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Lack of the net!

2 October 2020

Formed in 1888, English league football reaches the incredible landmark of its 200,000th fixture this weekend.

The world’s original league football competition, innovation has long been at the heart of the EFL, dating back to 1888. Its unique history and heritage underpins much of the game as we know it today and its achievements have provided supporters all over the world with memories to cherish.

Ask most fans, and they’ll tell you goals are the best thing about our beautiful game. The skill, the luck, the agony, the ecstasy... just one can be the difference between promotion and Play-Offs, suffering and survival, records and ridicule. They’re there to be both celebrated and replicated.

They’re also there to be disputed, of course, and have been since the first ball was kicked. It remains that way to this day, and while the introduction of goal-line technology in the EFL in 2017/18 has removed any doubt in many cases, debate continues to ensue.

Who scored the goal of the weekend? Which player was supposed to be marking him? Where were you when he scored that goal? Questions that are as much a part of every Saturday afternoon as the goals themselves.

But what of the time before the state-of-the-art cameras, perfect pitches and brilliant boots? Ironically, we can pinpoint the exact date, location and goal which changed football and the League forever. In fact, it was a disallowed effort in a match between Everton and Accrington Stanley on 26 October 1889 that inspired the invention of the goal net, one which helped shape the modern game.

Even then, the margins – or lack thereof – were clear to see. Everton, playing at Anfield at the time, along with their staff and supporters, were sure they had scored. The only person who wasn’t convinced was the referee, and it was his decision that cost Toffees a hard-earned win as the match finished 2-2.

Among those in the crowd who needed no convincing that day was John Alexander Brodie, a young civil engineer and die-hard Evertonian. Seeing his side denied what he believed to be a legitimate goal sparked an idea and, just one month later, he submitted a patent application for goal nets in football. Twelve months on, it was granted.

The proposal was simple: a ‘pocket in which the ball may lodge after passing through the goal’, and football agreed - nets became compulsory for all league matches from September 1891. It would be one of many enduring creations concocted by Brodie – including the UK’s first-ever inter-city highway - and the one he described as his proudest, before his passing in 1934.

An English Heritage plaque was erected at Brodie’s former Liverpool residence in the year 2000. So, whether it’s the unmistakable sound of the ball hitting the back of the net, the pain of taking the net down on a Sunday afternoon or the shots that look as though they might break the net altogether, we have plenty to thank him for.

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