They are football’s equivalent of tragicomedies. Own goals litter the football landscape with an intoxicating mixture of laughter and tears. Over the next few weeks here on The Football Mine I will be publishing an occasional series of pieces that focus on these captivating slices of football history, those little vignettes that can define a player’s career but not in a good way. Starting with a look at the most common fall guys of all – the poor old goalkeepers.
When Adama Traore’s shot came off the post and rebounded into the Leeds’ net from the back of Illan Meslier’s head the young Frenchman became the fiftieth keeper to do so in the Premier League. It was the 986th own goal since 1992/93 and so with the 1,000th on the not too distant horizon here is a short history of the unfortunate, the spectacular and the downright hilarious.
Meslier’s own goal was a stroke of bad luck and unavoidable whereas the very first one in the Premier League, which was also courtesy of a goalkeeper, was very much at the other end of the spectrum. Forest’s Mark Crossley had previously made headlines by saving a Gary Lineker penalty in the 1991 FA Cup Final and would become the only keeper to blot Matthew Le Tissier’s record from the spot in 1993 but his own goal in September 1992 was the archetypal goalkeeper howler.
Crossley had comfortably caught the ball from a tame header by Blackburn’s Colin Hendry when, under no pressure whatsoever and with not a soul near him, he rolled over and literally threw it into the net as if it were a bar of soap. As it was the first in the newly formed Premier League it has attracted much attention over the following thirty years and it is one that he has never been allowed to forget as he explained – “I dived down, I lost control of the ball, it was at a time that I was a young lad and was making lots of mistakes. Little did I know that it was the Premier League’s first own goal and it would become a famous pub quiz question. I always get that one right!”
When discussing keeper catastrophes there has to be a mention of Aston Villa’s Peter Enckelman. Almost exactly ten years after Crossley’s costly error, Enckelman was responsible for a mistake of such epic proportions that it is still remembered very clearly to this day. Monday 16th September 2002 will be forever etched in the hearts of Birmingham City fans. The match carried some significance as it was the very first Premier League meeting between Birmingham and Villa as well as the first Second City league derby since 1987.
The Blues were already 1-0 up thanks to a Clinton Morrison first half goal when with 13 minutes remaining Olof Melberg took a throw-in back towards Enckelman who inexplicably allowed the ball to roll over his foot and trundle into the Villa goal. “It should have been the easiest thing in the world to control,” Enckelman told the BBC. “But the next thing I knew I had missed it and it was in the net. I honestly don’t think I touched the ball – I made a blunder and that’s it. I know the rules – a throw-in cannot go straight in.”
Unfortunately for Enckelman the referee David Elleray did not agree with him, adjudging that he had got the slightest of touches on the ball and so gave the goal to the Finnish keeper’s dismay and to the delight of the majority of the St. Andrews crowd. Naturally when keepers do make errors they often have to pay dearly for them as Enckelman will testify and he will be forever remembered for that one ghastly moment.
Before the Premier League was even a twinkle in the eye there was a keeper who developed the rather unfortunate penchant for committing some of the most horrendous cock-ups, so much so that his name became synonymous for particularly calamitous goalkeeping. Gary Sprake was a Welsh international and a member of the legendary Leeds team under Don Revie so clearly he was a keeper of some pedigree, but when it came to high profile errors including disastrous own goals, he was unrivalled.
In December 1967 Leeds met Liverpool at Anfield for a top-of-the-table clash. With the home side 1-0 ahead just before half-time Sprake gathered the ball and was looking to throw it to one of his full-backs, Terry Cooper but in the corner of his eye he spotted Ian Callaghan and fatefully changed his mind. Rather than holding on to the ball his momentum carried him on to releasing it back towards goal and that is where sadly for Sprake it ended up. If a baying Kop wasn’t enough for him, the PA started blasting the popular 60s hit “Careless Hands” by Des O’Connor as the players left the pitch. Football can be a cruel sport.
A couple of years later at Selhurst Park in a much less pressurised game, Sprake was even more culpable when John Sewell’s aimless punt forward was looping harmlessly towards the Welsh keeper. He casually put his arms up to gather the ball as if picking an apple off a tree but he somehow let the ball slip through his hands and the apple proved to have a rotten core. Sprake’s propensity for ricks continued into the 1970 FA Cup Final when he allowed Peter Houseman’s weak shot to wriggle under his body. His reputation was forever tarnished and after falling out of favour with Revie Sprake’s time at Elland Road was soon over.
At least Sprake had a decade of achievement at the top of the game to look back on whereas another Welsh keeper was not so fortunate. Rhys Wilmot started his career at Arsenal as a perennial understudy to the likes of John Lukic so he racked up only eight appearances in nine years. Having dropped down a division when he joined Plymouth Argyle he did finally get first team action but then at the age of 32 he joined Premier League Palace for the 1994/95 season as back-up to Nigel Martyn. When Martyn broke his finger in April, Wilmot finally got his chance to have a run in the starting line-up.
Palace were embroiled in a relegation scrap and in Wilmot’s fifth successive game faced a crucial game away at Southampton on 3rd May 1995. Things did not start very well, in the very first minute Wilmot conceded an own goal that was not only the 100th in Premier League history but also one of the earliest ever in the top flight. Palace eventually lost 3-1 in what proved to be Wilmot’s last game for the club who were relegated soon afterwards. Having waited in the wings for so long that own goal served as a sad epitaph to his short career at the very top.
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