Football goals have barely changed in shapeor size in over 150 years.
In a smoky London tavern in 1863, the newly-formedFootball Association dictated the distance between posts should be eight yards Crossbars, marked eight foot above ground, didn’t become mandatory until 1882 with both Sheffield FC and Queens Park simultaneouslyboasting to be the first club to install them.
They were controversial from the start.
In 1888, Kensington Swifts were disqualifiedfor erecting two different sized goals in an FA Cup tie with Crewe Alexandra.
And a year later, Sheffield United’s 24stone goalkeeper William ‘Fatty’ Foulke broke his bar by over-zealously swinging onit.
The first net was used at The Kennington Ovalin 1891 as Blackburn Rovers beat Notts County [3-1] to win the FA Cup.
And football has since seen goal frames evolvefrom wood to aluminium, but the dimensions between the sticks have neveraltered or even been significantly scrutinised.
This is surprising considering there was littleor no science behind the goal’s size.
Goals most likely originated from those foundin the Chinese sport of kickball.
Zuqui, as it’s known today, hit its peakduring the Song Dynasty [960-1279] and was played with 33-foothigh goals with a one-foot hole in the centre and coloured rope nets.
Scorers were rewarded with drum rolls andsometimes wine .
The first written reference to goals came from Cornish hurling in 1602.
Historian Richard Carew described them asthe space between two bushes about 10 feet apart.
Both these formative frames, in sports similarto football, were bigger than our modern ones.
Yet it took until 1996 to seriously questionthe size of goals.
Now disgraced ex-FIFA president Sepp Blattercalled for their diameter to be widened by 50cm – or as he put it, “two footballs”– and for their height to be increased by 25cm.
But uproar ensuedand the plan was shelved prior to any serious debate.
But were bigger goals really such a bad idea? The average height of a man in 1863 was 5foot 5 inches.
Today it’s 5’9.
Of course, goalkeepers have, and always will, tower above these numbers.
Based on available data, the average keeperheight in English top-flight football in 1863 was 5’10.
By 1980, keepers had crept up to six-footand they now stand around 6’3.
The Bundesliga and Ligue 1 also field tall keepers, but intriguingly Serie A and LaLigaprefer their shot-stoppers slightly shorter.
José René Higuita – famous for his sensationalscorpion-kick save against England in 1995 – Sergio Alvarez, David Ospina, ClaudioBravo, and Marc-Andre ter Stegen are just some examples of keepers with stints in Spainor Italy who are well below 6’3.
Superficially, the rise of colossal keepersdoes correlate with a decline in goals.
Between 1863 and 1980 – when 6ft keepersfirst became commonplace – the average number of goals per game in the English top flightwas 3.
That number has since dropped to2.
The pattern is the same in Europe’s otherbig leagues.
Once the average keeper height surpassed sixfoot in France , Germany , Italy  and Spain  – all at slightlydifferent times – average goals per game also declined.
So (at face value) it seems the days of Everton’sDixie Dean scoring 60 league goals in single season are over.
And we will probably never see another tournamentlike the 1954 World Cup in Switzerland, where there was an average of over five goals pergame , including a 7-5 thriller as the hosts lost to Austria in the quarter-finals.
The goalkeepers present had an average heightof 5, 11, with England’s (No.
2) Ted Burgin just5’7.
In contrast, there was a record-low 115 goalsat Italia ’90 and the average keeper there was closer to 6’2.
These stats suggest bigger keepers must behoused in bigger goals or the decline in scoring will continue.
But here’s the twist.
By digging a little deeper, it actually revealsshort keepers aren’t at a disadvantage and in fact concede less than very tall ones.
Last season, across Europe’s big five leagues, goalkeepers saved around seven out of 10 shots on target.
But keepers 6’1 and under performed above-average], while those over 6’4 had a strikingly poorer record.
Bournemouth’s Asmir Begovic conceded a goalfor almost every save he made, while Dijon’s Bobby Allain saved an average of nearly fourshots [before being beaten.
