It was the second time I had jumped out of my wheelchair, stepped into the puddle of water at the bottom of the North bank, smashed my toes against the concrete barrier and the pain arced up my leg right into my hip. The pain actually made me feel sick. I wondered for a second if I was actually going to vomit as I felt the edges of my fractured bones grate against each other. I wanted to shout out to the universe and to the Gods above that this, this was what football was. This my friends was the totality of things, the azimuth of idea, the critical point where football, Wolves football had turned into the religious. Fuck, how I have waxed about poise and beauty, how I have sat here and typed out reams of cack about how fucking great we are and then this.
I know Neves is pointing at his head because that’s what he does, and I’m doing it too as the whole of Molineux erupts. The Steward in front of me is looking at the pitch with disbelief. I’ve got my plaster wet again. I don’t care.
Jota had scored and it was beautiful. I sat back down in my wheelchair and idly thought about how I would write about it. It was good. The through ball from Boly was threading a needle type shit. He had resigned the Derby midfield into sightless mannequins. He had made them redundant with that ball to Jota. So Jota did his thing, the jink, the turn and goal. Bang. Straight out of the chair and smash into the concrete. Yes, this was what it was all about. Still we hadn’t got out of second gear really and we were ascendant. We were chilling and I couldn’t be surprised by anything at all but…
Douglas puts in a corner, it’s the second half. I’m not sure what to expect. Those corners Duggo sticks in slices the air always, Afobe stands ready to flick on for whoever has thrown themselves into the box. The air is misty with pyro madness, smoke and mirrors this side. Who knows what to expect. The ball hangs for sure. Time is just slices and moments of anticipation with this team and we stand and observe. Our hearts are nailed to these moments. A Derby defender heads away out of the box and everything is still. You see I’m on my feet by now. Bones smash against bone. I’m not supposed to stand up but here I am. That pain is nothing. Because Neves. Our Ruben is in space. All the Molineux is a stage right now but the spotlight is on him. There is a strange silence. I am sure I can here the flags flapping on top of the Steve Bull stand. The ropes tapping against the flag poles.
He is in space because that is his place here. Everything is channelled into this moment. I suspect as that ball hangs in the air that even the Gods stop their governance of the universe and pause for a second to cast an eye upon him. The ball falls. Every player is motionless as they are about to witness something they will never see again. We stand motionless. Watch the video replay. Watch the crowd. Listen to the audio. There is a hush. There is a moment of intense anticipation and time is flowing on but slower and more refined in some ways. It slows down because for some reason we have already anticipated something divine and magical. Wizardry this is. Not Harry Potter bollocks but something deeper, something more divine.
Something is happening to the universe. Something is different in the wide schemes of surviving and eating, fucking, working, drinking, looking, hearing. Something is going to happen. We knew it and everybody knew it. His first touch is errant. A fumble if you will. It’s the dark side of the whole thing but an integral one. I alluded to the shadowy parts of our play. Sometimes you have to see the darkness for what it is to recognise the light. The errant touch that Neves had moved the ball slightly behind him. It was not optimal, it was not perfect but it was right in the wider scheme of things. It was a part of the whole delicious thing, the experience.
What should he do? Pass? There is a tangle of players in the box. This tangle is impossible to define in the timescale. He has to shoot, it is ordained in the wider topics of this season that he shoots or has a pop. He has to adjust his weight, it is too far forward now so his weight is balanced by swinging his right foot back further than it should comfortably be so his left leg and foot is now off the floor to give him the freedom to move that foot back to connect. He swings his foot in a beautiful arc. This arc has it’s own mathematics and I am reminded of the ‘Golden Mean’ the beauty of nature and of the natural world. It swings easily. It connects. The thing is my friends we knew straight away that it was a goal before he had even connected. Why? Because it was such a beautiful goal carrying such pathos and gravitas that time flowed forwards to a split second after the ball had hit the back of the net and recoiled back through time to the moment he hit it with his foot. My arms were aloft. Ruben isn’t even looking at the goal. There is nothing except him and the ball. He could be in the middle of a deserted landscape.
