Sending Off Goalkeepers: Not As Much Fun As It Used To Be

13 By Ian  |   The Ball  |   September 28, 2009  |     18

When Petr Cech was sent off for Chelsea against Wigan Athletic at the weekend, it was the story that hogged most of the back pages in the newspapers the next day. Yet Cech’s sending off was a reminder of the abandonment of one of the little quirks that made football quite unique. Before the introduction of substitute goalkeepers, if your team lost its goalkeeper it was tough luck. An outfield player would be tossed an out-sized jersey and left to get on with it. The result would usually be a form of low comedy that wouldn’t be tolerated in the ultra-serious modern game.

The player selected to play in goal would always look remarkably incongruous. Because he was invariably five or six inches shorter than the player that he was replacing, his shirt would flap ingloriously around his thighs like a mini-skirt and he would often fiddle with his gloves, adjusting them as if they had some sort of magical powers that he could harness if he adjusted them around the wrist. Once in position (and with the crowd obviously already aware of the fact that there was at least one person on the pitch now with absolutely no idea what he was doing), the fun and games could begin.

When outfield players had to go in goal, you see, what was immediately obvious was that they had spent so much of their playing career getting on with their job that they hadn’t been paying much attention to what their goalkeeper had been doing. Kicking, that most obvious of tasks and one that we might expect any professional footballer to be able to do under any circumstances, suddenly became a chore.  Every set piece was suddenly the equivalent of an air raid. With opposing teams more than aware of the scared looking interloper between the posts for the opposition, every set piece would now become an aerial bombardment. Every pass forward a chance to test out this so-called “goalkeeper”.

The temporary custodian would seldom prove himself to be of much use. Strangely afraid to dive for shots, kicking at wild angles and watching the proceedings with a mixture of strange detachment and furious panic, the outfield player in goal was the supreme entertainment for the crowd. His defence would crowd around him in an almost touching display of solidarity with their team-mate. Defending would get deeper and deeper until players were almost queued up on the goal line in a desperate attempt to keep the visiting hoards out. And at the final whistle, the outfield player would wear the smile of someone that had done what they could under impossible circumstances.

This phenomenon reached its apotheosis in 1982, at an FA Cup quarter-final between Leicester City and Shrewsbury Town at Filbert Street. Shrewsbury had knocked Ipswich Town (the previous season’s First Division runners-up and holders of the UEFA Cup) in the previous round. With the home side having taken an early lead, the Leicester goalkeeper Mark Wallington injured himself during the first half but manfully struggled on until his injury cost Leicester two goals and he resignedly had to be substituted and was replaced by forward Alan Young. An own goal brought Leicester level at 2-2 at half-time, but early in the second half Young also injured himself and had to be taken off to be replaced by Steve Lynex. Young returned in goal a few minutes later, though, and Leicester went on to win 5-2.

Such excitement and strangeness is seldom seen these days. The only opportunity that we now get for such fun and games is if a goalkeeper is sent off after all three substitutions have already been made. When Petr Cech was sent off on Saturday he was replaced by Henrique Hilario and, amusing though it may have been to see Chelsea go on to lose that match, the defeat had more to do with Chelsea being reduced to ten men than with Cech no longer being on the pitch. Our modern, humourless game will not tolerate such fun and games. There is too much at stake. We are all a little poorer for this.



Ian began writing Twohundredpercent in May 2006. He lives in Brighton. He has also written for, amongst others, Pitch Invasion, FC Business Magazine, The Score, When Saturday Comes, Stand Against Modern Football and The Football Supporter. Ian was the first winner of the Socrates Award For Not Being Dead Yet at the 2010 NOPA awards for football bloggers.

  • September 28, 2009 at 11:29 am


    The Chelsea/Reading game in October 2006 was a blast from the past, with Cech and Carlo Cudicini both hospitalised and John Terry ending up in goal, in some pretty chaotic scenes.

    It is funny how once an outfield goes in goal he forgets how to kick. I remember watching a non-league game several years ago where the ‘keeper had to go off, and the rest of the team were instructed that they would be fined for each time they passed back to the stand-in.

  • September 28, 2009 at 1:22 pm


    Apparently Wayne Rooney fancies himself as a goal keeper so should this scenario ever (as if!) happen at Old Trafford don’t be surprised to see him take the jersey.

