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A History of the Football Goalpost

From the number of substitutions, to goal-line technology and ABBA penalty shootouts, football is always evolving. Even equipment that might be taken for granted, like goalposts, have changed dramatically over the last 150 years.

Early years

Introduced in 1863, the first codified Association Football rules established that the distance between the posts should be eight yards. This has remained the same ever since, becoming the international standard after FIFA joined the game's governing body, the International Football Association Board (IFAB), in 1913.

But while the posts were set, the crossbar has had a much more contentious history.

While some clubs used a string or tape in place of a permanent crossbar in the late 1800s, many didn't use anything, meaning that goals could be scored by firing the ball 20 or 30 feet into the air between the posts – resulting in many heated debates about whether goals should stand.

The 1863 laws of the game expressly did not require or allow for a crossbar, tape or string. However, in an effort to reduce controversy, using a tape was required from 1866 and was in place for the first ever FA Cup final in 1872. Experiments with permanent crossbars began in the next few years, with Sheffield FC and Queen's Park both claiming to be the first club in the UK to install them. They finally became mandatory in 1882.

As with the crossbar, goal nets were not required under the original 1863 rules. But, as a useful measure to help determine which side of the posts shots went, they quickly became seen as essential. Within a decade of the permanent crossbar, the football goal had changed forever as goal nets were also in regular use. The 1892 FA Cup final between West Bromwich Albion and Aston Villa became the first to use both a crossbar and nets.

Even with goal nets and solid crossbar, controversy and debate did not go away. There was a new challenge - determining if shots that deflected off the bar had crossed the goal line. The most infamous example is still Geoff Hurst's second goal in the 1966 World Cup final. But numerous high-profile incidents in the last fifty years (including Frank Lampard's notorious disallowed goal against Germany in the 2010 World Cup) have resulted in goal-line technology becoming a fixture of the modern game.


The construction of the posts themselves has also gone through a dramatic transition. Wooden posts, with either a square or rounded cross section, and often made from Douglas Fir, were common from the 1860s through to the 1970s.

By the 1980s, wooden posts had been widely replaced with stronger, more durable steel by the majority of professional clubs. Soon after, aluminium rose in popularity as elliptical posts became increasingly common.

The elliptical post was developed in Nottingham in 1920 by the Standard Goals company and Nottingham Forest are thought to be the first team to use them. The shape helped to make posts more stable and secure when assembled, and the aluminium construction made posts more durable, easier to maintain and lighter – also making them safer.

While many stadiums around Europe were moving towards rounded or elliptical posts, Scottish teams stuck resiliently to square posts. For most fans outside Scotland, square posts were an interesting curiosity, but there were some consequences. During the 1976 European Cup Final at Hampden Park, Saint-Etienne hit the woodwork twice, with many French supporters feeling that if either chance had struck a rounded post it could have gone in and changed the game. As it was, Bayern Munich won the game 1-0 and "The Square Posts" of Glasgow became a notorious part of French football folklore.

Square posts were finally outlawed in 1987 and elliptical posts became the standard shape which is still used today.

Going forwards

While the shape and structure of football goalposts has remained the same for over 130 years, the desire to test new innovations and try to improve the game has resulted in a consistent evolution.

Modern crossbars, for example, now curve up slightly to counteract the pull of gravity, which could sometimes see the centre pulled downwards over time.

Aside from changes to reduce controversy, much of the evolution of modern posts is the result of increased goalpost safety standards, especially for non-professional facilities where children may play unsupervised.

As the leading goalpost manufacturer in the UK, goalpost safety is an issue that Harrod takes very seriously and are proud to be innovators in this field.

For more information, check out Harrod's guide to goalpost safety.

Before the 1890s, phrases like "Back of the Net" would have been met with raised eyebrows (or moustaches given the style at the time) in football circles.

For goals did not come with nets in football early years.

