Back and to the left – The loss of individuality in goal nets

Everywhere you look there is someone lamenting the loss of traditional goal nets. What nobody has done is explain how the loss of the old nets changed the game and what it meant for the fans – particularly those watching on TV.

Serge Gnabry’s volley for Werder Bremen against Monchengladbach was a thing of sublime athletic beauty ruined by the homogenous box goal nets.

Not only aesthetically (via the ridiculous rebound off the nets – how many goal of the season contenders end up catching their own goal? Like, what is this? The NBA?) but also in terms of expectation and basic common sense.

There was nothing complicated about the Kennedy Assassination to US comedian Bill Hicks. The Zapruder film showed the President shot in the head and falling, “Back and to the Left.”

For Kennedy to fall “Back and to the left,” Hicks expectation was the killer shot came from front right and as far as he was concerned, any suggestion to the contrary was an affront to common sense.


For decades, those watching football expected a shot like Serge Gnabry’s being buried spectacularly in the net. It was basic sensory perception – what you saw – meeting rational thought. Common sense.

But with the nets at Borussia-Park made of trampoline and stretched as tight as smiles at Brad Pitt’s house, that expectation was not satisfied. Bill Hicks common sense would have been affronted.

Did Gnabry growl, “Get in there!” as he unleashed his volley? It is one of football’s most famous sayings and has been shouted by most players striking, and fans witnessing, a shot such as Gnabry’s.

But does “Get in there”! – with its clear implication of the ball entering goal, not just crossing the goal line – have any meaning when the ball rebounds straight back to the scorer?

Once the ball was “in there,” celebrations began. With the ball dead, its momentum killed by the net and still behind the beaten goalkeeper, the goal could be celebrated.

Great goals are celebrated most and even at 1-3 down, Gnabry’s goal should have been celebrated. However with his shot rebounding in to his arms, Gnabry – and the Bremen fans – were denied the opportunity to celebrate. That is really not fair.

Having stripped Gnabry’s goal of its meaning, the homogenous goal nets also strip it of place.

A deliberate consequence of the decision to McDonald-ise the game and homogenise the world’s goal nets was to turn the game into a placeless spectacle for those watching at home.


Until recently each region of the football world employed different methods of suspending the goal nets. Though there were always local differentiators, full support stanchions or ‘A-frames’ were generally favoured in England and the Low Countries.

In Central Europe triangular elbows or Continental ‘D-supports’ were preferred. South American nations suspended their nets with ‘L-supports’.

Losing these instantly identifiable methods of suspending the nets meant losing the only remaining on-field differentiator for those watching on TV.

Box nets are now everywhere and games watched on TV could be played anywhere. The only unpredictable element of the TV viewing experience left to catch the eye is the perimeter advertising – which was probably the point all along.

Serge Gnabry’s goal was ruined for now and all time by global marketing. Never mind.

To paraphrase Bill Hicks, “Go back to lamenting… Here’s American Gladiators to watch.”

Tony is author of The History of Goal Nets

The Author

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