I saved this unedited piece about Rubens goal against Derby for my book about the season but I though why not share it now.
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. Every part of these divine seconds is heavy with anticipation of course. We demand it. We require the magical and the esoteric. We need these moments to exist and the holy movements are writ again large on the field of play. It is as if these moments, heavy as they are have their own ethereal existence and the quantitative empirical permutations of the act of winning are thrown down at our feet. But Neves is aloft from this, he see’s the magical art and the possibility of novelty and creative passion restored to the turf, to the shuffling feet, the expectation is magnificent and holds on to your belly in a tight grip. No way, surely not, not today, this is not us, this is us, this is them, these are our days…surely not.
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. Fractured legs are nothing compared to this…something. What is about to happen? I’m not sure but I can feel it in the pit of my stomach. Something is going to happen. Intuition or something. Deja Vu? 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. Is it not said that in battle often there are quiet moments? Precious moments where the world stops for a second? I think God goes to sleep during those divine slumbering seconds, Gods eyes are shut and what dreams that goes through Gods eyes are possibly made real here in this world we inhabit. These dreams that God has are writ on the green grass where the wafts of pyro smoke linger as a mist almost. Subtle but magnificent dreams they are for God at least. But they are made real here tonight.
He is in space because that is his place here. Everything is channelled into this moment. The culmination of Nunos Heresies. The epitome of delights. We have suffered have we not? Have we endured the pain of the past for this one moment? The days shuffling out of the Southbank for beauty such as this? The Lamberts, the Saunders, the players who came and refused to believe in anything apart from themselves. The Morgans and the Moxeys, Sir Jack broken by strife his heart still full of love but his mind broken by this insane love of Wolves we have in which he shared totally.
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. He drifts his right foot back pivoting a little. It is the chaos variable, the crack we hardly see in a marble carved by Michelangelo This tangle is , an errant slip of Gods chisel perhaps. But we must have these gentle reminders that even within the most beautiful things there is a thread of angry imperfection in which Mankind struggles. An errant brush stroke hidden in the canvas. But Ruben already knows. He has already seen the final product because he is the artist.
What should he do? Pass? There is a tangle of players in the box. 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. These seconds are hours to me and I can watch every delicious movement, every sinew and muscle stretch like a ballet dancer. Balance and poise but more importantly belief and effort. He sees it. He knows it. It’s there Ruben in every gasp of the crowd and the urge for you to unleash that belief at last. To make history and to stamp your existence deep into the Molineux turf.
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 smoke dissipates a little and he is shining gold and black. There is only him in focus on the pitch, only Ruben exists. Only the ball too. I see the ball, his foot, his whole existence personified by this moment. The blood roars through my ears as I haven’t taken a breath for a few seconds. My hand is halfway to my face to push my glasses further up my nose. It will never get there of course. I am too slow, too material. This is a Holy communion between Ruben and the dreams of God and I am not invited yet. The arc of his movement has begun and it’s not a prelude, not a beginning yet but as his foot and leg begins that beautiful arc it’s like an orchestra slowly building to a crescendo of sorts when the conductor holds his baton still and then slowly it rises as he controls and defines the explosion of sound.
The bones creaked, here was the moment of course. He hits and the ball flies in slow motion. There isn’t much spin on the ball but it revolves slowly. 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 North bank 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 fingers of the Derby goalie. My arms rose too, did everybody else’s? I’m not sure, my eyes are on the ball. Faced with such magnificent beauty for a second I didn’t believe it. I didn’t recognise it at all and there was a second where all the negative energy rolled around my soul. Of course no, not here, this is Wolves mate. You might have seen some good football this season but are you taking the piss? This isn’t for you imbeciles. Goals like this are what you watch on telly where beautiful players score, where beautiful stadiums erupt. Where other people reach those ecstatic heights. This isn’t for you mate, this isn’t yours and never will be.
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. It was our moment, we could also take part in the communion between Ruben and the nap of God, the dreams, the sense of belonging to both and they too belonging to us. Ruben beckoned to us to join in with the joy of 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. Every moment in the future when I am watching football I will think of this madness. This interplay between Ruben and the ball. Every movement is scored into my brain and I think everybody’s. The benchmark of a beautiful goal of course. We will wax lyrical in the years to come to younger people and we will be old and slightly insane with life. They will have the blood and the fire in their veins as they watch a goal scored in the future and they will grab onto us and say have you ever seen anything like it?
We of course will just smile as our knees threaten to buckle and that pain in the hip cracks through us as lightning. We will smile and nod but I think we will keep the memory of that goal to ourselves and our minds will replay these moments as precious memories, glorious times in our past. Because the young will never understand what it looked like even if they watch it replayed on TVs and phones. They will never understand because the goal was an epiphany of enlightenment that only us that have suffered will understand. But we will look in those times for people that were there and they will be old like us and we will perhaps find some fellowship and share maybe a knowing wink at each other and say ‘good goal, but not a patch on Rubens against Derby’.
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