Not all goals are created equal.
There’s joy in every goal – explosive, uncontrollable, visceral joy – but celebrations often feel partial to snobbery, like the way goals are scored needs to be definitive to spark that joy.
Like there needs to be an onomatopoeic thud of ball slamming down off crossbar à la Tony Yeboah, or a whoosh as the ball hits the back of the net à la Roberto Carlos to spark chaos.
But there can be another way. Andrea Pirlo, whose delicate right foot put overzealous England ‘keeper Joe Hart on his backside with a panenka and strolled off with breathtaking nonchalance once showed us that. Jordan Ayew did too.
When legendary Australian batsman Mark Waugh saw portly bowler Jimmy Ormond trot out to bat during the fifth Ashes test at the Oval in 2001, he greeted him with ‘There’s no way you’re good enough to play for England’.
Ormond’s swift riposte, in reference to Mark’s (better) twin brother Steve, was ‘At least I’m the best player in my family’.
Until a couple of years ago Jordan Ayew was widely considered the third best player in his family after father Abedi Pele, described by Ottmar Hitzfeld as the greatest African player ever, and more famous sibling André. Brother Ibrahim was called up alongside Andre for Ghana for the 2010 World Cup; Jordan didn’t even make the 23-man squad.
André outscored Jordan for the first five years of Jordan’s career and for nine of the 11 years they’ve both been playing. Both moved to the Premier League in summer 2015; André outshone Jordan and earned himself a £20 million move to West Ham.
The following season Jordan got half as many league goals as his brother (six to three) and the one after that, despite winning Player of the Year, Swansea got relegated. On loan at Palace last campaign he scored only twice in all competitions – one of which against fourth-tier Grimsby Town – before an unheralded permanent move for less than £3 million.
In comparison to smooth, suave, swaggering brother André he sometimes appears unpolished and workmanlike, his features contorted in a semi-frown as he shuttles in vain between centre-backs or forlornly pressures goalkeepers with perma-furrowed brow.
He wins fouls. He hustles and harries, every now and then he might scrape a four-yard daisy-cutter equaliser away at Huddersfield. He might even leave and reach double figures in the Championship. For a squad player and spiritual successor to Marouane Chamakh, Cameron Jerome and Frazier Campbell he’ll do, went Eagles fans’ thinking. At least until Boxing Day 2019.
Now he’s the hotshot 28-year-old striker who’s won 15 points for Palace this season, equalling Andy Johnson’s record, has netted more this season than he ever has before in the Premier League, and scored that goal.
‘Got it out wide, burnt past two, 360 turn past their best player, in between two others, chipped the goalie. Easy.’ Recounting it to someone who hadn’t the privilege of witnessing it first-hand is almost impossible without overselling.
It’s all too easy to dismiss the playground braggadocio ubiquitous in football – I once genuinely heard scenes after a Sheffield United goal described as ‘biblical’ – or hear the mediocre elevated to the magnificent. Reductio ad Messium.
But however cheap a comparison, if the world’s best player had scored like this on a cold December night in South London it would have been up for the Puskás Award. Ayew’s goal against West Ham didn’t even win goal of the month.
The feeling from your team scoring a goal is routinely and justifiably seen in the moment as better than your team winning.
When do you celebrate a goal? Is it when the ball passes the keeper? When you know it’s going in? And if it’s subjective why do we all seemingly erupt simultaneously?
As the ball crossed the line that night there was a silent, still moment of breathlessness. It’s usually imperceptible, nearly quieter than silence as 25,000 inhale, serving to amplify the split second after. Ayew’s chip arced casually through the air, so the delay in celebration was natural. The reaction was anything but.
For the first time in my life I didn’t punch the air or grab my dad’s shoulder or high-five my cousins. I was suddenly divorced from the ritualistic need to shout loudest, jump highest, scream hoarsest, the competitive urge to one-up your neighbours to show how much you care. I just put my hand to my mouth and laughed.
No matter it was much-maligned and not-so-dearly departed Roberto in goal. No matter it was against a porous Hammers defence, no matter the furious, frustrated fits of hands on hips indicating it was the defensive error rather than attacking majesty. No matter Manuel Pellegrini was sacked two days later, or that Ayew had scored a late winner against West Ham in October and this was the second strike of lightning.
The Ghanaian picked it up on the touchline in stoppage time with scores level, hopes high but expectations low, seven defenders between him and the goal, got past all of them. Eight seconds later and the ball was in the back of the net.
Maybe Palace fans’ collective misremembrance is overplaying its brilliance, or maybe it was a perfect goal from an imperfect player. A transcendent moment of poetry from a usually prosaic figure as opposed to a world-class striker’s 50th such goal. And maybe the fact it wasn’t Jairzinho or Jay-Jay but Jordan means we should appreciate it all the more.