelsea was ace, amazing, the best professional goal I ever did see. But it pales into comparison against the screamer by this fat ginger fella from Hove...
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Zola's flick for Chelsea was ace, amazing, the best professional goal I ever did see. But it pales into comparison against the screamer by this fat ginger fella from Hove...

Zola's flick for Chelsea was ace, amazing, the best professional goal I ever did see. But it pales into comparison against the screamer by this fat ginger fella from Hove...

It’s the FA Cup Fourth Round, 2002 and Chelsea are playing Norwich at Stamford Bridge. The home team have a corner, which Graeme Le Saux steps up to take. What happens next is – genuinely - poetry in motion. Chelsea’s diminutive forward Gianfranco Zola darts across the penalty area, square on to the ball, leaps, allows it through his legs and backheels it into the near-post top corner with all the impudence of a schoolboy flicking a bogie into a waste paper basket.

As a goal it was pretty phenomenal. It was a moment of brilliant spontaneity and inventive quick thinking. It was Zola in a nutshell, really: technically gifted, exhilarating. However, though Gianfranco Zola’s strike for Chelsea was a heavenly piece of improvisation , it actually wasn’t the best goal I ever saw. No. The deftness, the smartness, the nous, all pale in comparison to a goal I saw scored by a fat ginger bloke in Hove.

The year was 1999, at the Neville playing field near the Greyhound Stadium, not far from the old Goldstone ground, home of Brighton & Hove Albion. My Sunday League club – Marle Place Wanderers – were taking on a team who played in black and white stripes and were named - by someone whose eye for a pun I am to this day in awe of – Hoventus. The match was a scrappy affair; you know, fights, people bumping chests and swearing, someone’s angry Dad threatening to kill the ref. That sort of thing. On top of all this there were lots of goals.

With his first touch he took a long clearance from the goalkeeper on his thigh and – fully 40 yards out - in one fluid movement, spun, and with the timing of an opening batsman, connected with an effortless – soundless – volley that hit the middle of the far post and nestled in the opposite corner of the net.

Then, with the score at 3 all, the most magical thing happened...

The Hoventus manager – in what can only be described as a tactical masterstroke – removed their fat wheezing dark-haired right-winger, and replaced him with a fatter, wheezier red-haired right-winger. The effect was instantaneous. With his first touch he took a long clearance from the goalkeeper on his thigh and – fully 40 yards out - in one fluid movement, spun, and with the timing of an opening batsman, connected with an effortless – soundless – volley that hit the middle of the far post and nestled in the opposite corner of the net.

For a moment, the game just stopped in a stunned silence. Was that allowed? Did it count? This bloke was fat and rubbish, we could all see that, but somehow he had overcome these minor handicaps to produce a moment of breath-taking magic. The image of his wobbling stomach poking out from under his two-sizes-too-small shirt as he ran around like a mental case – only half-believing what the rest of us had witnessed with open-mouthed awe – is burned into my memory for all eternity. Unquestionably the finest goal in the history of football.

And of course we won, 5-4, so it counted for nothing. That’s football.

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