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The Greatest Goal I Ever Saw… Darren Ambrose vs Manchester United, 2011

Darren Ambrose Manchester United

There are several reasons why I shouldn’t look back on Darren Ambrose’s sumptuous Old Trafford thunderbolt from November 2011 so fondly.

First of all, I was in attendance as a Manchester United fan; a Manchester United fan who was painfully under-dressed for one of those infamously cold northern nights where the rain, sleet and wind ruthlessly combine to repeatedly thwack the unsuspecting.

All just to watch Sir Alex Ferguson put out his reserves for what was expected to be a comfortable League Cup quarter-final victory over Championship side Crystal Palace. 

Having somehow survived the Mancunian tundra, I patiently waited outside the Stretford End for my usually punctual pal Frank to arrive for the 7:45pm kick off. Come 7:47pm, though, the sound of the crowd had signalled the start of the game and Frank was conspicuous by his absence. Especially since he had the tickets.

A quick phone call revealed the reason for his tardiness: he thought it started at 8pm. Frank was even running late for this fabricated time, too. Like a misguided dog, I waited in the same spot for him, convincing myself he’d suddenly turn into Haile Gebrselassie and somehow shave some seconds off his time somewhere. Instead, I just got colder and colder. 

By the time Frank arrived at 8:20pm we'd missed most of the first half, he was exhausted from running a mini-marathon and I had self-diagnosed a deadly combination of pneumonia, frostbite and hypothermia which I was then miraculously able to recover from in under five minutes.

The fact that the score remained 0-0 was of little consolation. In fact, the last few minutes of that half, the blistering cold of the interval and drab first 20 minutes that followed, were enough to make me ponder whether I should just give it all up and watch rugby instead.

But then, like a guardian angel sent to reignite my love of the beautiful game, Darren Ambrose arrowed a drive of such poise, skill, power and precision into the top corner from 40 yards that I mouthed the word, “Wow,” with a genuineness that’s usually reserved for the adult film industry. 

Ambrose had actually been sent on by Dougie Freedman at half-time, but the impact still felt divine. Especially since I was so perfectly placed for his strike that I was able to go through an entire range of emotions in the three measly seconds between him collecting the ball and hammering it all of 40 yards over and beyond the stricken Ben Amos.

There was frustration at Ambrose being given so much space in the centre of midfield. Arrogance, as I mentally encouraged him to shoot from such a preposterous distance. Shock, as he hit it so well. Denial, as I muttered he’d hit it too well and then decided either Amos would save it or it’d go just wide. Awe, as it nestled into the top corner. Frustration as United fell behind in a game they should be winning, and that they’d eventually lose 2-1 after extra time.

Now that I live over 5,200 miles away from Manchester I just remember it for its simplicity, power and beauty. It’s the equivalent of a three-minute pop song. It's also the first goal that comes to mind whenever I think of being at Old Trafford: a ground where I’ve seen Premier League titles won and lifted, celebrated derby victories over City, destructions of Liverpool, watched David Beckham curl home free-kicks, and even seen that rarest of sights – a Gary Neville goal.

Ambrose’s strike was a bolt from the blue; a sudden, glorious reminder that the best football has to offer can come in even the most abject of conditions and matches. It warmed me up instantly on the night, and continues to do so to this day.

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