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The League One Goal That Rivalled Lionel Messi

Among goals scored by Messi and Tevez, the 2015 Puskas Award nominees also included a sublime lob from David Ball of Fleetwood Town. For a few seconds, League One felt more like La Liga.
January 7, 2016, 9:53pm

This article originally appeared on VICE Sports UK.

It was a goal from nowhere scored by a team that has come from nowhere. When David Ball equalised for Fleetwood Town in a League One match against Preston North End last season, he achieved something few footballers can lay claim to: a goal that ranks alongside Lionel Messi's finest. Ball's wonder strike was nominated for the 2015 FIFA Puskas Award, which recognises the best goal scored in world football each year. James Rodriguez picked up the honour in 2014 thanks to his screamer for Colombia against Uruguay in the World Cup, while previous recipients include Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar and Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Or, to put it another way, footballing royalty.


Fleetwood have enjoyed six promotions in 10 years since escaping from the North West Counties League in 2005. They were trailing 1-0 in their home derby against fierce rivals Preston when Ball – a late substitute – took possession in the 82nd minute.

What happened next defies standard logic – at least for the blood and thunder of a League One grudge match. Brian Nuttall, a Fleetwood Town fan since they were in the regional leagues, called it, "The best goal I have ever seen in any game involving Fleetwood. It was incredible – genuinely a goal of high quality out of absolutely nothing. The weird thing about it was, at the ground, it looked just a very good goal. It wasn't until you saw it back on TV that you realised quite how good it was."

As Sky and BT Sports are desperate to remind us, screamers are scored at British football grounds every weekend, but there's something truly unique about the goal of a lifetime. The intake of breath as the ball flies towards goal; the brief moment of expectation as it drifts into the net; the lung-bursting roar as the ground gets to its feet in celebration. David Ball's strike was all of this and more. Most great goals are about power, a deft touch, or brilliant skill; remarkably for a League One encounter, this goal had it all. Ball himself takes up the story.

"We were losing 1-0 to Preston North End, a huge derby for us. I came on after the hour mark so I was desperate to make an impression. Chris Maxwell, our goalkeeper, has thrown it out. Tyler Forbes, the right back, has carried it into their half and slid it into Ashley Hunter, who has taken the ball inside. I then show him I want the ball into my feet, around 40 yards out. I dodge two tackles with a bit of nice footwork in order to face goal and, as I do that, I see out the corner of my eye that the goalie has strayed off his line maybe 10 yards. I go for the chip and you then just watch as it drops in from a good height off the post into the corner."


Former Man City youth product Ball says it's the kind of goal you spend your career hoping to score. "There was this moment – which only happens when you score a special goal – this tiny second where the ground was silent before it erupted. Even when we were celebrating the lads were piling on to me saying, 'Wow! That's the best goal I've ever seen scored.' Those lads have played in hundreds of games so to hear that is really heart warming. Even the ref said it was an excellent goal."

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The goal has since gone global, with over 1.5 million fans watching it on FIFA's official YouTube channel. Balls explains, "The press guy from Fleetwood got in touch with me a few months ago to say I'd been nominated for the award, and since then it's been crazy. I've had CNN interview me, even Brazilian TV. Daniel Sturridge, who was at City [with me], also tweeted to tell people to get behind the goal in the public vote. It's amazing to think football fans everywhere might have now seen it. It's the goal that changed my life – for a month, anyway!"

Fleetwood's rise from obscurity almost mirrors David Ball's wonder strike – flying quietly out of nowhere before loudly landing in the public consciousness. It owes much to chairman Andy Pilley's wallet and planning, while another striking star also emerged on their route to the top. Jamie Vardy – now top scorer in the Premier League with 15 goals for Leicester City – netted 31 times in 36 games for Fleetwood to drag them up from the Conference into the Football League, before departing for the Foxes in 2012. Club captain Nathan Pond – a 31-year-old centre-half who has now played in a Guinness World Record seven different divisions for the Cod Army – says the club are becoming accustomed to unlikely fame.

Vardy during his spell at Fleetwood Town | PA Images

"The season Vardy got 30 goals for us in the Conference, his pace was unreal. There was not any question he could go higher. But to see him in the England squad makes you proud to have played with him – he's a big character and a presence in the dressing room, so he has that strength. Every time he scores it's like he's scoring for Fleetwood – you almost pinch yourself that you've played with him. Crazy things like that seem to happen to Fleetwood all the time. David Ball's goal, the best I've ever seen, is just the latest."

As well as Messi, Ball's goal also saw him go up against Carlos Tevez – a former teammate from his City days – who ended a powerful run during Juventus' 4-0 win against Parma with an unerring finish. "I actually left under Mancini, just as the serious money started coming in," explains Ball. "I absolutely still love Man City, but that money coming in didn't do much for the younger lads. I went from being on the bench under Mark Hughes against United to suddenly being behind so many incredible players. I played with Tevez at City but he didn't have the best English so I doubt he remembers me! I do hope that he's looked at that list and saw the goals; that'd give me quite a kick, to know he'd watched it."

The 10 goals – which also included Carli Lloyd's lob from the halfway line in the Women's World Cup Final – have now been cut to a final three after a public vote, with Ball just missing out. Of the remaining trio – Messi against Ahtletic Bilbao, Alessandro Florenzi's long-distance lob for Roma against Barcelona, and Wendell Lira's bicycle kick for Brazilian side Atlético Goianiense – Ball knows which he's backing for the win. "I love the Messi one – to go past six players of that quality and score makes me think he should win it."

The winner of this year's FIFA Puskas Award will be announced next Monday. You can watch all the nominated goals, including the three finalists, here.