Goal nets have become a prosaic piece of the footballing furniture. Homogenous, functional and ultimately forgettable.
But it hasn’t always been this way.
There was a time when every stadium in every city had its own take on the humble onion bag. A time when summer tournaments showcased the breadth of customs from different countries and continents. The net was an essential part of a stadium’s identity, instantly recognisable from a stolen glimpse on a 21’’ colour television.
In the lead up to the 1990 World Cup tournament, most Italian stadia were still using the same stanchioned design that had first been introduced in the 1950s and 60s. A loose-fitting net suspended by a distinctive white frame. Close your eyes and think of your favourite Diego Maradona goal in a Napoli shirt…and it will most likely have been dispatched into one of these.Embed from Getty Images
Under some duress from FIFA, the Italia ’90 organisers went about installing modern “box-style” nets for the tournament. These were already commonplace in much of Europe and South America, but the Italians strained the sinews in reimagining almost every conceivable facet of the design. There were subtle differences across host cities, but it was in Turin where the various elements came together to glorious effect.Embed from Getty Images
The defining feature of the Stadio delle Alpi nets was the extravagant hexagonal honeycomb weave, being showcased on the world stage for the very first time. The nets themselves were woven by artisans on an island in the middle of Lake Iseo in the north of the country. The innovation served no apparent functional purpose, but it gave a mesmerising optical illusion as the ball skimmed across the white nylon, especially under the glare of stadium lights.
The cut of the nets appeared to come from the hand of a flamboyant Italian tailor, eager to seize his moment under the world’s gaze. They were slim-fitting to the extreme, allowing scarcely more than a ball’s diameter between the goal line and the back of the net. This was pure aesthetic; the vast expanse of athletics in-field could have accommodated a behemoth net of Mexico ’86 proportions. But why would they? This was moda Italiana.
The slender tailoring was further accentuated by a stylish hourglass shape, which gently bowed inwards owing to the steep angle at which the top of the net was suspended. Thunderous high shots that struck the middle of the goal would cause the net to swell satisfyingly like a freshly-laundered bed sheet on a gusty autumn day.
And then there was the ‘boot cut’ hem of the net; in contrast to the svelte shape at the top, a generous excess of nylon was draped on the ground. Precise low finishes were prone to becoming ensconced in the folds at the foot of the net. Flailing limbs were not impervious either, something that Peter Shilton will attest to.
Forever living in the shadow of Pavarotti, Ciao! and Roger Milla’s swaying hips, these captivating, billowing spaces are the forgotten icons of Italia ‘90. I present the goal nets of Turin.Embed from Getty Images Embed from Getty Images