Some say it was the embodiment of technical perfection. A goal that would have changed the course of a stricken forward’s career…had it not been for the fateful intervention of the Gods. Others claim it is an act of fiction. A satirical tale dreamt up at the expense of a blighted foreigner. Urban legend or cruel reality? We unravel the mystery of Roy Lassiter’s snowbound wonder goal for Genoa.
The summer of 1996 represented the lowest of ebbs for Genoa tifosi. Over the preceding decade, they had been forced to watch on as their city rivals Sampdoria established themselves at the top table of European football. The balance of power in the port city unequivocally shifted when Genoa succumbed to relegation in 1995. But it was their failure to bounce back to Serie A at the first attempt that delivered the final dagger to Grifone hearts.
The emergence of 21-year-old marksman Vincenzo Montella had raised hopes of an immediate return to Serie A. However, by the time the lavender had come into bloom on the Riviera, hope had given way to despair. All that Genoa had to show for L’aeroplanino’s impressive 28-goal haul was a 7th place finish and the meagre consolation of an Anglo-Italian Cup victory. If the ambitious youngster’s end-of-season departure had an air of inevitability about it, the manner of it felt wholly avoidable. Serie C Empoli outbid Genoa in the auction to untangle Montella’s shared-ownership – and promptly sold the player to Sampdoria.
With pressure mounting from the Gradinata Nord, the Genoa hierarchy needed a reboot. Attilio Perotti was appointed as coach and 22-year-old Belgium international Michael Goossens was signed to partner veteran forward Marco Nappi. Mindful of the hefty weight of expectation placed on young Goossens’ shoulders, Genoa sought out additional attacking options to share that load.
The search for reinforcements took President Spinelli to the United States of America. On the other side of the Atlantic, the inaugural Major League Soccer season had just concluded with Roy Lassiter finishing as the top scorer. Despite his MLS exploits, Lassiter (or Dawg as he was known) was far from a household name, having failed to make the cut for the USA 1994 World Cup squad. At 27 years old he had just 7 caps to his name and sat some way down the international pecking order behind more established compatriots Roy Wegerle, Ernie Stewart and Eric Wynalda.
It was a calculated roll of the dice for Genoa in committing to a six-month loan. The modest outlay of around €1 million limited their downside. Meanwhile, the potential upside if Lassiter turned out to be a gem, both on the pitch and in terms of market exposure, was boundless. This was not the first time Spinelli had taken such a punt, having previously signed Japan international Kazuyoshi Miura on a similar short-term deal.
Lassiter himself displayed no shortage of confidence, declaring at his press conference “Wherever I have played I have always scored lots of goals…and I don’t intend to stop now”. He even celebrated his goals by mimicking an aeroplane, just like the man he was replacing in Genoa’s forward line. But underneath this bravado lay a complex and, at times, troubled character. Injury and the divorce of his parents led to a spiral of depression and, ultimately, to several brushes with the law just prior to his move to Europe.Embed from Getty Images
There were some teething difficulties for Lassiter in adapting to the highly tactical nature of Italian football. The player frequently found himself on the receiving end of admonishments from senior team-mates as he struggled to adapt. Despite this, less than a month after touching down in Italy, Perotti told La Stampa “Lassiter is ready physically, tactically and also psychologically”.
His debut took the form of a rather anonymous 30-minute outing against Chievo at the end of November, which did little to whet the appetite of Rossoblu fans. The record books tell us that another half-hour cameo against Foggia in January marked his next and final contribution in a Genoa shirt. The curtain came down on Lassiter’s Ligurian adventure later in January when the Gradinata Nord unfurled a banner reading “Go Home Lassi”.
However, what happened between those two substitute appearances is the subject of some conjecture.
After Lassiter’s debut against Chievo, Genoa next travelled to face Castel di Sangro. We know that Perotti unexpectedly handed the American a starting place in the Abruzzo. The legend, as told around family dinner tables, recounted in bars and cafes and adapted for the digital age, goes that Lassiter repaid Perotti’s faith with a spectacular bicycle kick to open the scoring. It was said to be a goal of individual brilliance, struck perfectly into the top corner. Or in local parlance, it took the cobwebs off the goalposts. Then, midway through the first half, a sudden deluge of ice and snow from the heavens caused the referee to abandon the match.Embed from Getty Images
So why the great mystery regarding this wonder goal? Well, the match was replayed from scratch in January, expunging from the formal record any details from the abandoned fixture. But surely, you might ask, isn’t there some footage of this golazzo? An extensive trawl of YouTube suggests not. Serie B matches weren’t routinely transmitted, so any highlight footage that did exist is likely to have been quickly discarded.
At this point we become reliant on the testimony of those present in the stadium that day, few of whom would have been of a Genoa leaning, given the 14-hour round trip and the foreboding weather forecast. Happily, though, this very match is covered in Joe McGinniss’ book The Miracle of Castel di Sangro, in which he paints a vivid image of the conditions that day. He describes how the Genoa team bus got stuck in snow on the way to the ground and the hazardous playing surface that saw players “slipping, sliding, sinking and falling” and “plunging into freezing mud up to the mid-calf“. The conditions certainly didn’t sound conducive to a spectacular goal.
If McGinniss’ description of the playing conditions doesn’t put the Lassiter mystery to bed, then his next line surely does; “nothing even resembling football was played on the field that day”. I’d suggest that he just might have mentioned a wonder goal, particularly one authored by a fellow American.
My theory is that those few Genoani in attendance, perhaps through boredom or a playful sense of mischief, concocted the legend of Lassiter’s goal during the long journey home. It certainly fits with the mythological nature of the ultra movement and the tendency for stories to become dramatised and exaggerated through successive re-telling.
Roy Lassiter’s wondergoal in the snow – I’m saddened to report – probably never happened…
Epilogue: Roy Lassiter returned to the MLS where he enjoyed a long and fruitful career that places him amongst the top 15 all-time MLS goalscorers. He amassed 34 caps for the US National Team, though narrowly missed out again on World Cup selection in 1998. Curiously, his son Ari Lassiter plays internationally for Costa Rica, not through a bloodline, but by virtue of having been born there when Roy was playing in the country.
Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this you might also like the story of Roy Hodgson’s second coming at Inter Milan.