At 59, perhaps I’m a little too old for hero-worship. But pride of place on my mobile phone photo gallery (not too old to have one of those) goes to a photo of me – tall, grey, bearded – with my arm around a slightly older, tall, greying, bearded man. Few of my friends recognise him when I first show it to them but the penny drops when I ask them to think of the best ever FA Cup final goal. Because everyone knows about that goal; everyone can picture the bearded buccaneer, sashaying his way past half the Man. City team before foxing big Joe Corrigan in the City goal and stabbing in that sensational 1981 FA Cup winning goal.
Yes, it’s me with Ricky Villa, taken by a friend in the queue of other men too old for hero-worship lining up to have their photos taken with the guest of honour at the Spurs end of season bash at the 100 Club in May this year. In person, he comes across pretty much as he always appeared on the pitch – the epitome of cool. And, of course, I have to ask him about that goal.
No, not that goal, that goal. The one that isn’t shown on countless TV replays. The one that can only be replayed in the minds of the 40,000 or so lucky to be there in Nottingham Forest’s City Ground for the first game of the 1978/9 season to see it. A goal on his Spurs debut, the equaliser for newly-promoted Spurs against the reigning league champions. A thing of exquisite beauty and delicacy, denied its rightful place in TV’s beautiful game archives by the banning of TV cameras from the City Ground that day by Forest’s famous, and famously capricious, manager, Brian Clough.
The reason for the ban escapes me now. But the idea of any manager having the temerity (for which read ‘balls’ plus ‘clout’) to instigate such a ban would be incomprehensible to modern-day fans who know only of a Premier League built on the soul-trading deal that guaranteed vast riches in return for saturation TV coverage. Likewise, that a manager of a not overly-wealthy, unfashionable north midlands club could fashion a team largely comprised of other teams’ misfits and rejects into a ball-playing, league championship – winning team. Perhaps even more incomprehensible (God knows it seemed pretty incomprehensible to us all at the time) would be the idea of two stars from that summer’s Argentinian World Cup winning team, joining a newly-promoted team (us). (Rocketing off the modern-day football incomprehensibility scale would be the idea of a Glenn Hoddle staying with a relegated club and playing his heart out in the 2nd tier in order to get them back up, but that’s worth a whole article on its own).
Anyway, to the game itself. As I recall, the away fans attempt a small-scale recreation of the ticker-tape cascade with which the Argentinian fans greeted their national side during the World Cup, just to make our new signings feel at home. Their first touches are greeted with resounding cheers, the biggest of the lot for a touch of the shoulder with which Ricky Villa puts Forest’s notorious hard man, Kenny Burns, on his arse. Even Forest taking an early lead doesn’t really dampen our spirits – we’ve got two Argentinian World Cup winners in our side for Christ’s sake!
And, one of them, half an hour or so in, is about to score that goal. I am, with wife and friends, standing on the terrace looking down on the Forest goal. That’s the Forest goal as protected by England’s goalkeeper, Peter Shilton. We break down the left and Ian Moores plays the ball across the box to leave Ricky one on one with Shilton. We see him draw back his right foot and will him to blast the ball into the net. He doesn’t. But the dummy is so convincing that Shilton is now lying helpless on the ground. Ricky waltzes inside him and we will him ( I think we’re also, at this point screaming at him) to blast it into the net. He doesn’t. Archie Gemmill has now got back on the line. Ricky looks up, seemingly deciding, at a pace far too leisurely for most of us in the crowd, which bit of the net he fancies. He doesn’t make any attempt to blast it. Instead, he flicks it nonchalantly to Gemmill’s left and into the right side of the net. There is an explosion of relief, coupled with exultation at witnessing something of (almost literally) heart-stopping beauty.
Back to May, 2013, at the 100 club. I ask him about that goal: ‘Were you as cool as you looked?’ He grins. ‘Yes’, he replies.
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