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30 January 2019

Is scoring a goal better than sex? Judging by the ecstasy on the pitch, it’s pretty close

In my day, the scorer got a quick handshake from the captain, then players returned to the centre. Now it’s like an orgy.

By Hunter Davies

Is scoring a goal better than sex? How would I know? I’ve not played football since I was 50. Interesting that scoring is a euphemism for intercourse among the more vulgar. Back of the net – that, too, is another way of putting it.

Professional strikers, on top of their game, do struggle to explain the joy of goal scoring, yet the rejoicing has increased considerably these past ten years. The whole team goes potty, caressing and kissing the scorer, while the scorer praises the heavens or goes down on his knees, lost in bliss, before he gets swamped by his colleagues. Sometimes one has to look away, the moment is too intimate, the emotions too naked for us to witness.

When I was a lad, there was a quick handshake from the captain to the scorer, then every player trooped back meekly to the centre spot. Now it is like an orgy. I blame all these foreigners, especially the Latins, influencing our chaps. No stiff upper-lips any more. Same when they get fouled: they writhe in agony because a bully has breathed on them.

You might have thought, when they are so obscenely well paid, that they would not be bothered with all the emotional stuff. They will get their £350,000 a week whatever the score. But they care, they really care. Dropping down the Prem, heading for the Championship – that is the end of life as they know it. Sack the manager at once, get shot of those useless players.

I was reading an extensive interview in the Daily Mail with one of my favourite, and least starry, players, Glenn Murray of Brighton. He was going on about the joy of scoring and I thought, hmm, I wonder if he will say a goal is like an orgasm. I did hear footballers say that in the dressing room, in the days I moved among them.

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I have followed Murray’s career since he first played for Carlisle United, my hometown club, in 2004. He had earlier been rejected by them and played non-league for two other Cumbrian clubs, Workington and Barrow, before he started banging them in at Brunton Park. He progressed to Stockport, Rochdale, Reading, Crystal Palace, and also had a spell in the US, without ever attracting much attention. Now, at 35, he is in the Prem with Brighton, joining them in 2017. They rely on him for goals. In 110 Prem appearances he has scored 31 goals. At one point in the season he was the leading English-born scorer in the league – ahead of Harry Kane.

They will become rarer and rarer, players like Murray, who get rejected early doors and wander the leagues before making it in the Prem. Even lowly Prem clubs can afford to pay £50m on some supposedly ready-made foreign players, rather than taking a chance on a journeyman Brit whom the scouts have occasionally  checked out, then rejected.

Murray’s look will also get rarer – his sort of podgy, dustbin-man figure with horrible hair will be less frequently spotted. Players are lean and groomed these days, as if on a conveyor belt, even as teenagers: hair slicked, tasteful tattoos, all looking like David Beckham’s love child.

Murray must be surprised and delighted to have got to where he is now. He can’t have expected it all those years ago, slogging his guts out at Carlisle. Yet he tries to act and live like a normal bloke, not be carried away by himself and his present status in the Prem: a demi-god, all-round scoring icon.

“Scoring a goal is the best thing in the world,” he explained in the interview, “because it’s the only thing you can’t control or predict. Most things in life you can work for or buy. But I can’t guarantee a goal… And when it comes, I can’t give that feeling to anyone. Only I can feel it and know it. I want my children, my wife and people close to me to have that feeling. But I can never give them that.”

I was sure in his head he was going to come up with a sexual comparison, but held back , knowing it would be a cliché. And also rude. Cumbria lads don’t do rude. Their mams wouldn’t like it. 

PS, female footballers, how do they feel when they score? Do share.

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This article appears in the 30 Jan 2019 issue of the New Statesman, Epic fail