The 100 greatest football moments of all time

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Introduction

When we look back over football history, or indeed our own history with the game, it’s never truly the realities of matches or seasons that we remember. It’s the individual moments. The last-minute winners. The touches of transcendent quality. The shock incidents.

They energise us, excite us and – of course – move us. In truth, such moments are what we follow football for. As Nick Hornby writes in Fever Pitch, real life doesn’t usually provide last-minute winners.

Clearly, some moments are more important than others in the context of a match or season. Some mean more in the long-term. Some are more spectacular. Some more surprising. Some more symbolic. And then some are just unique.
So, in attempting to determine the greatest and most historic moments in football history, we looked to distil these qualities.

First of all, it must be said, we tried to give a global a spread as possible, to genuinely cover all of football history as opposed to just those in the western world or traditional power bases. However, since importance and effect on history was such a big consideration, it is only natural that many of the moments will come from the highest stages.

In order to get as great a variety as possible, too, we canvassed both readers and a series of respected football writers.

As regards defining a moment, also, we attempted to pin as many back to as pure and isolated an incident as possible. The ultimate example is probably a penalty kick. However, since some performances – or indeed six-minute periods – are hard to break up or differentiate, a few conformed to a more liberal interpretation of the word “moment”.

So, from a list of over 400 moments, then, we tried to sort them by applying the following general – and, it should be admitted, somewhat subjective – formula.

Initially, all of the moments were ranked out of five in each of the following five categories:

Importance – how significant the moment was in either the match or competition it took place in. For example, a winning goal or equaliser to play a key part in directing the destination of a trophy would score highly here. Michael Thomas’s goal against Liverpool in May 1989 is a particular example in this case.

Effect on history – this is similar to importance but in a much broader sense. For example, if a goal or win leads to a period of dominance for either a specific team or a new tactical philosophy, then it will score high. In that sense, Hungary’s win over England in 1953 would do well here.

Quality – this is in order to properly acknowledge the kind of benchmark and pioneering moments. For example, Marco Van Basten’s volley against USSR, Pele’s dummy against Uruguay or Barcelona’s 5-0 win over Real Madrid in 2010.

Nature – this is something of a catch-all title in that it attempts to evaluate the unique or spectacular nature of moments. For example, a particularly unlikely comeback or shock announcement or result would score highly here. Likewise something like Don Revie’s televised face-off with Brian Clough in 1974.

Symbolism – a slightly more esoteric category but one that attempts to evaluate how much a moment seemed to wrap up a few key strands from history. And sometimes, in effect, closed off a period of history. For example, Munich survivor Bobby Charlton’s goals in the 1968 European Cup final to win the title 10 years after the tragedy would score highly here. Likewise moments that seemed to encapsulate the essence or key qualities of a particularly important player, team, manager or competition.

We readily admit that such an approach is far from perfect. But it does just attempt to provide a starting point. As this website hopefully grows we hope to refine and improve such lists. So, if you don’t agree or just have a suggestion, make sure to email us at footballpantheon[at]gmail[dot]com or leave a comment below. We look forward to hearing from you and hope you enjoy the list.

 

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96 comments
FrankLovett
FrankLovett

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mink
mink

Gerrie Muhren 1973 Real Madrid-Ajax 0-1 "keepie-uppie"

 

thefootballfan
thefootballfan

u missed bulgaria win over germany in the world cup.

thefootballfan
thefootballfan

what about did it cross the line this time for england

ApoorvGupta
ApoorvGupta

I expected to see a list of the best players in the world for the previous year, as you made one last year. I hope you find the time to make it this year too. I love going through the lists and tell all my friends about this site too.

JordanPratt1
JordanPratt1

@ConnaB Okay then I'll get started then :P

Ewan MacKenna
Ewan MacKenna

Pat Devlin asks aspiring journalist during after-match interview if he had stuck his fingers in a socket for instance?

Football Pantheon
Football Pantheon

We were thinking that would become an issue. We had to stay true to our formula.system though, and that scored low on influence, quality etc... Think about it another way... would it feel so high-profile if it was from a fourth tier from outside England? Plus, Carlisle got relegated two years later.

Alex Cooper
Alex Cooper

Presumably a typo (or two!) No. 2 Maradona, does not add up to 23!

Shakir Choudhury
Shakir Choudhury

Jimmy Glass' extra time winner to save Carlisle United from conference football......

Daniel Collins
Daniel Collins

Two big one's missing for me: -David May stealing the limelight on the podium after the '99 CL final. -Liam Coyle leaving Carles Puyol on his arse when Derry City played Barcelona at the Brandywell in 2003.

NathanBarnes
NathanBarnes

How about Arsenal's unbeaten run? Just saying..

