JAMES RUSHTON on a fantastic solo goal from the late Dalian Atkinson topped off by an even better celebration
He picks up the ball fairly deep within his own half, surrounded by indecision and mixed messages. In his mind, however, lies nothing but purpose. Instantly, he drives forward into the centre of the pitch, each stride taking him towards, and then over, the centre-circle in the middle of the pitch. A strong tackle is thrown in by an opposing midfielder, whose outstretched legs simply glide past the onrushing player and the ball which is in nothing else but the player’s complete and utter possession. Our focus, Dalian Atkinson of Aston Villa, seems to be nothing more than stumbling and galloping flash of claret leading the ball away from Wimbledon and the crumbs of their broken-down attack.
Chaos starts to quickly envelop him as he rushes north into opposition territory. Atkinson is pressed by the opposition’s number three, who is flailing and struggling to deal with him, and a simple misdirection sends the three into No Man’s Land, raising a single arm to ask – or beg – for the slightest bit of reinforcement to help guard against the onrushing force of nature.
Despite the defence, there is only a focus on rolling forward. First gear shifts into second and then into third, climbing forward and higher with his growing momentum. Atkinson is tested as the number three throws in a strong body check, but the clumsy energy of the pair clash – with the Villa man coming out on top. Every single step is now becoming an additional calculation which would only ever result in one thing.
The tackle only corrects Atkinson’s path, with gravity pulling him forward to the divine goal. The growl of the crowd grows to a crescendo. There is now only open field and complacent defending. There is now only enough of a canvas left for the artist to create his art.
The Wimbledon defence seem both completely unable and unwilling to strike down Atkinson, who has halted his rampant momentum to carefully place himself in supreme position to strike. With a short step, and with no incoming challenge, Atkinson pulls his right foot back before striking the ball.
The strike on the football itself is at odds with Dalian’s dribble across the pitch. There’s no force about it. There’s no power, there is only grace. A simple, yet sublime, chipped finish to bounce the ball into the net. Every pair of eyes on the pitch follows the ball as it arcs over the Wimbledon goalkeeper, who can do nothing but buy-in to his background role with a diving attempt on the ball.
By the time that the ball rolls across the line, and Aston Villa’s scoring tally is upped by a single digit on the day. The sage pitch was his floor, and he has the crowd on their feet, roaring in adoring appreciation through bursts of screamed passion.
The Villa away support bounce in glee as Atkinson casually arrives, simply holding his arms up. What else did anyone expect? His supporting cast arrive and leap onto his back, slapping their partner in congratulation. Some away fans launch themselves onto the pitch, to place themselves into the picture, this vertical slice of history. One fan approaches with an umbrella and holds it over Atkinson. The red carpet may as well have been rolled out.
Ecological imbalance. It’s when a disturbance interrupts the determined balance and throws it all off-kilter. In one way of thinking, it’s possibly the correct way to describe Dalian Atkinson’s goal for Aston Villa against Wimbledon back in 1992. Atkinson drove from one half of the pitch to the other with nothing but the goal in mind, and it all played out to a picture-perfect scene, captured in the memory of football fans.
Wimbledon would cease to exist in the years to come, finding themselves reborn as AFC Wimbledon. Atkinson, on the other hand, passed away after an altercation with police outside his father’s house in Telford.
Atkinson was far from the perfect footballer. Not one to approach the greats of the game, but his goal against Wimbledon is a showcase of why we are all buying into the sport. Just to be a witness, regardless of result, to a small slice of majesty. To be there, when that one moment occurs. Who knows what it would come to mean? What it could possibly mean for generations of fans down the line, lapping up clips and footage to ingrain themselves, along with their legends, in the canon of heroes that have pulled on the colours of their favourite football club.