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It was the first day of August 1973, a pretty unremarkable Wednesday in the grand scheme of things you would think. This was the date of birth of James Robert Glass somewhere in Epsom, Surrey. There was no bright star indicating a special birth and it didn’t take place in a stable. There certainly weren’t three wise men hanging around, although Malcolm Allison, Derek Dougan and Brian Clough were making a name for themselves doing ITV punditry, which was in its infancy. The significance of this birth wasn’t felt until 26 years later in Carlisle. This is the rise and fall of Jimmy Glass, in the words of Rodney Marsh, ‘not a legend but the scorer of a legendary goal’.

Super-heroes, of course, don’t always come in capes and it seemed that fate had conspired against Carlisle when they literally ran out of goalkeepers and had to apply for special dispensation from the Football League to sign Swindon Town reserve, Jimmy Glass. Jimmy had struggled to make the Swindon first team and his relationship with manager Jimmy Quinn had apparently been fraught. Loan signing, Glass duly made his pilgrimage up to Cumbria to perform an unlikely miracle. Two drawn games later…

The final countdown

It’s an overcast Saturday afternoon in May 1999 and Carlisle United are on the crest of a slump with only two wins in their previous 19 matches, rock bottom of the Football League for the first time that season after they were overtaken earlier in the week. It seemed they required a super-hero in order to save them as they needed to better the result of next to bottom side Scarborough FC who were at home to mid-table Peterborough United. A slightly better goal difference meant Carlisle could draw against Plymouth Argyle and stay up if Scarborough lost. The mood around the club was one of hope but also resignation to their fate.

Maybe it was the Glass prediction of scoring a winning goal, maybe it was the Glass hat-trick in 5-a-side training the day before, maybe we should have seen it coming, but nobody did. 71 years in the Football League was alarmingly insecure with 90 minutes of excruciating, nail-biting tension ahead. At the time, owner Michael Knighton was so unpopular he had requested a police escort to the ground, which had been refused. Manager Nigel Pearson, in his first managerial role apparently took the unconventional step of offering the players a swig of Brandy before the game, to deal with the nerves evident in the dressing room. The season’s biggest attendance nearly two and a half thousand more than their opening day win over Brighton arrived, ready to play their part.

The Glass route to Carlisle

Jimmy Glass made the journey to Carlisle in a rather unconventional route. At 25 years of age he was still a few years short of his peak for a goalkeeper and had only made a little over 100 appearances since his debut for Dulwich Hamlet nearly ten years earlier, the vast majority for Bournemouth where he played 95 games. His route to Carlisle also took in Crystal Palace for whom he was an unused substitute in the 1995 FA Cup semi-final against Manchester United. Loan spells with Portsmouth, Gillingham and Burnley followed before he left Palace for Bournemouth, peaking when he appeared at Wembley in the Football League Trophy final against Grimsby scoring an own goal in a 2-1 defeat. That losing side also contained Russell Beardsmore, Mark Stein and Eddie Howe who would have a part to play in his career nearly 20 years later. Following his transfer to Swindon, Glass was mainly used as a substitute.

The match

As the match unfolded, almost inevitably, Plymouth took the lead. It had the effect of quietening the crowd and as Scarborough were drawing with Peterborough, it would require two goals from somewhere, anywhere. Hope came after 62 minutes when David Brightwell’s 25-yard shot crept inside the post to equalise, it was game on. As the minutes ticked by, Glass launched a number of long kicks deep into the Plymouth half but they came to nothing and time was running out.

Due to Plymouth’s Paul Gibbs breaking his leg, the game had been delayed and as the match entered injury time, Scarborough fans in a sell out crowd, were on their pitch celebrating staying up. One last effort was required with only seconds to go, Carlisle were awarded a corner following one last punt upfield by the keeper. Up came six foot four inch Glass, urged on by his manager, desperate to make it into the penalty area before the corner was taken so as not to look silly. The ball swung in from the right and a header was parried out by the keeper just as Glass entered the six-yard box. The ball fell perfectly for Glass who blasted the ball in.

If Glass wanted to escape, he needn’t have bothered. No sooner as his hand went up, the first of the players jumped on him. Poleaxed, he couldn’t stop the rest of the team following suit, followed by fans… and more fans. One of the great sporting moments was unfolding in the most unfashionable of arenas and an increasingly despairing crowd had their mood turned completely on its head in the most unexpected of circumstances. The final whistle went, Glass was carried away above fans heads, job done.

With every high, there’s an equal and opposite low for someone. Scarborough’s fans who had minutes earlier had been celebrating their survival were distraught. Sky’s Soccer Saturday TV programme had captured both sets of supporters as their elation and desolation changed hands within seconds of each other. Only a few years later, Scarborough went out of business. Who knows whether that moment led indirectly to their ultimate demise?

Famous for more than 15 minutes, but not much more

Everyone wanted a piece of him. ITV, Sky, Match of the day, newspapers and with his job completed he went back to Swindon where his career shuddered to a halt. Days spent in casino’s, a number of unfortunate football moves that didn’t quite go his way and lack of playing time had its effect. Within two years he had retired, getting a ‘proper job’ selling I.T. before spending years driving taxis for a living. Sadly, there didn’t seem much of a market for goalscoring goalkeepers.

Football salvation finally came in 2016 when Bournemouth, under ex-teammate Eddie Howe offered him the ‘Player Liaison Officer’ role at the club. From a would-be centre-forward, better suited to goalkeeping back to where he was most successful. Some may refer to it as a ‘full circle’.

A legendary goal

Some events live long and hard in the memory. The Jimmy glass ‘legendary goal’ happened a matter of weeks before Manchester City left it extremely late in the third tier playoff against Gillingham before winning promotion in a penalty shoot-out (Whatever happened to them?). It ranks with Ronnie Radford’s goal for Hereford as a great football moment. Some of the greater football moments happen in the lower leagues. No iPads, half and half scarves or song sheets on show. Just pure unadulterated drama and passion.

The Jimmy Glass goal has been ranked:

#72 greatest sporting moments, Channel 4

#7 most important goals, The Times

#15 of the 20 goals that shook the world, ITV4

His Puma boots from the match were added to the National Football Museum in 2014

If there is a God, I like to think he or she is up there watching re-runs of the last five minutes of that game, no doubt be patting themselves on the back for coming up with such an unlikely ending and actually getting away with it. If anyone had made the story up, surely no one would have believed it.