There are few sports that have the power to captivate a critical mass of the global population quite like soccer (aka football) does. And every four years, fans rally behind their nations and experience the highs and lows of the beautiful game in one of the biggest tournaments in the world.
As hype builds for the tournament in Qatar this November, Brian Phillips, Senior Staff Writer for The Ringer, is taking time to revisit some of the most memorable and significant goals of past competitions in the new Spotify Original Podcast 22 Goals.
Premiering today, the weekly podcast will explore those moments on the field that brought joy—or despair—to entire nations. But the show also dives into the cultural impact each of these 22 goals had off the pitch, highlighting how they continue to transcend the game itself.
For the Record sat down with Brian to discuss the inspiration behind the podcast, why big goals leave such an indelible mark on soccer fans, and what listeners can expect from the show as it leads up to the start of the tournament.
Traditionally, lists of great soccer goals have come in video form. What inspired you to explore this idea as a podcast?
It’s interesting that you ask that question because I was telling my dental hygienist about this podcast, and he was like, “That’s the worst thing I’ve ever heard. Nobody wants to listen to you describe the goals with words.” But the more I thought about it, I do think that podcasting is the right form for what I’m doing here, because what I really want to do is explore the joy of the game.
A video series can provide a hit of joy really directly because you get to watch the goal and it’s like, “Oh my God, that’s an amazing goal.” But I wanted space to talk about where those moments came from and what they mean and how they kind of filter into society and culture. And so the podcast form makes more sense because you can have a longer meditation and talk to listeners in a very intimate or informal way.
It’s fascinating that some of the most legendary goals often become more memorable than the matches themselves. Why is it that a single goal has the ability to captivate fans in this way?
There are goals that seem more memorable than the matches and there are goals that overshadow loss. I’m thinking about the goal that Netherlands midfielder Dennis Bergkamp scored against Argentina in ’98. It’s a match that the Netherlands didn’t win, and they fell short at the World Cup as they usually end up doing. But that goal just kind of stands out as such a beautiful thing that it almost seems like the rest of the tournament and the rest of the drama kind of fades around just that one moment.
I think soccer has a couple of things going for it that makes it really well suited to provide these kinds of transcendent, euphoric just out-of-your-head sort of experiences. I think for one thing, it’s really hard to score in soccer. There’s this kind of frustration algorithm at work where you’re building up this anticipation for tens of minutes at a time while teams are trying to score. And then when it finally happens, even a relatively routine goal feels like a huge deal. I think the other thing is that soccer is probably the closest we come to a sport that is universal. So when something big happens in a World Cup, it’s like a breakthrough that you’re sharing with a vast percentage of the world’s population. It’s a recipe for these moments to become meaningful.
As fans sit down and listen to each episode, what can they expect in terms of storytelling?
Each goal is like the climax of a story. And so the episodes are really just about telling those stories and trying to use those stories to talk about things that were going on in the history of soccer, history of the world, around those moments. But mostly it’s just like if you take the goal as the high point of a story, then what is the story that comes before that, and how does it lead to this? We all know the moment is coming. In most of the episodes, I say at the very beginning, “This is the goal.” And you know what the ending is in advance, but it’s just about the journey.
Every goal on this list is obviously well-known to some extent, but are there any with a mythology or backstory that might surprise fans?
I think it’s probably the case that the older the goal is, the less people will know about it. Particularly for fans like me who didn’t grow up with the game and caught the train fairly late. So one goal that I think American listeners are going to really enjoy hearing about is, it was scored by Joe Gaetjens in 1950. He was a Haitian player who played due to some weird loopholes at the time for the U.S. national team. And he scored a goal that allowed the United States to accomplish perhaps the biggest upset in World Cup history. And I just don’t think most people in America know about it. I didn’t even know about it until fairly recently. I feel like people are going to really flip over it because it’s an incredible story.
And then the other episode that comes to mind is about England in 1966 and the goal scored by Geoff Hurst that helped them win the World Cup. But a whole lot of that episode focuses on the history of the theft of the World Cup trophy in London, when it was on display at a stamp exhibition. There was this whole heist and it vanished. And then it was rediscovered in a really fun way. That’s a pretty well-known story for a lot of people, but I think it’s just so kooky and fun that people are going to get into that.
Do you have any predictions for who might score the next iconic goal in Qatar later this year?
Before I answer that question, I should acknowledge that there are literally octopi who have a better record of predicting World Cup outcomes. The future is not my strong suit when it comes to sports. But I feel like I want to say Poland striker Robert Lewandowski. I feel like he can’t stop falling into goals in his club career, and he’s going to do something amazing at a tournament one of these days. I think this is the tournament where that happens.
To make the countdown to Qatar a little more bearable, hit the play button below and start streaming the first episode of 22 Goals.