Mention the name Tony Yeboah to any Leeds fan – in fact to any football fan with a memory long enough to stretch way back to the mid-nineties, and you can bet that a faraway look will come into their eyes, and they’ll say “Ah, yes – that incredible goal against Liverpool. Goal of the season, that.” It’d be difficult to find anyone to argue the point. But as a fanatical Leeds United fan who has a very special place in his Hero File for Anthony Yeboah, I’m going to try.
The Liverpool goal certainly was a brilliant technical piece of finishing; volleys from outside the box against a class goalkeeper invariably have to be. At Leeds over the years, we’ve been lucky enough to see a fair few of these bazookas, and Yeboah’s late effort against the Anfield men stands comparison with any of them. The fact of the goal being at the Kop End of Elland Road was of some assistance to the spectacle, but any way you look at it, this was a hell of a strike. It wasn’t the first goal of this type in front of the Leeds Kop and against the Reds though. A few years before, Gary MacAllister, a future Anfield hero, scored another fizzer, the ball being played to him in mid air from the left; he let it go across his body before wrapping his right foot round it to thunderous effect, the ball scorching into the net before the ‘keeper (the same David James beaten by Yeboah) could even move.
Yeboah’s strike though was probably marginally better. It came from a headed knock-down forcing the Ghanaian to adjust his body shape slightly as the ball descended towards him, and he caught it so sweetly and with such ferocity that James was probably slightly lucky he didn’t get a hand to it; broken wrists have been known in similar situations. It was a violent, arcing shot, the ball dipping slightly in its trajectory and just clipping the underside of the crossbar before bouncing down to rest, relieved, in the back of the net. David James can perhaps count himself unlucky to have been beaten by two of the finest volleys I’ve ever seen at Elland Road, then again he might reflect they’d probably have beaten any two keepers on Earth.
The thing is though – tie me up and burn me for a heretic, but I don’t think Yeboah’s howitzer against Liverpool that balmy August night was his best goal for Leeds. In my humble opinion, that came a few weeks later at Selhurst Park, temporary home of Wimbledon FC, when the phenomenal Yerbugger struck an even more vicious blow. Reliable witnesses, standing close by as the man from Ghana hit his shot, swore blind that they actually heard the ball squeal in pain. I am supported in citing this strike as Tony’s best by Guardian writer Dominic Fifield who, writing in 2011, saw it as his favourite Premier League goal. He described it thus:
“Watching the ball cannon up from a series of scrappy headers and attempted clearances clearly tested the Ghanaian’s patience. Yeboah snapped on to the loose ball, controlled it on his chest then instep, exploded away from an opponent and lashed a glorious half-volley in off the underside of the bar from distance. It is the ferocity which is most impressive; a blistering effort.”
Sadly, I only saw this goal on television, though I’d planned to attend the match at Selhurst as I was due to be in London that weekend. Four days previously though, I’d seen a pallid performance against Notts County in a 0-0 League Cup draw – and I just thought, well sod it, I’m not wasting my London time and money watching that sort of crap. So I was exploring the delights of Selfridges when Yeboah broke Sky TV’s velocity-measuring equipment, and serve me right for a lapse of faith. At least my wife found it funny, but I was understandably not amused. Leeds won 4-2 as well, with Yeboah completing a hat-trick, and Carlton Palmer scoring a goal that might well have been Goal of the Month any other day, but which paled into insignificance next to the awesome might of Yeboah.
There are several YouTube videos devoted to paying tribute to Tony’s goals in his too-brief stay at Elland Road, and I’d heartily recommend a search, they’re well worth watching over and over. I’d be interested to know what others think – I suspect that most will feel his effort against Liverpool was the best; it was a late winner after all, and scored in front of a packed Kop. I should think this really, because I was actually there, stood right behind the line of the shot as it ripped past the startled James. But I just can’t help harking back to what I think was an even greater goal, albeit in humbler surroundings. How I wish that I’d been there for that one. Tony Yeboah: thanks for the memories – and a belated Happy 48th Birthday from last Friday.