The first time I went to Liberia was almost 22 years ago. I didn’t have a clue what I was doing but I scored the finest goal of my career.
I had somehow managed to become director of the Don Bosco Youth Centre in the Matadi district of Monrovia. We had classes in various trades and crafts, as well as art and sports. When I say ‘we’, it was pretty much the Liberians who organised everything. But I’m grateful for the opportunity for work experience that I got.
One day a group of lads asked would it be OK if they got a Youth Centre team together to play a team from SOS Children’s Villages? I said yes, as long as I could play. “What number do you play?” “Number 9,” I said without hesitation. I was waiting for them to see through my irony, but they took me at my word.
It’s great credit to their trust and faith that I played. Or maybe it was because I’d managed to get a new set of shirts. About 200 people turned up to watch – all staff or beneficiaries of the two projects. A partisan crowd.
The first time I touched the ball was at kick off. One of my fellow forwards promptly lost it. SOS Children’s Villages poured forward like a tsunami and the ball found itself immediately in the back of our net.
I was getting that sinking feeling as I took my second touch – the restart from the centre spot. This time the ball went out to our right wing and we began to sweep forward also like a tsunami – although perhaps one that was slightly more hysterical the closer it got to the opposition goal.
The right winger got past a couple of players and, approaching the byeline at speed, managed to get a cross in. I was in the box where any self-respecting centre forward should be, hoping (unlike any self-respecting centre forward) that the ball wouldn’t reach me.
Two defenders were between me and the ball, so I was sure I was safe. But the first one missed it completely. I began to sense the panic of the other central defender who was marking me. It was clear he wasn’t that keen on going for the ball either.
At this point instinct took over and I swung my right leg (editor’s note: my strong foot, such as it is, is the left one). The defender also lunged at the ball and got there a nano-second before I did. He booted the ball against my shin, but I was too late to stop my swing and the ball shot off my leg and went like an RPG into the top corner of the net. My third touch.
Then there was a pitch invasion by our fans. I remember high-five-ing the Youth Centre’s Technical Drawing teacher before order was restored.
SOS Children’s Villages kicked off again and I knew that nothing better could possibly happen so I made the universal “hands-rolling-over-hands” gesture towards our ‘bench’ and got myself substituted. Again I was mobbed. The Youth Centre put on a proper centre forward and went on to win 3-2.
My first return to Liberia was five years later and they were still talking about ‘that goal’. I’m going back again for my eighth visit on November 28. Surely I won’t be able to find anyone who’ll remember it after all this time? I’ll definitely be trying though…
Post Script: It’s funny how memory is. I just checked this story in my diary from 1992 and the game actually ended 2-2. Our third goal was disallowed, there was another pitch invasion, and the match ended up being abandoned. Imagine forgetting all that!
Furthermore, the ball from the right wing was played in by Philip Kah, and the Technical Drawing teacher was called Henry Teah.