The Top 10 Most Satisfying Things That Happen In Football
10) Back-spinning the ball to set it for a free kick
There are two seemingly insignificant things a non-goalkeeper takes undue pleasure in doing if they ever have to deputise between the sticks. Firstly, assuming your gloves are high-end enough and you don’t have tiny hands, it’s the masterful feeling of holding a ball in one hand, palm facing down, defying gravity. (Seriously, try it, you feel like a king.)
The other - a method favoured by any goalkeeper taking a free-kick after an offside - is the casual back-spin throw to place the ball on the turf. The perfect conditions are after some light drizzle, but you’ll find it works almost as well on any decent 3G astroturf too.
Essentially, it makes you feel like a professional goalkeeper, without having to do all the arduous training that goes with it.
9) Knee-slide goal celebrations
Huge advances in elite-level pitch maintenance have made the knee-slide the default Premier League goal celebration. It’s a particularly camera-friendly spectacle, not to mention a notable crowd-pleaser (or crowd-baiter, in the case of Emmanuel Adebayor).
It’s best deployed by the corner flag, or simply by a man who is happy to ruin a very expensive suit.
8) The sound of ball-on-stanchion
Car manufacturers spend millions (probably) on perfecting the sound of their car doors when you shut them, to try and create a noise that implies quality, craftmanship, precision, luxury and/or robustness. Football’s equivalent is the sound of a ball hitting the woodwork or, more precisely, the part of the goal known as the stanchion. (Where else in life do we see/mention stanchions? A project for another day.)
There have been some perfect combinations of shot, stanchion and microphone down the years, but Crystal Palace - in their FA Cup quarter-final away to Wolves in 1995 - managed to provide the definitive acts of stanchioning. Darren Pitcher and Chris Armstrong, your legacies are ensured.
7) An inch-perfect, raking crossfield pass
The monumental satisfaction of a successful raking 50-yard pass means that a whole generation of English footballers obsessed themselves with getting their fix as often as possible: Steven Gerrard’s penchant for a “Hollywood pass” was well documented, while the last three years or so of Wayne Rooney’s career has been a procession of floated, benign balls from one flank to the other.
Crossfield passes are weirdly immune from criticism, provided you don’t rely on them too much. Even a wayward one, which drifts over the head of the winger it was intended to reach in the opening minutes, will be met with an earnest thumbs-up, the universally-understood football semaphore for “nice idea, unlucky.”
Crossfield passes are perhaps a niche pleasure, which might explain why YouTube video “Ivan Campo long range/crossfield pass” has fewer than 200 views. Let’s give it a deserved boost.
6) A 3-1 win
Bear with me here. Alright, so there are obviously better scorelines: 4-1, for example, 5-1, 8-0, 21-3...I could go on. But, within the realms of mundane reality, is there anything more well, comfortable than a 3-1 win on a Saturday afternoon?
Three goals should be enough to win any game of football, it’s just about the right number of goals to tune in for the highlights even though you saw the whole 90 minutes the first time around, and that goal for the opposition gives a so-near-yet-so-far quality to the whole thing. They were briefly in it, for a bit, before being restored to arm’s length.
Whatever order the goals are scored in, a 3-1 win will always feel like a good day at the office. And that’s what we’re aiming for here.
5) A good first touch
Mostly the preserve of only the finest talents in football, which is why there are about two dozen YouTube videos based solely around Ronaldinho accepting delivery of a ball from the sky with approximately 0.001% fuss.
The fine motor skills required to cushion half a kilo of synthetic modern football, yet still keep it within playing distance, are a thing of wonder. Make yourself a cup of tea, sit back and watch this one a few hundred times:
For some reason - perhaps because they’re wearing a suit and shiny £2,000 shoes - it’s even more satisfying when managers do it. Controlling a stray crossfield pass in the technical area, to the triumphant “waaeeeyyyy” of the crowd, but remaining straight-faced throughout.
4) A voluptuous goalnet
It’s quite simple, this. The day they finally knocked down The Dell was a triumph for those who simply couldn’t abide shallow goal nets, where the ball bounced back out rather than nestling safely into the back of the goal. The Dell’s goalnets - which might as well have been school-playground brick walls - managed to suck (or, rather, repel) all the joy out of almost a any goal that was scored into (and then out of) them.
What football needs is more of what we saw at USA ‘94, where even the merest tap-in would send the nylon netting billowing in the 40-degree sunshine of Pasadena, New Jersey or Orlando.
Space is often at premium though, especially at the traditional British stadiums, but the likes of West Ham have no excuse not to have installed USA ‘94 goalnets in their new homes.
3) A good camera angle
A well-placed TV camera can take even a top-corner wondergoal to a whole new level. You usually have to wait until the third or fourth replay to finally get the one camera that was right behind the shot as it was struck, to reveal the strike in all its in-all-the-way glory. Take, for example, Michael Essien’s swerving missile against Arsenal in 2006:
Otherwise, goals you have become accustomed to over the years often have new life breathed into them when another camera angle emerges. Diego Maradona’s solo dissection of England in 1986 looks even better when observed from behind the goal, while the recently-unearthed reverse angle of Ronnie Radford’s famous giant-killing screamer for Hereford against Newcastle in 1972 is basically football’s answer to the Zapruder film.
2) Sliding tackles (that win the ball back neatly in the process)
If two decades of Sunday league football has taught me anything, it’s that a sliding tackle out wide that sends the ball skidding on to an adjacent pitch while cleanly putting an opposition winger on his arse is one of the most accessible footballing thrills.
There is a specific subset of the sliding tackle, though, which isn’t as devastating but a great deal more life-affirming. A surprisingly low-risk technique, the hooked slide tackle ensures not just the abrupt end of the opposition attack, but the immediate start of the counter.
Roma midfield battleship Radja Nainggolan has, YouTube says, perfected his own take on the hooked slide-tackle (essentially a backheeled version) which more or less encapsulates just how satisfying the art can be. Striding away with the ball, having royally dispossessed an opponent, really is one of the most under-regarded feelings in football.
1) A textbook half-volley
Another example of something in football whose satisfaction needn’t be earned by sheer hard work: in the grand scheme of things, a half-volley isn’t that difficult, mostly a mere coincidence of time and space.
There are several things about the perfect half-volley which make it so particularly more-ish (both for the volleyer and the spectator). Firstly, the heart-swelling “ger-dunk” noise of ball-on-turf-swiftly-followed-by-boot-on-ball glory. Secondly that, once the ball has elevated itself a few centimetres off the ground, you can put your foot through it with all your might and it’ll still travel in an emphatic trajectory somewhere towards the intended target.
Meanwhile, kudos to the few remaining goalkeepers who still choose to half-volley the ball out instead of spooning it up into the air on the volley (or opt for that fashionable, modern, out-to-the-side technique, which looks fun but actually requires years of training.)