When London embarked on Cardiff in 2002 beauty, significance and the Romford Pele combined to produce a vintage Arsenal Cup Final moment...
The most common way to classify a great goal is raw beauty, or how visually stunning it is. How it attacks a viewer’s senses, makes the jaw-drop, makes the belly turn. These are scored all over the country, at every level, every weekend. Whether Arsenal’s Robin van Persie smashes in a volley like he did against Everton recently, or Fat Bob from Dog and Duck Reserves tries a speculative swing from the half-way line – you’d class them both as great goals.
But there’s also significance – to score a goal at the right time, on the big stage, when your team needs it. This makes a goal great, too. Sylvain Wiltord’s famous strike at Old Trafford in 2002 was a tap in, but it won the Championship. Robert Pires’ winner versus Tottenham in the 2001 FA Cup semi-final wasn’t a breathtaking act in itself, but it settled a huge game.
Then there are personal favourites, scored by cult or unsung heroes. The late penalty Lauren scuffed in to win the derby in 2002 and Bergkamp’s completely unique flick and finish at Newcastle, will always remain special to me personally because they were scored by two of my favourite players.
For me, it’s when these three elements combine that a goal is truly great. Not many tick all the boxes, but one that does is Ray Parlour’s 25-yarder against Chelsea in the 2002 FA Cup Final.
Let’s examine my criteria. Firstly, the technicality of the shot was superb: hit on the run from the centre of the pitch, curling away from Carlo Cudicini but just close enough that it brushed his fingertips and edged under the bar.
It first looked as though the Romford Pele had turned into a dark alley. Released by Wiltord after making a run from deep into the centre, he didn’t trust his limited passing ability to pick out Theirry Henry or Ashley Cole to his left, so turned onto his right and saw he had no option but to shoot. That he did, and he stunned Cardiff with a corker.
Secondly, it was hugely significant. It provided an immense sigh of relief after 69 minutes of a frustrating Cup Final, in which Chelsea had come closest to scoring. The game was held four days before the epic title decider at Old Trafford, and completed the pressure-easing first half of Arsenal’s second double in four years. It also helped erase memories of the heartbreak of the year before when Arsenal played Liverpool off the park in Cardiff’s first showpiece occasion, before being sickeningly denied by two late Michael Owen goals.
“When I arrived at Arsenal I used to think ‘who is he.’ But after a while I learnt every team needs players like him.”
Thirdly, it was scored by an unlikely hero. Even in successful Arsenal teams of the past, Parlour was always a fall guy. He didn’t score the goals of Merson or Wright in the domestic cup-winning side of 1993, didn’t have the quality of Overmars or Bergkamp in the double-winning side of 1998, and didn’t posses the pace or incision of Henry or Pires in 2002, and for this he was seen as a frustration to me. In my younger years I never appreciated how valuable his tenacity and loyalty were to the club.
But he worked like no one else. When asked to pick an XI of players he’s played with, Dennis Bergkamp included Parlour alongside himself and Johan Cruyff amongst others, saying: “When I arrived at Arsenal I used to think ‘who is he.’ But after a while I learnt every team needs players like him.”
The goal was undoubtedly the individual highlight of Parlour’s Arsenal career, and served as a reward for his hard work to date in his testimonial season. Martin Tyler’s ecstatic screech of his name combined with Parlour’s modest smile, tinged with slight disbelief, as he jogged towards the corner flag to celebrate, will always force me to well up.
Of course, Freddie Ljungberg’s second goal raises the debate over whether Parlour’s was even the best strike in this game. For me though, as the smug Tim Lovejoy said on commentary at the time, it’s only Ray Parlour.
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