  • September 28, 2009 at 7:37 pm


    He could take it, but would it fit?

    I’m pretty sure I can remember an outfielder having to go in goal after Chelsea’s keeper was injured, when Oxford lost 2-1 at Stamford Bridge early in 1987/88. I’m also pretty sure I can remember him not having to make a save despite being in goal for a long time (most of the seond half?). Both sides went down at the end of the season and rightly so.

  • September 28, 2009 at 9:25 pm

    Paul Blackwell

    What about the fun and games when Dean Windass went in goal for Oldham at Leicester last season to face a penalty after Greg Fleming(?) was sent off, Crossley was injured and Oldham had no substitute goalie on the bench. Windass promptly gurnered Fryatt (?) into blasting the kick wide.
    In Oldham’s history nobody compares with the legendary Bob Ledger who played in just about every position for the club – including emergency goalie.

  • September 28, 2009 at 9:35 pm

    Martin Berry

    The thing about Shrewsbury’s 1982 Cup run we played against three different goalkeepers in the Third Round as well. Won 3-0 scoring against each one

  • September 28, 2009 at 9:37 pm

    coachie ballgames

    I don’t recall the exact circumstances but Rio Ferdinand stepped in at goal a few years back late in a match.

  • September 28, 2009 at 9:37 pm


    Stuff like this is why this blog is bloody marvellous. In between the excellent grasp of the politics and economics, there’s a magnificent empathy with football culture.

    What I always loved about the levelling down is that for as long as the stand-in keeper was playing, there was one guy on the pitch who you felt was no better at his job than your would be. You know as a fan you;re not as good at football as those you watch; except when this happens. And that’s a real special moment.

  • September 29, 2009 at 3:43 am


    @coachie ballgames
    I think you’re thinking of the game a few years ago between Man United and Tottenham at White Hart Lane. Edwin van der Sar went off injured after United had used all three subs. At first, Ferdinand grabbed the goalkeeper shirt, but instead it was decided that John O’Shea would go into goal. It ended up not being a big deal with United already up 4-0, but O’Shea did make a pretty good save on a charging shot from Robbie Keane.

  • September 29, 2009 at 10:14 am


    You are correct about John O’Shea’s goalkeeping moment but Ferdinand also went in goal a couple of season back during a FA Cup match against Portsmouth after Thomaz Kuszczak was sent off and all subs were used.

    Great article by the way.

  • September 29, 2009 at 2:20 pm


    In a protest against the then Board only allowing him 14 senior players in the squad, our one-time maanger Colin Murphy once played Stuart Naylor, a goal-keeper, as a striker in a league game. A strange kind of reversal to the article above, you might say.

  • September 29, 2009 at 2:25 pm

    Albert Ross

    I recall a good few years ago John MacPhail being the emergency goalie for Hartlepool, and getting in the Team of the Week for the division in Shoot having denied the Brighton forwards for pretty much the whole game. He also played the second half of a home game later in the season and didn’t do so well – though he was still better than several of the alleged specialists that played for us in the late 80s….

    Maybe we should make it a rule that Keepers can only come on as subs for other keepers?

  • October 11, 2009 at 6:14 pm


    Jamie: As has been pointed out several times now, that situation has indeed happened to United first away to Spurs when Van Der Sar’s injury after they had used all their subs meant John O’Shea (who minutes earlier had replaced Ryan Giggs) had to play in goal and managed to keep a clean sheet despite a dodgy backpass from Ferdinand finding Robbie Keane.

    The following year against Portsmouth in the FA Cup, Van Der Sar again went off injured but his replacement Tomasz Kuszczak was sent off for bringing down Milan Baros and Rio Ferdinand took his place in goalbut could not save the resulting penalty.

    Your sarcastic mock-indignation looks a bit silly and ill-informed now, doesn’t it?

    As a side-note, I remember a City match in the early 90s when Niall Quinn replaced Tony Coton in goal after he’d been sent off and saved the resultant penalty from Dean Saunders.

  • December 13, 2009 at 6:05 am

    Stovies Jennings

    I don’t think Jamie said anything out of order. I actually found it quite interesting. This is an awesome subject, wish it happened more!

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