There are some footballers who are known for one particular thing. Brazilian youngster Kerlon caught the world’s attention when he first performed his seal dribble, while Pajtim Kasami is remembered in England for his incredible volley for Fulham in a victory over Crystal Palace. Even Johan Cruyff, one of the all-time greats, is known for one particular move above all else.
The same is true for Chris Brass – although in a very different way. The Durham-born defender enjoyed an accomplished career, turning out for Burnley, York City, Bury and Hyde United – as well as several other clubs as a loanee – between 1993 and 2009. He played more than 250 games in the Football League, and also joined the managerial ranks at a young age: Brass was only 27 when he became player-manager at York, a league record which has not yet been broken.
Unfortunately for the 43-year-old, though, not many people know such things about him. Indeed, for the majority of the football-watching population, Brass is remembered for one thing and one thing only: scoring one of the funniest own goals in the history of football while playing for Bury against Darlington in 2006.
When you see someone score an own goal, you can usually at least identify what they were trying to do. A good example of this is Jefferson Lerma’s thunderbolt against Arsenal earlier this season. The Colombian clearly got his angles wrong, but it was clear that he was trying to clear the ball behind for a corner to prevent an Arsenal goal. Sadly for him, he contrived to get things ever so slightly and ever so hilariously wrong; not only did he fail to prevent an Arsenal goal, he was the man solely response for giving them one.
Other stock own goals – the diving near-post header, for example, or the over-hit backpass – are similarly understandable. In Brass’ case, though, even the best-case scenario is confusing.
As the ball is lofted hopefully into the Bury box, the world is Brass’ oyster. He could stoop to head the ball back to Kasper Schmeichel, perhaps the most sensible option of all those available to. He could try to hook the ball out for a throw, risking getting it slightly wrong and conceding a corner. He could look around and, realise no Darlington player is anywhere near him, and bring the ball under his control before clearing it downfield – Brass may not be Franz Beckenbauer, but a professional footballer with his level of experience should have little trouble doing so.
None of those options took Brass’ fancy, however, so he instead chose to smash the ball into his face, breaking his nose and scoring an own goal in the same action. If nothing else, at least he was efficient.
It is possible that Brass had attempted an overhead kick before that afternoon in the northeast, but all of the evidence points towards it being his first time. The execution could not have been more perfect if he had tried. Note the casual manner in which he moves to the ball, as if to say “I’ve got this”; the refusal to do anything too acrobatic when he knows it’s unnecessary to show off; and, most importantly, the look of sheer shock as the ball strikes him in the face, like a puppy trying to determine why a Frisbee is getting bigger and bigger with each passing second.
“I’d put my hand up hoping the lino would flag and, as I turned round, Brassy’s somehow smashed the ball into his own face,” Dave Challinor, a Bury team-mate, later recalled.
The word ‘somehow’ is usually reserved for moments of genius. Dennis Bergkamp somehow brought down Frank de Boer’s long ball before beating Carlos Roa. Diego Maradona somehow beat the entire England team before finding the net. David Seaman somehow got a hand to Paul Peschisolido’s effort to claw it away from goal.
‘Somehow’ and ‘smashed the ball into his own face’ are not natural bedfellows, but perhaps – in making such a marriage – Brass marked himself as a comic genius if nothing else.
When reflecting on that season, we do not remember that Bury were the ultimate victors, with Matthew Tipton’s 90th-minute strike completing a 3-2 comeback win. We do not remember the Shakers staying up that season by just three points, meaning Brass and his fellow defenders helped in a recovery without which their team could well have been relegated. Make no mistake, this was a vital triumph.
However, we do not recall these things because there are certain moments within a football match which transcend results, seasons and even the sport itself. Chris Brass whacking the ball into his own face and scoring an own goal for good measure is, somehow, one of those things.