As Australia Goes Matilda Crazy, Let’s Talk About the Posts!

The story of wooden goalposts: uncovering football's 'elm' legacy

Sat 12 Aug 23


Australia has been swept up in World Cup fever.

Tonight the Matildas, Australia’s female football team, is taking on France in a do-or-die quarter-final.

It comes after Matilda’s victory over Denmark was the most-watched broadcast in Australia this year.

Goals, Goals, Goals! Footage courtesy of @OptusSport.

The match drew 3.633 million viewers, with all Matildas games considered ratings gold mine for broadcaster Channel 7.

In addition, streaming figures showed another 385,000 viewers watched the match live on Seven’s online platform, 7plus, a record for the service.

Footage courtesy of @abcnewsaustralia.

But what does this have to do with wood or timber?

My love of soccer dates back about 25 years, and in that time, there have countless occasions where physics has been defied when a ball has almost snuck inside the post or the crossbar … with fans often screaming ‘bloody woodwork’! 

The term ‘woodwork’ is often used to describe the frame used in a soccer goal – two posts and a crossbar. Contact with any part, especially a thunderous long-range shot deserving of a plan, bouncing back is deemed ‘hitting the woodwork.’

An early example of football during the 17th century. (Image courtesy of Four Four Two)
Origins of the Crossbar

With originals dating back over a century, the term referred to the goals from when they were made a little differently.  

In the early 19th century, soccer completely differed from what’s on television and computer screens worldwide today.

More closely linked with rugby, rules allowed players to handle and run with the ball. Rules of the game evolved, with a more traditional version as we know it today more apparent by the late 1800s.

Of course, this meant that adaptions had to be made, especially for the goal frame and box. What resource would provide the right balance of strength and durability and be lightweight to manoeuvre around the pitch easily? The answer, of course, is timber.

The rectangular frame of soccer goals was constructed primarily of timber, including the crossbar. Allowing staff and players to transport on and off the field quickly. At the time, goal sizes weren’t standardised, often confusing visiting teams due to their differing dimensions.  

The crossbar was made compulsory in 1882, marked eight feet above the ground. In 1888, Kensington Swifts were disqualified from the FA Cup after one of their horizontals was lower than the other, and Crewe Alexandra complained. (Image courtesy of Four Four Two)
The most commonly sourced timber in goalposts was an elm

Construction of said frameworks was pretty standard, beginning with builders preparing an appropriately chosen piece of timber.

The most commonly sourced type was elm, which was structurally sound and lightweight to transport.

It was also a prominent tree throughout Europe, keeping costs low and sourcing much more accessible.

Preparation was vital, as it took years for the wood to be structurally sound to meet the demands of the soccer framework.

Selected wood would be seasoned in well-ventilated areas, allowing it thoroughly dry.

This provided the stability required of the timber, avoiding unwanted warping or breakage. 

Carpenters would carefully cut and mould the timber to the correct dimensions, differing for each club.

The unique dimensions of each goal frame, height, width, and diameter, played a part in the difficulties of constructing a structurally sound goal frame.

Once completed, paint was used to distinguish the goals, allowing for ease of sight and goals to be scored.  

As technology evolved, football clubs competed to create ‘standout designs’ and innovative ideas.

This led to design improvements and the sourcing of different types of timbers.

Clubs also manipulated the dimensions of their goals to create any small advantage over a visiting opponent. 

The term ‘woodwork’ has been utilised in the annals of football for well over a century, even maintained during modern years.

The phrase ‘hit the metalwork’ doesn’t have the same ring.

So, remember the next time your favourite striker clips one in off the post or a goalie tips a save onto the ‘woodwork’, take a moment to reflect.

The expertise of many labourers, carpenters and painters contributed to the evolution of the original soccer frame; the craftmanship was superb, and the end product sublime. 

The days of wooden posts in professional soccer are well past (some frames are still made from timber).

But the expressive cries of the crowd will continue to radiate throughout stadiums worldwide every time a ball hits the woodwork.


  • Greg Abell

    Greg Abell is a sports fanatic obsessed with origins of timber in sport. He writes a column, 'Sports: Wooden you know it' exclusively for Wood Central


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