In March I stood by the halfway-line on a cold, dark terrace and watched a tall defender clumsily amble forwards before taking an optimistic pot-shot at goal from a distance unlikely to bring reward. Both the defender and I had been in this situation, and this proximity, before. On this occasion the ambitious effort of Alfreton Town’s Theo Streete flew into the canal behind Worcester City’s St Georges Lane ground, but just over four years ago the outcome was much different. In December 2006, from a similar range, Streete tried his luck with a long-range hit and hope that somehow swerved beyond the grasp of Nottingham Forest goalkeeper Paul Smith and found the back of the net, the last time a ball would do so at Doncaster’s Belle Vue ground.
That goal, celebrated so wildly and remembered so fondly in Doncaster, means nothing to anyone beyond Rovers supporters and Streete himself. That game was Theo’s last of a loan spell at Doncaster from Derby County, and when he returned to Pride Park the Rams duly released him. He managed four games at Rotherham toward the end of the 2006-07 season and since that point has been plying his trade in the Conference North, mostly with Solihull Moors, before making the switch to Alfreton. Streete will no doubt have a solid career at the top end of non-league football, he may even win the odd trophy or edge back into the lower reaches of the Football League, but whatever he does he will forever be known as the last player to score at Belle Vue; a footnote that will make a steady career in football stand-out.
For Doncaster Rovers fans Theo Streete will always carry that significance, and in the same way Mark McCammon will always be the first player to score at the Keepmoat Stadium, thanks to his no-nonsense twelve-yard volley against Huddersfield on New Years Day 2007. McCammon had a solid couple of years at Rovers, helping the club to the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy and promotion to the Championship, but like Streete he will always be known for one goal. Great significance established with a noticeable level of chance. Had Matt Glennon not been as alert in the Huddersfield goal in the first minute then Paul Heffernan would have McCammon’s honour, or if Pawell Abbott had steered his eighth-minute shot half a yard to the left it would have been the Huddersfield striker forever typed anecdotally into Tony Bluff’s Rovers History books.
As shown by Streete, the honour of being the last goalscorer at an old ground, or the first to strike at a new stadium is something that could be claimed by any one on the field of play. A third of the Football League’s teams (plus a few of it’s recent departees) have relocated in the last twenty-five years, and so I felt it apt to seek out everyone else’s Theo Streete or Mark McCammon. After some lengthy online detective work that is exactly what is presented in the table below. The scorer of the last competitive goal at a club’s old ground, or the first competitive strike at its new home. I’ve discounted the interim groundshares of Brighton (at Gillingham) and Bristol Rovers (at Bath City) and have called time on Wimbledon the moment the original club ceased to be, and bar the scorer of the Don’s first goal at Selhurst Park the results are below.
The first thing that stands out for me is the modernisation of football ground names. The traditional homes of Parks, Grounds, Roads, Streets and Lanes have been replaced almost exclusively by Stadiums and Arenas. The only player to appear twice you’ll notice is Ian Wright who it seemed had a particular knack for pissing on people’s chips. In the final game at Plough Lane Wright struck a hat-trick in a 3-0 win for Crystal Palace, the side who would be Wimbledon’s landlords for the next decade, and then six years later he was at it again stealing Derby fans thunder with the last goal at the Baseball Ground.
The bravest person on the list is probably Mike Davies of Bristol Rovers, scorer of the final goal in a 3-0 away win at Millwall’s original Den on the final day of the 1992-93 season. It was a tough ground change for The Lions as though John Kerr struck the first goal at The New Den for the home side the following season, Southend went on to hit four of their own in reply. Given that most sides change stadia in the close season its surprising that none of the final goals at grounds have carried greater significance. Steve Lister’s goal at Scunthorpe’s Old Showground came closest, as the leveller in a 1988 Play-Off Semi-Final, but The Iron went out to Torquay on aggregate.
But for Andy Hunt’s penalty for West Brom five minutes from time on the last day of the 1996-97 season Graham Kavanagh would have the rare distinction of scoring the last goal at Stoke’s old ground and the first at their new home. However, as it was he has to make do with the honour of the last City goal at Victoria Park. Spare a thought for Oxford United, the only set of fans who had to contend with opposition players taking both honours; Port Vale’s Tony Naylor at the Manor Ground and Rochdale’s Matt Doughty at the Kassam Stadium. And also Walsall’s Matt Bryant deserves a mention. Scorer of the first goal at his club’s smart new Bescott Stadium… in his own net.
Of particular note to Rovers supporters will be the number of ex-Doncaster players on the list; Steve Lister and Dave Cowling taking both honours at Scunthorpe, and Nick Fenton bringing a close to Gay Meadow whilst playing for Grimsby. Brian Deane christened the Walkers Stadium, and Adebayo Akinfenwa likewise at the Liberty Stadium, which presumably was built around the striker.