It was only in 1889 when an engineer called John Alexander Brodie was angered by a disallowed goal suffered by his favourite club Everton that the idea came into being.


In 1891, Brodie convinced the FA to trial the concept of putting nets behind goals and we haven't looked back since.

Why am I talking about nets? Well, it came up unprompted at the start of this week's Team 33 like many-a-tangent as Joe Coffey, Adrian Collins and Conor Neville revealed themselves to be more obsessed with goal nets than your average football fan.

You can listen into this week's show on the podcast player:

Preaching to the unconverted, I did learn a thing or two about the yokes which hang off goal frames at least before the days of standardisation.

Chelsea's goalkeeper Kevin Hitchcock dives full length during training before the cup tie against Real Zaragoza in 1995 Picture by: Ross Kinnaird / EMPICS Sport

As Ireland's leading Real Zaragoza fan, Adrian Collins told us, one of the Spanish club's greatest claims to fame are the deep, deep goal nets they once gave a home to.

Indeed, the nets at La Romareda stretch back four metres.

Barcelona's Ronaldinho measures La Romareda's nets behind him for planning permission (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)

In another bout of nostalgia, Conor Neville reminded us of just how much "ping" the nets at Wembley give off.

But they were less colourful than the Ipswich goalnets at Portman Road. Their nets were both blue but also a little stanchion that "only went up halfway" as you can see in this clip from 1994:

The colouring of goal nets based on club colours is something we'd love to see more of like Celtic ...

Picture by: Andrew Milligan / PA Archive/Press Association Images

Or Atletico Madrid ...


Atletico's Antoine Griezmann, 2nd left, celebrates after scoring the opening goal during the Champions League Group C soccer match between Atletico Madrid and Galatasaray at the Vicente Calderon stadium in Madrid, Spain, Wednesday Nov. 25, 2015. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

"Wembley used to be another one. It never used to settle into the net" as Conor recalled. And he's right about the "boing" effect when the ball hit the nets as can be seen here from the 1990 FA Cup final replay:

And a more recent use for goalnets is Gerard Pique's habit of cutting them up and keeping portions as mementos after major finals.

Off The Ball's European football correspondent Graham Hunter even helped him with this treasure hunt in Johannesburg after Spain's 2010 World Cup final win over the Netherlands as recorded in this extract from his book Spain: The Inside Story of La Roja's Historic Treble...

"Not long afterwards, Gerard Piqué emerges. He is still in his boots, shorts and vest and he has the tiny nail scissors from the first-aid kit in his hand as he marches down the tunnel, toward the pitch. A couple of minutes later he is back, very distressed, demanding of a tournament official: “Where is the goal net? Where have the goal nets gone?”

"When they show precious little interest in his enquiry or even basic politeness to him, he explains to me that he always cuts a souvenir piece of net but, this time, he has been too late. They are gone. I volunteer to join the quest and with the help of a streetwise stadium volunteer kid, we trawl through the entire underbelly of Soccer City.

"Everybody wants a piece of Piqué. The kid has made him promise that there’ll be a reward of a Spain shirt in this for him, but when the extent of his inside knowledge turns out to be how to get to the vehicle tunnel to the pitch, Piqué very nearly eats him alive. Then we mistakenly burst in on a room where the take for the food, programmes and refreshments is being counted. Finally, we persuade the security into letting us into the stadium manager’s office.

"Yes, says one member of staff, the nets are here.

"No, says one another, you can’t have even a couple of centimetres from them. But, while we’ve got you here, can we have a picture? An autograph?

"They are now dealing with an increasingly angry 6’3″ World Cup winner. As he poses for yet another photograph with staff who are not helping him in his quest for a memento, he turns to me and says, in Spanish: “I’ll punch him, we’ll grab the nets and make a run for it.” Instead, the stadium manager finally arrives, as do some tournament staff. It ends in a net gain."

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A History of the Football Goalpost

GALLERY: The weird and wonderful history of goal nets .. ...


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