Don’t Fall In Love With Footballers

This week our time machine takes us back only a very short time to look at the goals of Tom Knowles, following his recent departure for Walsall.

Tom was born in Cambridge and graduated from the Cambridge United academy to join their youth team at the age of 17. His time at Cambridge was characterised by numerous loans out to local non-league clubs such as Cambridge City, St Neots and St Ives (not the Cornwall one). With Cambridge challenging for promotion from League Two, Tom’s first team opportunities were limited and a deal was agreed to take him to Yeovil for an undisclosed fee in November 2020, shortly after turning 22.

After a number of appearances mostly from the bench, he broke into the Glovers’ first team with the 3-1 home win over Dover in January 2021. He was almost ever-present from that game onwards, scoring 7 goals and 5 assists from 24 starts and 9 sub appearances in 2019/20. His first goal came in February away at Hartlepool and what a belter it was, a long range shot into the top corner. All of his goals that season were expertly taken, not a tap-in among them. The only ‘easy’ goal at home to King’s Lynn still showed incredible anticipation to intercept an under-hit pass and take it around the goalie. His second goal of that game was probably the pick of that season, another shot from outside the area curled around the diving keeper.

Most of his first appearances were during the pandemic in front of empty stadiums, but when the fans returned in 2021/22 he became the main man, taking the No. 11 shirt and scoring 11 goals and 14 assists from 43 starts and 7 sub appearances, in a team that was not overflowing with goal-scoring opportunities. He got off to a relatively slow start, with his first goal not coming until the end of October against Woking although he went on a bit of a spree after that, with brilliant goals against Eastleigh and Bromley. He seemed to be in a goal of the season competition season with himself, with the occasional interruption from Charlie Wakefield. He scored so many great goals last season that I had to cut come of them out to make a Top 20, otherwise they would have been virtually all Tom Knowles. His 14 assists were the most in a single season since Ed Upson made 18 in the promotion campaign of 2012/13. He scored three from outside the area, including my own personal favourite in the 2-1 win at home to Eastleigh. Another highlight was when he dispossessed two Barnet players from their own free kick and then proceeded to run over half the length of the pitch to beat the keeper. It was not a surprise when he left, perhaps more so that he didn’t go higher up than Walsall, but having taken their No. 10 shirt we wish him all the best there.

Reviewing all of Tom’s goals and how consistently high the quality was, it’s hard not to draw comparisons with the legendary Gavin Williams. Tom scored 18 goals and 19 assists in 74 starts, that’s exactly one return, or in modern parlance ‘goal involvement’ every other game.

In his first spell with us between 2002 and 2004, Gavin Williams made 107 starts, scoring 21 goals and 23 assists, or one GI every 2.4 games. Combining his later spells between 2010 and 2013 he made another 54 starts, scoring 13 goals and 14 assists, or one GI every two games – exactly the same as Knowles, but two divisions higher and to be fair, almost ten years older. When Gavin joined us in 2002 he was only 21, although he had been playing for our feeder team Hereford for almost five years.

It’s not an exact comparison but it is an interesting one – at Conference level, Tom’s GI of 1 in 2 was much higher than Gavin’s of 1 in 2.8, and it’s not controversial to say that Williams was playing in a much better team. The 2002/03 team scored 121 goals in all competitions, followed by 84 in 2003/04 and 108 in 2004/05. Of course this is a double-edged sword, as the team scored far more often meaning it was more likely he would score or assist, but there were more creative players around him to contribute – in 02/03, McIndoe and Johnson got 39 assists between them, and in 03/04 Johnson got 20 on his own.

By contrast the teams Knowles was involved in scored 67 in 2020/21 and 72 in 2021/22. Last season he was involved in almost exactly half (48%) of all the goals scored while he was on the pitch – either scoring or assisting 25 times out of 52 goals scored in the games that he started.

As for Super Gav, in 2002/03 he scored six which were all pretty good, my personal favourite was the screamer he scored against Doncaster to level the scores at Huish Park. The best of 2003/04 was the solo goal at Kidderminster, and the only time he scored from open play in 2004/05 before his move to West Ham was a brilliant team goal against Bristol Rovers both started and finished by the man himself.

In his later spells, he popped up with a few free kicks including one on his second debut against Hartlepool, and his only goal of 2010/11 against Swindon. The best of 2011/12 was an absolute beauty against Oldham, and his last goal for the club in December 2012 against the same team was probably the best of the lot as he picked up the ball inside his own half, dribbled past a couple of players and several divots in the pitch, and scored from the better part of 35 yards. In fact he seemed to really enjoy playing against Oldham, scoring five and assisting twice in four games against them between 2010 and 2012.



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