On the Spot

pic from Flickr user 'Hussain Isa'

pic from Flickr user 'Hussain Isa'

November 12th 2008, or Black Wednesday as it shall forever be known, was an ugly night for the beautiful game.

Not only were the five-a-side team I attempt to play for humbled by a ten goal margin (does that sound better than saying we lost ten nil? probably not) but at the exact same time, as if for one evening justice itself was temporarily blinded by some cruel eclipse, Liverpool slumped to a 4-2 defeat in the Carling Cup against a resurgent Spurs at White Hart Lane.

To get over this double whammy of defeat, I did what any anguished football fan should do and reminded myself it is only a game in the funniest way possible – I listened to Alan Partridge commentate. After this semi-successful catharsis, I switched on Radio 5 Live to check the other Carling Cup scores. It was then I heard the magic word: “penalties.” Was there to be a brief flicker of light on an otherwise dark night?

Chelsea were playing Burnley and it had gone to pens, finishing 1-1 after extra time. The fact that Burnley – from the Championship, at Stamford Bridge, sticking one to the fine upstanding gentleman that are messers Cole, Terry, and Lampard, like David conquering Goliath, fighting for good against evil – won is neither here nor there. I just love penalty shootouts. The combination of teamwork, skill and tactical acumen necessary to prevail in a ninety minute contest melts away to reveal football’s beating heart of bottle and composure. Which players are made of sterner stuff? Which goalkeeper wants to be the hero?

When forming an opinion on penalties, being a Liverpool fan pretty much makes your mind up for you. The Reds boast a remarkable record of nine wins from ten competitive shootouts, and in amongst these victories we have bagged two European Cups, an FA Cup, as well as passage through a couple of semi-finals. These agreeable experiences have tempered within me the natural fear which grips every football fan when penalties loom, and have given me the ability to appreciate the drama inherent in any shootout. As a tribute to the 12-yard spectacle, I offer you a dozen of the finest moments of football theatre that the fateful spot has ever provided.

1] The “don’t give up your day job” penalty

The unlikely figure of Diana Ross chokes her big moment in the all-american opening ceremony of the 1994 World Cup. England should have hosted it, Shola Ama would have slotted that no problem. Couldn’t say the same for Shola Ameobi though.

2] The “no pressure then mate” penalty

The pint-sized, pony-tailed legend Roberto Baggio blazes over to win Brazil the World Cup in 1994, and immediately hangs his head and assumes the default Italian teapot stance of disgrace.

3] The “why the **** couldn’t you do things like that on the pitch for us” penalty

Harry Kewell entertains in training by doing something which is initially impressive but ultimately pointless. A lot like his entire stint at Liverpool.

4] The “better than a goal” penalty

If you don’t laugh at this there is a hole in your soul.

5] The “two is company” penalty

Cruyff thinking outside the box. Then we come to its ugly brother…

6] The “too many cooks spoil the broth” penalty

We all know Arsenal like to walk it in, but from the penalty spot? Pires and Henry being too clever by half, and ending up with oeuf smattered all over their Gallic faces.

7] The “secret agent” penalty

This is just brilliant. The blushes of the penalty taker saved in emphatic fashion. The goalscorer must have supported the opposition all his life.

8] The “friendly” penalty

Its not easy being a footballer you know. Sometimes you have to kick the ball really hard. Obviously too much to ask for this bloke. Struck with the power a dad would apply to a shot in the park with his three year-old kid in goal.

9] The “can I have another go please?” penalty

No you can’t mate. Hard lines.

10] The “dolly catch” penalty

Death or glory with this one. Howzat, Francesco?

11] The “is this the moon I am kicking? then I must send it home” penalty

David Beckham converts in fine style. Love the way he checks for a divot afterwards. Tell you where you might find a divot Becks – in your head where your brain should be.

12] The “archetypal crash bang wallop” penalty

My favourite type of penalty, as preferred by the Pearces and Carraghers of this world. Close your eyes, take a few steps, leather it, celebrate with a primal scream. As Gazza eloquently and decisively puts it in the video “I just couldn’t believe it. Well I could believe it, because that’s the sort of guy he was.”

~ by seanbradbury on November 13, 2008.

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