Luciano’s Ghost

by Moscowhite • Daniel Chapman,

Luciano Becchio scored against Wolves, a kneeling header from a keen McCormack cross, and as he ran to the south-west corner to celebrate, he ran into the past, and I ran with him.

Nostalgia is currency to football fans. Every goal is followed by someone invoking a goal scored just like it, years ago, when this was all different. Becchio heads the ball like Chapman used to; Chapman used his head the way Peacock used to; they all owe their headers to John Charles. The release of a new season’s fixture list – the most hopeful, optimistic moment of the year – immediately sends supporters into a reverie. “Wolves first. Remember the last time we played them?” Memories are formed and forgotten in the time it takes to complete a season of games: “Did we beat these away? Was it 2-1? Didn’t what’s his face score? I can’t remember, and it was only two months ago.”

It’s a common trope to portray football grounds as haunted, but it’s a common trope because it’s true. We each of us take our own small band of ghosts into the stadium with us; we each look at a part of the pitch and remember some magic, some memorable moment; we get a fleeting glimpse of players who aren’t here anymore and who will never do that again. In some cases, it’s with relief – thank Christ I’ll never see Carlton Palmer do that again. More often, it’s fond nostalgia – what it would be to see Tony Yeboah do that again.

What there shouldn’t be, because it is senseless, is nostalgia for a current player, a player on the pitch, in the shirt, celebrating a goal, right now. And yet, Luciano –

If you’re of a certain age, Becchio’s goal against Wolves will have brought to mind Wilko’s patented Chapman-Goal of 1990-1993. Simple by design, this goal nonetheless brought repeated pleasure. Lukic would roll the ball out to a full back, either Sterland or Dorigo; with the help of either Strachan or Speed, they would rush the ball to the opposition’s wing as quickly as possible; from there, a cross to the six yard box would be swept home by Chapman, who would twist his frame to any necessary shape as he flung himself towards to the ball, meeting it sometimes with head, sometimes with foot. Lukic, Dorigo, Chapman, goal. Goalkeeper, wide player, striker, goal. Kenny, McCormack, Becchio, goal.

It’s more in desperation than expectation that Neil Warnock has been hopefully compared to Howard Wilkinson, but this first goal in our first game made the possibility of Wilko II come closer. With it you felt a template was being set for the season: a pattern of play had been worked on in training, brought to the game on Saturday, and executed to perfection. Wilkinson’s team was successful in part because it excelled at doing the same things over and over again, and if Becchio can cut twenty more cookies from the Chapman dough this season, Leeds will stand a good chance of promotion.

It wasn’t Lee Chapman that Luciano Becchio made me think of when he scored that goal, though, and I don’t think Luciano was thinking about him either. Luciano’s myths are much closer to home, and Luciano and me were thinking about a figure from much more recent history. Luciano and me were thinking about Luciano.

When you watch Luciano Becchio play for Leeds you are watching a ghost write his own mythology. Becchio is often compared to Ian Baird – the build, the battling, the transition from mullet to crop – but Baird didn’t become a Leeds myth until after he’d gone. After he’d gone and Chapman took the limelight and the plaudits, that when those who had stuck with Leeds during the late-eighties brought up Baird – that goal he scored, where the cross came over, and he flew at the ball, blowing it into the net like a gale –

Becchio came when Leeds were lower than we ever were with Baird, and like Baird, I don’t expect he’ll feature much should a Leeds team reach the top flight soon. He could – Baird could have – but Warnock is doing his utmost to replace Becchio now, while Becchio is doing his utmost to make himself irreplaceable. In Becchio we’re looking at a player we’ll talk about one day from the good old bad old days – an Argentine enigma, a silent scorer, who came from the lower divisions in Spain, scored and danced, and either misunderstood or pretended he misunderstood every interviewer’s questions – “Team played great! Fucking unbelievable. Great, the team.” – and then he went away. Apparently he wants to open a restaurant in Majorca one day. “Remember Luciano Becchio? I wonder what happened to him?” “Apparently he opened a restaurant in Majorca -“

I’m nostalgic for Luciano Becchio’s Leeds career, and it hasn’t even finished. I already remember the highs, the lows, the goals, the pelvic thrusts; I remember how it started, when I saw on YouTube how he had scored a crucial goal for his Spanish club and caused a rain of ticker tape, and I already remember how it is going to end. And Luciano Becchio remembers all this too. He’s making his own myth now for after he’s gone.

Kenny, McCormack, Becchio, goal; Lukic, Dorigo, Chapman, goal; and then there was another. Casper Ankergren to Ben Parker. Parker racing along the left wing, cheered on by the floodlit East Stand like a sprinter in a 100 metres final. A one-two in midfield, Parker still has the ball, to the byline, at the byline, a cross. Becchio has made a run, he’s feinted, he’s watched the ball, and when Parker crosses it, just beyond the tip of Fordes’s glove, Becchio goes straight there, straight to the ball, to sweep it straight into the net in front of 37,000 fans. Momentum took him to the south-west corner after that goal against Millwall, Luciano diving on his belly, then turning his head to the camera – record this moment, remember this moment; forever, for always, this moment; and memory took him there again after he scored its replica against Wolves. The goal was different – no one-two in midfield, finished with head rather than foot – but the pattern was the same, the movements were the same, and, inspired by the memory, the celebration was the same – Luciano to the south-west corner, diving on his belly.

You could take the film strips, overlay them, run them together, and see centimetres of difference. You’d see Becchio haunting his own footsteps, doubling down on his own history. ”Remember how I scored this goal before, remember how good that goal was? Remember how I celebrated like this, and how good that was?” Remember him, while he’s still here.

Dead men walking have been a matter of course to Leeds fans for some years now. ‘Sold to Norwich’ is the joke du jour, but the bitter truth of the joke is that our grasp on a good player is no longer firm. Tuesday’s winger can be gone by Saturday. Luciano Becchio is the last remnant of quality from the League One promotion side – Beckford, Gradel, Johnson, Kilkenny, Howson, Snodgrass – and it’s like he knows he’s on borrowed time, now.

When he scored against Wolves in a mundane match the goal he’d scored against Millwall on a night of near-glory, Becchio was hit with a kind of vertigo, a nostalgia for his own career, and chased himself into the corner, pursued his own ghost back to May 2009. I’ll always remember Luciano’s goal against Millwall, and now I’ll always remember his goal against Wolves, for reminding me of his goal against Millwall. It’s sweet to think that the ghost of Luciano will always remember it too.

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From The Square Ball magazine 2012/13 issue two.