Over time, appreciation for most goals falls to something approaching zero. This is particularly true now, when anything remotely interesting appears immediately online and stays there forever. As a consequence, goals aren’t elusive anymore; you don’t have be in the right place at the right time to see them. Instead, everything is on demand. That crashing volley from Spain, the swerving free-kick from Italy, or that slaloming run from South America. Any moment from any league in any part of the world is yours to watch right now and then as many times after as you wish.
That’s a privilege which is probably taken for granted. At the same time, it also creates an over-saturation which blends one spectacular moment into another. Whenever, for instance, Wayne Rooney’s full-blooded volley against Newcastle appears on television, it provokes familiarity instead of wonder. Leo Messi is the same, otherworldly as he is. Even the boutique part of his collection – Gold Label Messi if you will – has been dulled by repetition.
Glenn Hoddle didn’t play in this era. When he scored goals, those who weren’t in the stadium to see them couldn’t run to YouTube and they couldn’t depend on half-a-dozen encore presentations throughout the week. By that time, Match Of The Day had evolved to become a more circumspect affair, but even then the viewer had to be in position, on his or her sofa, at the right time and on the right night. If not, it was gone – or, at best, consigned to a crackling VHS with a ticking half-life.
Unfortunately, this might be a horribly pertinent time to be talking about Hoddle. Hopefully not, but on Sunday night the news is still grim, albeit less so than it had been 24 hours earlier.
Outside of that horrible context, it’s interesting that he remains so under-celebrated. While it’s hardly controversial to claim him as one of the most gifted players produced by this country or to believe that 53 caps was a meagre return for a player who should have walked into every England side for a decade, his highlights do not remain on steady rotation and, as a result, his finest moments aren’t subject to the same ennui.
Quite the oposite; they’re remarkably fresh – none more so than the the goal against Watford, scored at Vicarage Road in September 1983.
Its class is self-evident, but its most magnetic quality is its craft – not the skill at its root, but the imagination at its heart. The game has produced many players blessed with an exemplary first-touch, many who could sense the game around them, and plenty who possessed such command of a football that they could more or less do what they want with it. Rarely, however, have all of those attributes been combined to produce something this pretty.
It’s hard to know for sure, but this is the kind of goal which – irrespective of when it was scored – would have remained immune to becoming mundane. Even if it were part of the opening credits to Super Sunday or Monday Night football, it would still be a riveting sequence; watch Hoddle, watch the defender being dummied into a different post code, watch the goalkeeper being tempted from his line and then being left helpless. It’s less a piece of skill, more a flourish of artistry which reveals something different on nearly every viewing.
The game’s evolution can be unkind. What was great then sometimes looks distinctly ordinary now. Too often, the state of pitches, the weight of the ball, and the restrictions imposed by clunky boots are forgotten and what would have passed for greatness in decades past is, quite unfairly, deemed barely worth a second’s glance today. Place footage of Cristiano Ronaldo and George Best dribbling side-by-side, for instance, and all the hyperbole which sustains the latter’s legend seems slightly ridiculous. It’s not, of course, but it’s easy to understand how someone could reach that conclusion. Look at Ronaldo’s feet, look at Best’s. In terms of literal command and effect, there’s no comparison.
Hoddle’s goal isn’t subject to that problem. It’s immune. In fact, the most flattering compliment it can be paid is that it would astound any football watcher of any time or era. Whether a fan was born in the 1930s, 1950s or 1990s, their reaction to it would still be the same: no levelling formula needs to be applied, no adjustment has to be made.
That’s an elusive sort of purity and one that the passing of time can’t really diminish.