Other short keepers who outperformed tallerones include Deportivo Alaves’ Fernando Pacheco and Atletico Madrid’s JanOblak.
Real Madrid’s Thibaut Courtois and BayernMunich’s Manuel Neuer had below-par seasons, with the German shipping 22 goals in just26 appearances.
Of course, there are lots of variables thatwarp these stats.
After all, goalies might be the last gatekeeper, but they are still reliant on the defenders in front of them.
They are not at fault for every goal, noris every save is equal.
The stats may count each save as so, but afull-stretch fingertip around the post to prevent a sure fire goal is clearly more valuablethan countless simple stops.
But the plot nonetheless thickens when differentareas of the goal are isolated.
Since the inception of the Premier Leaguein 1992, 61 percent of the 26, 786 goals scored occurred in the bottom corners with a farsmaller percentage in the top ones.
Keepers 6’4 and over – presumably strugglingto get down in time despite their longer reach – conceded 2, 414 more goals than ones 6’1and under in the bottom corners.
And, as you might expect, smaller goaliesstruggled up high, conceding 696 more times.
The Premier League’s worst keepers (withmore than 20 appearances) at defending the bottom corners are ex-Arsenal, Aston Villaand Reading goalie Stuart Taylor [and former Wolves and current Crystal Palace No.
1 WayneHennessey .
The truth is, you could just as easily argue that if keepers continue to rise, but can’tget down low quick enough, then goals should actually be smaller.
Women’s football further backs up that shortergoalkeepers are not at a disadvantage.
The average keeper height at this summer’sWomen’s World Cup was 5’7.
England’s Karen Bardsley was the tallestand Brazil’s Aline Villares Reis the shortest .
The 52 games in France averaged 2.
81 goals[146 goals scored], the same tally as in Canada four years earlier.
13 came in one gameas Megan Rapinoe’s USAthrashed Thailand.
The other 51 gamessaw 2.
61 goals, a figure in keeping with the men at Russia 2018.
So if size doesn’t really matter, what, other than better defending, is actually causing this scoring decline? Firstly, it’s important to note that goaltallies have always fluctuated, so the averages should not be taken out of context.
Using England’s top-flight as a case study, the average currently sits well below three, which is historically quite low, but the mostpopular scorelines since 1863 are still 1-0 and 1-1.
They account for over 20 percent of all results.
2-1 and 0-0 are also very common.
Temporary goal spikes – or more recentlylulls – which distort the overall average are often triggered by rule changes.
In 1925, FIFA amended the offside rule allowingtwo not three players to be between an attacker and thegoal.
There was an instant and dramatic increasein scoring from over two to almost four goals per game.
By 1958, substitutions were introduced, originallyfor injured players only, and goals started drying up in the decade that followed, perhapsbecause there were eleven fit players on the field.
Ever-changing tactics also affect scoring.
In 1981 wins were rewarded with three pointsinstead of two.
There was suddenly more incentive to attackand this led to a temporary surge in goals.
Since then it’s possible the opposite hashappened and top teams who score first park the bus a bit more.
Elite defenders are trusted more than everand winning is simply more important than entertaining.
Of course, there are obvious exceptions.
Manchester City won the 2013-2014 and 2017-2018Premier League titles scoring a combined total of 208 goals.
Chelsea also hit a century of goals in 2009-2010.
But Manchester United won the inaugural PremierLeague crown with just 67 goals, Arsenal’s Invincibles may have gone unbeaten but scoredonly 73 times and Leicester City’s miracle title win was masterminded by defenders WesMorgan and Robert Huth and a counter-attacking style, with only 68 goals at the other end.
Going forwards, it will be intriguing to seewhether the use of video assistant referees (VAR) changers the scoring equilibrium.
Either way technology, other rules changesand ever-evolving tactics are clearly affecting scoring.
But as for our goal frames, whether throughluck or judgement, they have remained the perfect size for both sexes since the verystart.
Making them bigger would obviously restorethe original intended ratio between goal size and keeper height, but it wouldn’t necessarilylead to an increase in scoring.