The debate about the greatest goal ever is one that sparks passions in every football loving country in the world. Each nation has a favorite that historically means the most to them but the majority cannot justify the title as the greatest ever. After fervent patriotic bias has subsided to reasonable thinking, the usual final choice is between these two:
Marco van Basten’s volley from a ridiculous angle in the final of the 1988 European Championship.
Diego Maradona’s dribble from the halfway line against England in the 1986 World Cup quarterfinal.
They are good choices as they are both great goals, but not the greatest ever. They are, instead, two of the world’s most famous great goals - a different thing altogether. The worldwide audience, the magnitude of the occasion and the fame of the scorers are all factors that contribute to this skewed thinking.
The greatest goal ever, is, in fact, one that you have never seen. It was scored by a small man, running backwards, flinging himself in the air, and striking the ball with his left foot into the top corner of the goal.
The scorer of the goal is one Roger Boli. The occasion was when he was playing for Walsall against Southend United in England’s Division Two on August 30th 1997. The fact that the game was largely insignificant even to the 3,304 fans that watched it that day explains why you have never seen this goal.
I was there that day, stood on the Gilbert Alsop terrace as a Walsall fan at the opposite end from where the goal was scored. When I saw Boli connect with the ball and then caught sight of it in the back of the net I presumed I hadn’t seen it correctly so checked again. The ball was still there. My spine went cold as I celebrated with my friend, together in an embrace of bewildered happiness. “We just don’t score goals like that,” I thought to myself, and so did all the Walsall fans present that day.
You may well think that makes me biased - one of those typical hardnosed supporters who can only see beauty when it comes from their own team. Well, you may be right, but you’ll have to trust me on this one. I can remain objective and explain to you why it is the greatest goal ever, without resorting to favoritism.
Firstly, in complete contrast to the goals scored by van Basten and Maradona, it is the ordinariness of the occasion that means the greatness of Boli’s goal can shine on its own - allowing us to judge the goal purely on technical merit. There is no ornate frame around this picture.
At a game of this level goals of such exquisite technique are never seen. Sure, there are great goals scored in the lower leagues but these are 30-yard screamers that can be scored by any fluky fullback willing to take a punt. Boli’s goal is so theoretically difficult to pull off that it can never ever be considered lucky.
Whether you call it an overhead kick, a bicycle kick or a scissor kick is entirely your choice. What is certain is that when you do see one of these scored you never see it scored by a player running backwards. And never as far as Boli ran.
Even the great Pele agrees that a goal of such mechanical magnificence is rare, as he told The Guardian: “The bicycle kick is not easy to do […] I scored 1,283 goals and only two or three were bicycle kicks." I’ll bet he never scored one whilst running backwards either. And definitely not one against Southend United.
But Boli’s goal also goes way beyond technical brilliance. What Roger Boli did that day was reward the hope of any fan of the local team. The man who goes every week and travels up and down the country knowing that he will be watching sub standard football. It is the passion for his team that keeps him going and not the expectation that a thing of such beauty as Boli’s goal will mean his efforts go rewarded.
But why has such an orgasmic goal still remained under the radar of so many football fans? In this age of easy access to video recordings from all over the world you would expect the YouTube clip to have a lot more hits than it currently has – almost 70,000. Not a small amount, but insignificant compared to the millions who have viewed Maradona’s and van Basten’s great goals.
Perhaps the answer lies in the relative lack of praise the goal got at the time, as its greatness was still open to debate. Club captain, Adrian Viveash, in his weekly column in the local Sports Argus, wrote: “People have been saying all week that Roger’s first was the best goal ever seen at Bescot. Well, having seen Kyle Lightbourne [an ex-Walsall striker] hit some beauties over the past two years, I will reserve judgement.”
Even the YouTube video description doesn’t over extol its virtues as it can only manage to state that it is “one of the greatest goals ever seen at Bescot Stadium”.
Recently though the goal has started to gain more acclaim. In September 2010, an article on the website of the English national newspaper The Guardian described it as one of the six best overhead and scissor kicks of all time. And as part of the football club’s recent 125th anniversary, Boli’s goal was rightly awarded the title of ‘Walsall’s greatest goal ever’.
So, when you are next debating the greatest goal ever, earn some kudos by pretending you have a knowledge of lower league football and argue for Boli’s gorgeous goal to be included - because Boli’s goal is now, unquestionably, no longer the greatest goal you’ve never seen.