When England plays Brazil in the Maracana on 2 June it will be nearly 29 years to the day since their last game in the old stadium. That game in 1984, a routine end of season friendly will always be remembered for John Barnes ‘Brazilian’ goal, when he slalomed through the Brazilian defence to score an incredible solo goal.
But how, at a distance of nearly 30 years can one instantly identify this goal was scored at the Maracana rather than Wembley? Or, given the Selecao’s Harlem Globetrotters-style schedule, at the Maracana and not New York or Doha?
The answer is simple. The goal nets.
Until recently each region of the football world employed different methods of suspending the goal nets. In England and the Low Countries, full support stanchions or “A-frames” were favoured. In Central Europe triangular “elbows” or “Continental D” supports were preferred. South America and Brazil’s on-field architecture of choice was the “L-supports” seen at the 1950 World Cup final in the Maracana, in the Argentina1978 World Cup finals and at the Maracana in 1984 when John Barnes scored.
At club level too, each ground could be individually identified by it’s goal nets. Chelsea had a crook in the base of their stanchions, as did Barcelona whose goals were easily identifiable from the curvy stanchions at the Bernabeu (the particular on-field architecture of which Heart of Midlothian copied and made their own in Scotland).
In this period, right up to the 1980’s, clubs were brands and they celebrated their individuality and highlighted their differences from other clubs, as brands do. However clubs are no longer brands. Instead, the competitions the clubs play in are the brands. So be it the Champions League or Premier League, the game’s organisers sell a collective product with a homogenous design of on-field architecture – the free-hanging box net.
Though the box net has been around for over 100 years, it came to global prominence at the 1974 World Cup finals, the first tournament where a uniform method of suspending the goal nets was employed across all stadia. In England, Europa 96 and UEFA’s insistence on uniform box nets spelt the end for individual goals at the domestic club level.
Box nets are now everywhere, including at the Maracana and on 2 June Wayne Rooney could dribble past five Brazilian defenders and round the goalkeeper to score and, watching on TV you wouldn’t know if he’d scored in Brazil or in Blackburn. Goal nets everywhere look the same.
Check out the message boards, fans everywhere mourn the loss of the different methods for suspending the goal nets and their clubs and national sides’ subsequent loss of individual identity.
Next year’s World Cup finals in Brazil offers the opportunity to restore individual identity in the game.
In the 1920’s South American football began to differentiate itself from its Anglo-Saxon equivalent by promoting the individual over collective values and musical metaphors were employed to describe playmakers as conductors and wingers as soloists. Football was recognised as art. This reached its apogee in the 1970 World Cup final, where Brazil’s virtuoso individuality and agility swept aside the organisation, physical force and collective endeavour of Italy. “You cannot be the best in the world at a game without loving it,” Hugh McIvanney wrote in rapture at the final. No team has ever loved the game more, before or since and the Selecao became synonymous with individuality in football.
The goal nets at international tournaments have long influenced the club scene after the event. Hence you’ll see Manchester United free-hanging their nets Spanish-style in front of their existing stanchions after the 1982 World Cup, and Manchester City installing the Continental D’s of Belgrade after Panenka and the European Championships of 1976.
Thus, should FIFA install Brazilian-style L-supports to suspend the goal nets at next year’s Brazilian World Cup finals, it will not only delight fans the world over but be a huge signal to the game’s national associations and competition organisers that there is still space for individuality in this era of collectivism and homogeneity.
Sign our petition at change.org and demand that FIFA World Cup 2014 respects the traditions of the South American football region in general and Brazil in particular, and promote regional and national identity in the game by adopting the L-supports method of goal net suspension at each of the stadia at the World Cup finals in Brazil.