As every fan of the beautiful game knows, a football team consists of 11 players: ten on the pitch and one in goal. This is nothing unusual, nor is the concept of shifting a player’s position either before or during a match for tactical reasons. Initially a left-back, Germany captain Philipp Lahm has recently delivered world-class performances in defensive midfield.
In contrast, any occasion on which a player has to change his shirt and pull on goalkeeping gloves tends to have an exciting, unbelievable or strange story behind it. Most of these stories start in the same way: the usual goalkeeper cannot continue playing due to injury or expulsion, and the team in question has either made all its substitutions already or has nobody left on the bench. At times like these, an outfield player has to step between the posts. FIFA.com has dug deep into the footballing archives to unearth some of the most striking anecdotes.
Let’s begin with one of the most famous outfield players of all time, Brazilian football legend Pele. While playing for Santos in 1963, he stood in for dismissed goalkeeper Gylmar for the final five minutes in a match against Grêmio, having already scored a hat-trick. “He wore a black long-sleeved shirt and made some fantastic saves, even managing to keep the scoreline intact," Pepe, who scored the fourth goal in Santos' 4-3 win, said. "He was a great goalkeeper – lithe, as if he could fly."
Niall Quinn found himself on a similar emotional rollercoaster in April 1991. Having already given Manchester City the lead against Derby County, he was forced to change his shirt and pull on the gloves shortly before half-time when custodian Tony Coton was sent off. It turned out to be an inspired decision as Quinn, to great acclaim, saved a penalty to help secure a 2-1 victory.
In 2012, Felipe Melo proved to be Galatasaray’s saviour, keeping out a stoppage-time penalty against Elazigispor to seal a 1-0 win for his side after goalkeeper Fernando Muslera was shown the red card. In Argentina, Racing Club’s central midfielder Agustin Pelletieri also cleared a spot-kick against San Martin de San Juan after their custodian was dismissed, ensuring his side finished 3-1 winners. Speaking afterwards, he said: “I’ve never been a goalkeeper before apart from for fun in training. Am I a hero? Absolutely not!”
Gaucho, meanwhile, would probably laugh at the idea of saving just one penalty kick. In a 1988 Campeonato Brasileiro match, the striker replaced keeper Armelino Donizete Quagliato in goal before saving two spot-kicks in the subsequent penalty shootout – and without gloves. In doing so, he led Palmeiras to victory against Zico’s Flamengo.
John O’Shea, for his part, even managed to pick up a new nickname for his goalkeeping exploits. During a league match against Tottenham Hotspur in February 2007, Manchester United had already used all three substitutes when goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar broke his nose, forcing the Irish defender to replace him between the sticks. “I’m very proud!” said a beaming O’Shea afterwards, explaining: “I asked Edwin whether he had a clean sheet bonus when we got into the dressing room because I wanted half of it!” Then manager Sir Alex Ferguson christened him “The Cat” for his performance. “I don’t think I’ve ever had that situation as a manager before,” said Ferguson. “It happened once when I was a player and I went in goal. We lost 4-0 but I made two great saves!”
Such incidents are often triggered by nasty injuries. In Chelsea’s Premier League match against Reading in October 2006, Petr Cech sustained a head injury in the opening minute and was stretchered from the pitch. Backup keeper Carlo Cudicini filled in for the stricken Cech until stoppage time, when he was also forced to leave the field with an injury. Captain John Terry took his place to see out his side’s 1-0 win without having his goalkeeping skills seriously tested.
If you think losing two goalkeepers in the same match was a one-off occurrence, think again! In a Bundesliga match between Eintracht Frankfurt and Bayern in September 1999, German shot-stopper Oliver Kahn and his deputy Bernd Dreher both suffered injuries playing for Bayern within seven minutes of one another, forcing midfielder Michael Tarnat to step up to the plate with Munich already 1-0 down. “I went in goal once for the U-13s,” the former German international later revealed. “I was so nervous at the start. If Eintracht had taken any more shots at goal, I would have aged very quickly!” Bayern eventually won the game 2-1.
Germany’s record treble-winning side also have experience of facing a team with an outfield player in goal. Borussia Dortmund’s 6ft 7in striker Jan Koller proved to be an insurmountable obstacle for Bayern for 20 minutes in 2002 after then-Dortmund keeper Jens Lehmann was dismissed after his side had made all their substitutions. Koller pulled on Lehmann’s shirt to deliver one of the best goalkeeping performances by an outfield player ever seen in the Bundesliga. German sports magazine kicker even named the Czech front man in their team of the day – in goal.
Newcastle United fans will have particularly painful memories of their match at West Ham United in April 1986. The Magpies’ usual No1, Martin Thomas, was absent and replacement David McKellar went off at half-time following a hip injury with his side already 4-0 down. Midfielder Chris Hedworth donned the gloves and conceded another goal before breaking his collarbone while making a save. It was left to winger Peter Beardsley to take his place between the posts, but he could do little to prevent an 8-1 rout by West Ham, with Alvin Martin netting a hat-trick against three different goalkeepers.
French footballing legend Alain Giresse can attest that placing outfield players in goal from the start of a match can backfire badly. Girondins Bordeaux’s usual shot-stopper was suspended for their final league match in May 1982, so club president Claude Bez appointed Giresse to replace him. “He told me, ‘You’re the captain, you go in goal’,” the diminutive former French international explained. “I constantly wanted to run out and catch every ball with my hands.” After conceding five goals in an hour, Giresse was replaced by another outfield player, Marius Tresor, who saw out the remainder of the team’s eventual 6-0 defeat.
There are countless other examples of players being forced to step into an unfamiliar role, but as we have seen with this small selection, there is invariably a dramatic or strange story behind each one.