When Andy Rodgers scored a spectacular overhead kick in Stenhousemuir’s 2-1 victory over East Fife on September 24 2011, the goal was quickly hailed as one of the finest ever scored at Ochilview. It is unusual to see moments of extraordinary beauty in Scottish football, but to see a strike of such graceful splendour in the Second Division is an exquisite rarity.
Rodgers had played poorly over the course of the match and had passed up a series of very presentable chances before he struck. With the game drifting towards stalemate, Stevie Murray and Willie Lyle exchanged passes on the right flank and the latter swung a cross in towards the penalty box. The striker watched the ball drift towards him and in one fluid movement, swung his body into the air and crashed a wonderful shot into the East Fife net.
“Nothing else I’d done that afternoon had worked, so I thought I might as well try that!” he laughs.
It was not the first overhead kick of his career. Whilst playing for Ayr United in a Scottish Cup tie against Sunnybank the previous season, the striker scored with a similar effort in his team’s 5-0 win. So impressive were both goals, they even featured on the Guardian Sports’ YouTube section.
Observing from an unqualified position, there are fewer techniques in football as difficult to master as the overhead kick. To score one goal of this nature could perhaps be dismissed out of hand as a fluke, or an anomaly. To score two overhead kicks suggests an innate ability unequally parcelled out at birth. Rodgers coyly describes the overhead kick as “just a natural thing”, but there appears to be very little natural about it at all.
For many, the thought process in attempting such a move cannot be understood. It is a question I have to ask him: in the final minutes of the match against East Fife, just what was going through your head when you saw that cross coming in towards you?
“I honestly don’t know,” says Rodgers. “It’s a split-second decision, just sheer instinct.”
During our brief conversation, it quickly becomes clear that he knew exactly what he was doing. The number of factors the player takes into consideration before attempting the overhead kick is astonishing: he thinks about his own position, the position of his teammates, the position of the opposition defenders, the movement and speed of the cross. Not only is the technique and audacity in the strike’s execution extraordinary, but the speed of thought to process an innumerable amount of calculations in an infinitesimal amount of time is equally impressive.
“When I saw the ball coming in, I knew I was the deepest player in the box,” Rodgers explains. “I thought that if was to let it go for someone else, East Fife could break away. They were on top at the time. Sometimes when you’re the deepest player, you don’t really have any other options than to try something like that.”
But why an overhead kick? Why not control the ball, hold it up, bring a teammate into play?
“Trying to control the ball never once came into my head,” he says. “A manager would have probably told me to take and touch and bring it down and get it under control. I never thought to do that. I was facing my own goal, I didn’t have a lot to play with.
“I thought that if I was going to try and bring the ball down, I’d have to do something really special with it anyway, so I thought I might as well just try to hit it.
“I knew there were a lot of bodies in front of me but when I looked to my side,” he continues, twisting his body slightly to help demonstrate his explanation. “I could see there was enough space for me to throw my leg up at it, I knew I wouldn’t hurt anybody or give away a foul. There were a lot of bodies around me and I was lucky the shot went through them all.”
The perfect goal does not come from the perfect cross, however; most of the time, the overhead kick is born from a poor pass or an errant centre. A footballer should never really be in the position where he should have to contemplate such a move.
“These kind of goals don’t come from good football,” says Rodgers. “If you’re playing the game in the right way, the cross should be whipped in so you can run onto it and attack it. If you look back at other overhead kicks on YouTube, they generally come from bad crosses. Nine times out of ten, you’ll usually find the cross has been put in behind everyone, or there’s been a deflection.
“Doing an overhead kick is just a natural thing. Most of the time you’re lucky if you can even kick them in the right direction let alone score. You never set out to practice them. In training, if the ball’s bouncing about I might try it, but I don’t think it’s something you can ever perfect. It’s not a spur of the moment kind of thing.”
The movement is not without risk, though. “When I was 17 and on my YTS forms at Falkirk, a boy I played with tried the same thing in training and broke his elbow,” he cautions. “He was out of the game for three years. He had to have plates put in his arm, they went wrong, they had to be taken out… I never think about that at the time, but afterwards I wonder what I was doing!”
Even almost 12 months after his goal against East Fife, Andy Rodgers’s strike still has the ability to astound, all the way from its build up to its execution. From Stevie Murray’s cute backheel, to Willie Lyle’s wayward cross, to Rodgers’s outstanding finish – the florid manner in which the player arches his back, both so natural and yet so unnatural, the connection with the ball, the slight bend, the movement as it glides beyond the goalkeeper and into the net – it is still a thing of perpetual wonder.
“The goal against East Fife is the best I’ve ever scored,” he smiles. “The timing of the goal, its importance, to try that kind of thing in the last minute… Yeah, it’s definitely the best.”
To watch Andy Rodgers’s stunning goal against East Fife, please click here and fast-forward to 3:45 (although the whole game is perhaps worth watching – a cavalcade of fantastic goals, horrible goalkeeping and atrocious finishing are all on show).