The bones creaked, here was the moment of course. He hits and the ball flies in slow motion. Time is relative now and flexible. It seemed like twenty seconds to me as I wasn’t allowing myself a breath but I was filling my lungs ready. Intake the air, the sour smell of the pyro, the stink of somebody vaping nearby, the stink of the brackish water that collects at the bottom of the Northbank concourse. This air filled me. The ball arced and fell as all bodies must do under the dominion of gravity but only enough, only the amount it needed to creep under the crossbar and beyond the outstretched finger of the Derby goalie.
A frozen tableau. Players static and unconnected with this event. We were too and then an eruption, a moment when all those dark days of the past were obliterated by such an intense burst of light that it seemed like the demons were blasted out of every dark corner of Molineux in that moment leaving the ghosts and us, the team and Nuno. This was the act of baptism, a cleansing of the soul, total immersion in the waters of football so gracious and holy that no evil could withstand it.
Neves wheels away pointing to his head. He does that because he knows that beauty lies in creative though, in the dynamic and the novel. Three pounds of meat. That is what the brain is. It nestles inside bone and defines our lives with moments such as this. What is promotion? What is going up as Champions? What concepts could be greater than this goal? I turn to Horace and just say ‘Fucking hell’ because that is all in my infinite ignorance I could say. The stadium erupts, the flags wave..
We’ve got Neves…Ruben Neves, I just don’t think you understand….
Who can understand this? Who can make any sense out of it? I can’t. I’ve never seen a goal like it. I’ve never been dumbstruck by anything, I’ve always had an opinion or some fucking senseless waffle to give out to anybody that would listen. But this I can’t. It has happened a lot this season. You know the stories, you can read them here. But this? No fucking way.
What happened during the rest of the match? I don’t really know. It was a foggy weird thing where my mind was that smashed to bits by the goal that I didn’t really take much more in. I had filled my head with it, breathed it in, heard it, felt it, the goal seeped into my pores and made everything else about that goal, that moment. And how many moments we have had eh? Every match has been filled with pathos and drama, every minute I have been rendered speechless by it. Yes, it has driven me towards a nervous paroxysm of joy, hate and violence, of speech that would turn a dockers hair white. But this my friends is it. If I have ever seen a statement of where we are going to be then this is it.
I know that many will be dampening the joy with their statements that we will not hang onto Neves. That the glamour clubs will come calling. But where would the beauty fit in in the disgusting political atmospheres of Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal, or Tottenham? Where would this beauty that Neves displays find a home in any of these redundant ideas of clubs? Glamour? These clubs have all the trappings of a history and a past but they are just that. Historical and the past. Old films, trophies won, things that inhabit memory and faded history. They are nothing now.
What would Neves or Jota or Boly have in these places? To inhabit the same dressing rooms as players on 150k a week, who have one eye on their bank balance and one eye on possible contenders for their place. These stadiums, these clubs lack a philosophy and lack idea. Neves may go to one, but without this idea what will he do there? He would shrivel inside, he would die a little. But here under the tutelage of Nuno he would develop both mentally and physically, he would thrive on novelty and knowledge. We humans build constantly in our minds, hearts and physically. Here at Molineux we build too. Here is where Neves will find his true home, his place in the world.
For us? We are merely the audience I suppose. We will continue to struggle to pay the bills, to keep a roof over our heads, and ignore the societal ills that plague the town in sleeping bags in the subways and tents pitched behind big stores and canal sides. What is it to do with us minimum wage poor bastards. Hope I suppose that we are witness to some things that seem right in the world. That there is some beauty among the ugliness and the depravity.
Ruben and the team have given us that at least and I am more than thankful. Now I can stand proud and say yes, I was there when he scored that goal and maybe in the future he will score better, or others may too. But I can say I was there and saw this. And it will be nestled within my heart forever and I will be sure that in this ugly life there is some beauty and there is hope.
I want to hug you all. I’m emotional and tired but happy. This is our time my friends. That goal has removed the darkness from the stadium. It has seen beauty again and desire, skill, masterful football not seen for many years. The demons inside the nooks and crannies of this stadium are gone. The Tesco bags the shit put over our seats during the Moxey years are burned to a cinder and the wind has blown the ashes back to that Sandwell shit hole where they belong. A baptism this was, a cleansing of the soul. Roger Johnson, Glen Hoddle, Magoo, Lambert, Morgan, all gone now and the wind that blew the drizzle into our faces has blown all the negative energy away from us. Thank fuck.
Ruben, that was more than a goal my friend.