Manicowl
Manicowl

I'm surprised the match between Red Star Belgrade and Dynamo Zagreb that we're told started the war in the Balkans isn't in there, or would that be classed in the same vein as Heysel, Hillsborough etc...?

adamrhbrown
adamrhbrown

And so, we come to this list. Well...hmmm. Difficult to say really. What makes a great moment is very much more difficult to analyse than the other categories established so far. For what it's worth, I feel that the word needs a stricter definition than what applies here. I mentioned in my email to you that I think a 'moment' should be no more than 5 mins tops, and even that might be overstating it.

Using The Times' Wish You Were There moments as a guide, I have drafted up a list of what I believe to be the 50 Most Iconic English Football TV Events, a word that I feel works better when you want to measure whole matches (or even campaigns) against isolated incidents - as well as acknowledging the influence of broadcasting. On that basis I can't disagree with much of your selection here, though I cannot fathom why such high rankings are bestowed upon each episode of Mourinho and Barca's tit-for-tat just yet.

Also, let me just clarify how surreal as an English fan it is to see Stan Collymore above "They think it's all over" and beg you to reconsider, simply because we cannot afford him to actually see that!

I also strongly disagree with ranking Bergkamp so high. Obviously the goal is of the highest quality, but how can the even more extraordinary - as well as more iconic and more influential - contributions of Cantona, Tardelli and Zidane rank so far down the list in comparison? (I'm not trying to glorify violence, by the way. Just those two examples.)

Re that goal though, I recently came across a New York Times blog post from the 2006 World Cup, reflecting on previous Argentina/Holland games. Although mostly about the 1978 final, Bergkamp's goal obviously gets a mention. Scrolling down to the comments, it amused me greatly to find the first one by an American sports fan, suitably unimpressed! (Though, to be fair, considerably more of his countrymen jumped in to disassociate themselves from such a remark.)

Last thing for now - Maradona's goals vs England should be one entry. The contrast is the real story - an apt metaphor for both the man and the wider culture of his homeland. Plus it just about squeezes into my five minute limit. (Alright, make it 10, then Liverpool's bizarre comeback can still be included as well.)

Meerkat
Meerkat

Fascinating as always. The major omissions for me would be Heysel, Munich, Superga (although these were more 'important' than 'great') and Jimmy Glass '99.I do wish there were more actual "moments" than summaries of important matches, particularly in the top 50. I'd also like to see more moments that transcend football on the pitch alone; for example, Kepto and Gun: in the era of fanzines, phone-ins, supporters' clubs and Fever Pitch, it was clear fans had a voice and influence on the game (of varying levels)...this story (that it was fictitious is irrelevant) and the reaction to it showed how football is universal and can bring anyone together.I don't see why there are 2 moments of the Mourinho vs Barca saga; can these not be distilled into one? Pick the most important and lasting, include a summary of the other? Nice read though

PadraigOHooligan
PadraigOHooligan

A great list. I of course disagree with the placing of many things. For one I would have had Van Basten's goal and the Cruyff turn higher as actual moments, but that's the point of this, a great read. I can't think of any major omissions as of yet but I will return and whinge about something that pops into my head later, you can be sure.

It puts me in mind of the Orbis World Cup 90 Collection binder which was my first introduction to a lot of the moments on the list.

footballistico
footballistico

Great site. No place to include Thuram's two goals against Croatia (world cup 1998 semi-final ) ? It's a good example of an event transcending a player.

Miguel Delaney
Miguel Delaney

It was truly brilliant. But our shortlist ran to the hundreds. Many great moments missed out. What, for example, would you take out to put it in?

jimm1y
jimm1y

great list, iv only 1 problem. you never used jimmy magee's commentary for the maradona goal!

Big Fat Ronaldo
Big Fat Ronaldo

There must be a place for this. Kanu (ex-Inter Milan, Ajax and Arsenal) extraordinary last minute equaliser versus Brazil in the 1996 Olympic semi-final.

In a crowded last minute six yard box, with his team 2-3 down, he flicks the ball up with his back to goal and chips it over the Dida, in one movement

Nigeria was 3-1 down at half time at one stage, Brazil had a clear goal disallowed that would have made it 4-1, Nigeria missed a penalty while it was 3-1, and Kanu eventually scored a sensational Golden Goal to end it in extra time, completely dumbfooling the Brazilian defence before smashing home from 18yards

All this happened before without me mentioning the sheer beauty, and incredible exhibition of skilled and attacking football from both sides.....for the Brazilian team had - Ronaldo da Lima ( one month before THE INCREDIBLE 96/97 season at Barcelona), Rivaldo, Bebeto, Roberto Carlos, the maestro Juninho in his pomp, Flavio Conceiao (Real Madrid), Ze Elias, the great centre back Aldair and Dida in goal.

