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The Flat Cap on ... Goalposts

Today The Flat Cap has been looking at goalposts and paid a visit to his local playing fields to find out more about their origin and history. Goalposts are a fairly recent innovation and until 1863 there were no rules about how far apart they should be. Then some chaps got together at the newly formed Football Association and decided they should be 24 feet apart. The width was agreed by laying four men end to end, and then rounding up their aggregate heights to the nearest foot. Had the men at the Football Association all been giants or midgets then it is highly likely the goals could have been considerably wider or narrower than the ones we see today.

The Flat Cap on Goal Posts

Unfortunately in 1863 there was still no agreed height to the goals, so a goal could be scored at any height as long as the ball passed between the posts, which were separated by a piece of string. This gave cause for many arguments during games and in 1880 The Manchester Guardian reported “lots of scuffles and argy bargy” at local Sunday league games over whether or not a goal had been scored. Did the ball really pass between the posts? Teams could just not agree, and the matter would often be settled by which team could bribe or intimidate the referee the most. This tradition has survived into the modern game and most professional clubs now sign at least three or four players whose sole job is to intimidate or berate match officials. Back in the late nineteenth century ‘bungs’ to referees would mainly consist of a joint of meat, or some new guttering dependant on the various trades of participating players. Nowadays it could be a new washing machine, or the promise of a weekend break in a luxury caravan.

In the first ever FA cup final the string crossbar was replaced by tape similar to that used nowadays to cordon off crime scenes. In 1882 the FA decided that goals should have a crossbar and specified that it should be at a measurement of 8 feet above the ground. This height was decided on simply dividing the width of the goals by three. However the accuracy of the goal came in to question once again in 1888. In the 4th round of the FA Cup Crewe Alexandra drew with Kensington Swifts 2-2. After complaints from Crewe that one crossbar was two inches lower than the other the game was awarded to them. Whilst the height and width of the goalposts were fixed there was still nothing to capture the ball once a goal has been scored. This was a real problem for clubs whose grounds backed on to a river, busy road, or a railway line as it made retrieving over hit shots jolly precarious. After having had several players knocked over by passing traffic (including a horse drawn tram) football nets were finally introduced in 1891 and have been used in every FA Cup final since 1892.

The Flat Cap spoke to a council workman called Ted who was marking out one of the nearby football pitches, and he was able to provide some amazing goalpost related facts:

• In 2009 IFK Gothenburg goalkeeper Kim Christensen landed himself in hot water after being spotted using his feet to push the bottom of each goalpost slightly inwards. The Danish goal shortening cheat was caught by TV cameras in a Swedish first division match against Orebro. About 20 minutes into the game Referee Stefan Johannesson spotted the posts had been moved a few centimetres and pushed them back into the right place. The goalkeeper later admitted to having done the same thing before in several other games • In 2015 ginger singer Ed Sheeran released a film entitled “Jumpers for Goalposts” which featured footage from his biggest shows at Wembley Stadium, and even a surprise duet from celebrity football fan Sir Elton John. Sadly the real goalposts normally seen at Wembley had to be taken down to accommodate Sheeran’s stage. As a young man Ed played right back for his school team • Sir Elton John bought new goalposts for Watford FC when he became club chairman in 1976 • Also in 1976 French side St Etienne lost the European Cup final to Bayern Munich 1-0. Having hit the woodwork twice the whining Frenchmen complained that they would have won the game had only the posts been round instead of square • “Jumpers for goalposts” is the name of an online football game. Apparently Ted’s nephew is never off his bloody computer and Ted thinks the boy needs more fresh air (like when he was a lad) • Moving the goalposts is a metaphor which means to change the criterion of a task whilst it’s still in progress. Ted told The Flat Cap that the council are always moving the goalposts on the playing fields where he works, and the job takes longer than it used to because his marking machine needs oiling and there’s no money left to pay for lubricant • You can buy a junior sized football goal complete with net for as little as £30 off eBay • In 2004 world football governing body FIFA estimated that the combined length of all the world’s goalposts would, if laid end to end, stretch to the moon and back • Ted explained that goal line technology works by passing an invisible laser beam between the two goalposts, and that whenever the beam is broken a radio signal is sent to the referee’s earpiece to tell him to award a goal • The city of Flagstaff in Arizona is twinned with the city of Goalpost in New Mexico

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