Perhaps it wasn’t the biggest of shocks. I even prepared myself while writing my Player Review last month that he wouldn’t be appearing in the Blue and Yellow next season. It generated a couple of comments echoed by me that hopefully there would be a place at the club for Jason, but sadly hope it always was. I think in the back of our minds we knew it, after all had Jason still been capable of playing in the Conference these last two years he would have secured a full time contract with someone. His role at the club became redundant the moment we were promoted. However he can hold his head up high as one of the men who took us there, and will remain a legend at this club for decades to come.
And yet… I still can’t believe I’m sitting here writing this. I have to check the new item on the O/S after almost every other paragraph, hoping that maybe I misread it, or that when this is published on the blog people will write back saying ‘Your going nuts Anony, Jason hasn’t left, he’s just signed a new contract, you must be working too hard!’ But no. He’s gone, and like our other legends before, Everard, Ursell, Howard, Lee Carroll (nah that last one was a joke…), he will be missed. You would think it would become easier, that we get used to shedding players as we rise up the pyramid, when in fact it gets harder, especially when it comes to players like Jason Goodliffe.
Initially partnering another legend in Anthony Howard, Jason became a crowd favourite due to his no nonsense style and willingness to put his body on the line for the cause. The man must be made of iron; opponents just seemed to bounce off him at times. The way he would effortlessly repel hopeful through balls was for me one of the most beautiful sights in football. We aren’t fortunate enough to have super slow-mo cameras at our games and probably never will be, but it doesn’t matter, for just thinking back now of the technique he had spent decades honing, just thinking of it now I can see it in such detail.
The thud of the ball from downfield, his eyes searching for the trajectory, experience telling him where the ball is going to land. Taking a few steps back or forward as appropriate, he locks on to the target. From now on no opponent concerns him, it’s just him and the ball, like two comets on a shared orbit, destined to meet. An opponent realises too late and tries to challenge, tug his shirt, send him off balance – but to no avail. Eventually he launches himself, too early you think! But the hang time is extraordinary; he remains at peak height for several seconds as he arches his back slightly, neck muscles straining in anticipation, before snapping forward with perfect timing. The noise of the ball striking the meat of his forehead is a joyous one, the thud as the ball finds itself propelled from whence it came, thirty, sometimes forty yards up field.
Many opponents lost every aerial battle in the game to him the first time they challenged him in the air. You could see it in their eyes, the despair, knowing this guy was too good for them. It was almost as if his brain could instantly work out where the ball would be seconds in advance, and he gets there, cutting out dangerous through balls, putting his body in the way of shots, striding away with the ball after winning big challenges he didn’t have the right to win in the first place.
Thinking back, the only times he looked troubled were when unexpected things happened, like a rebound falling for a nippy opponent to run at him, it was only then that he looked a mere mortal like us. If anything it made his legend seem greater. Ironically Jason probably looked worse in the pinball league that was the Ryman Premier, as most sides (ourselves included) seemed to rely on fast breaks and more direct football.
The presence of quality defenders in Ben Judge, peerless in his calmness at the back, and Alan Inns who would literally run through walls if instructed, meant we saw the best of Jason during this season as unlike the year before we didn’t have to rely on him alone. It came as a surprise remembering he only started twenty-something games last season, as he always seemed to be there – but also meant that unfortunately when he wasn’t in the side we rarely missed him.
Jason gave the impression he knew he may not be getting his contract renewed back in Februarys Hayes & Yeading match programme. Although stressing he thought he was still good for a couple more years, he also mentioned sitting down with the manager in the summer to see whether he was still wanted. He also said ‘I intend to do some FA coaching badges during the summer and I’d like to get involved on the coaching/managing side somewhere while continuing my playing career. Retirement lasts a long time – I don’t want to get there too soon!’
So what does the future hold for Jason? It seems clear he is looking for a player/coach role somewhere, presumably in the Ryman, but many clubs would have seen his performances for us last season and thought he could still do a job higher up the pyramid, so don’t rule out seeing him in the BSS next term. Perhaps even his old club Hayes might take a punt on him in the Conference, knowing there’s no better experienced head to sit on the bench and bring on late in games, as and when he’s required.
Our last memory of Jason is of him, like most legends seem to do at this club, going out with a bang. He was perfect that day against St Albans. He seemed to have a childlike excitement at winning the toss, knowing the team would be kicking towards the Tempest End in the second half. He showed his leadership qualities in the first half, when the game looked like it may peter out into one of those boring, end of season affairs. If anyone on the pitch thought they could sit back and relax, and just wait for their medals, a quick word from the captain shocked them into life, like an extra manager on the pitch giving an impromptu team talk. I wonder now whether he knew it would be his last game? If so how just that he popped up with minutes remaining to bag his first goal of the season, and last for Wimbledon in front of the Tempest End.
I can only imagine the pride he must have felt, having waited for all his teammates, his manager, the coaching staff, to make their way onto the pitch until finally it was his turn. The PA announced his name, the crowd responded with the most enthusiastic response of all the players, as he stepped forward to lift the Blue Square South champion’s trophy.
So goodbye and good luck, Jason, whatever you decide to do in the game, and remember, there’s a small part of South-West London that will never forget you.