This set the stage for Nigeria's equally pulsating and dramatic final against the Argentina team, which had - Hernan Crespo, Mattias Almeyda, Diego Simeone, Javier Zanetti, Roberto Ayala, Nestor Sensini, Ariel Ortega, Claudio Lopez,Jose Chamot

Nigeria went behind 5times in both semi final and final and still won the tournament

The Nigeria Brazil game also made it into World Soccer Magazine's 50 greatest matches of all time

And before this, had any team outside Europe or South America won an an International Football tournament??? I doubt

It also inspired the Nigerian national team to record momentous victories over Spain and Bulgaria at France 1998 World Cup, and the Cameroun team to retain the Olympic Football title in 2000 for Africa

It deserves an inclusion

Football Pantheon
Football Pantheon

We were thinking that would become an issue. We had to stay true to our formula.system though, and that scored low on influence, quality etc... Think about it another way... would it feel so high-profile if it was from a fourth tier from outside England? Plus, Carlisle got relegated two years later.

adamabyss
adamabyss

You had better revise this to include Henry's return goal at Arsenal tonight. Absolutely incredible, unprecedented emotional scenes.

MDelaneyST
MDelaneyST moderator

@Meerkat Cheers as ever. The reason we didn't include Heysel, Hillsborough, Munich or Superga is because we didn't want to trivialise or be flippant about tragedies (by including them in such a list in the first place), and we also wanted this to mostly be a 'celebration' of the game, so made a conscious decision to leave such terrible incidents.Re the likes of Fever Pitch, they're simply too hard to quantify. And, again, that's not really the style we were going for. With respect, you're also the first person to suggest that!As for Glass, well the reason it's not included is because it scored low in a few categories (not nature obviously). It didn't really have an influence on the game and, mostly, Carlisle were relegated within a few years!

As for two moments from the Mourinho-Barca saga, well the fact is they were important even apart from the saga: one set the tactical template of the game, the other was one of the landmark, all-time performances.But cheers again! All feedback is welcome!

Meerkat
Meerkat

I'm also not sure how to format comments so paragraph spaces aren't deleted on publication?

adamrhbrown
adamrhbrown

@Meerkat You can't have genuine tragedies on a list of great moments! I would however nominate the rendition of You'll Never Walk Alone before the 1989 FA Cup final (or - as mentioned in the relevant entry - the one performed by AC Milan and Real Madrid fans in that semi final).

MDelaneyST
MDelaneyST moderator

@BenjaminBildeBoelsmand Pearce isn't a bad shout but, consider this: in the 'global game', Baggio's goal against Chile was possibly bigger if we're going to go along those lines. It was his first World Cup game since the miss against Brazil (which, most of all, settled an actual World Cup) and, moreover, he was a much bigger name than Pearce.As for Glass, well the reason it's not included is because it scored low in a few categories (not nature obviously). It didn't really have an influence on the game and, mostly, Carlisle were relegated within a few years!I know what you're saying about the game being at its purest, but it can hardly be described as the game at its "finest"!

Quality, after all, had to be one of our considerations!

adamrhbrown
adamrhbrown

@PadraigOHooligan Yes, I too was surprised to see that anyone would rank Bergkamp ahead of his two countrymen, great goal that it is, especially as Cruyff's turn has come to signify something even beyond the player's abilities. If it's been judged so favourably just because it happened in the last minute I'd say Michael Thomas, Jimmy Glass, and Man Utd vs Bayern all easily beat it for pure drama - and they actually settled the outcomes of whole seasons, not one inconsequential quarter final match.

adamabyss
adamabyss

@footballistico good suggestion. I believe they were the only two goals he ever scored for France. Don't you mean a player transcending an event?

MDelaneyST
MDelaneyST moderator

@adamabyss Well, let's not go nuts! It wouldn't score highly in too many of our criteria like "importance", "impact on history" (although we wouldn't know that for a while).

Golden Ball
Golden Ball

 @MDelaneyST  @Meerkat good decision not to include Hillsborough, Heysel and Munich. Just wondering why King Kennys winner against Brugge in 78 wasnt included. It was significant. Cheers!

Golden Ball
Golden Ball

 @adamrhbrown  @Meerkat The replay against Forest could have been Included as well. And speaking about Liverpool...The 88 season game against Forest, the 5-0 demolition was huge.

BenjaminBildeBoelsmand
BenjaminBildeBoelsmand

@MDelaneyST@BenjaminBildeBoelsmand I probably agree with you on Baggio, even though the screams of Pearce have me in tears every time (and as a dane it's not the national emotions). And with Glass I must respectfully disagree with the decision. To me, it's what football is about.

Once again thanks for the fantastic work you do!

adamabyss
adamabyss

@MDelaneyST It was his 227th goal for them though - a goal that no one ever thought would be scored. And just a few weeks after they unveiled a statue of him. Isn't it even supposed to be bad luck to have a statue of yourself erected while you are still alive (or maybe that's street names, haha)? Evidently it wasn't unlucky for him! He's had a pretty historical impact on the world game though, he was the best player in the world for a couple of years and this is the latest (last?) chapter. Night.