No metric can quantify our enjoyment of seeing an outfield player forced to go in goal.
The phenomenon is typically brought about in three ways.
- Reason one: A manager has used all his subs, and his first-choice goalkeeper’s participation in the game has been ended prematurely by injury or a red card.
- Reason two: The lesser-seen chain of events. A first-choice goalkeeper has been replaced, due to injury or dismissal, by a second-choice goalkeeper, who in turn is injured or dismissed and so unable to go on, leaving no recognised shot-stopper on the bench or on the pitch.
- Reason three: Even more rare, there are no goalkeepers available in the squad at a tournament and an outfield player has to go in goal from the start.
And with that, it’s our pleasure to introduce 12 real-life examples of football’s rarest treat, accompanied by a word on whether they were a hit or miss between the sticks.
Olivier Giroud – AC Milan (2023)
Incredible scenes in the last moments of AC Milan vs Genoa!
Olivier Giroud goes in goal for Milan after Mike Maignan received a red card.
Genoa hit the crossbar from the resulting free kick before their own goalkeeper is sent off!
Have you ever seen anything like it?! pic.twitter.com/J4xxOEibjW
— Football on TNT Sports (@footballontnt) October 7, 2023
We didn’t know we needed to see Olivier Giroud as a goalkeeper until it actually happened. AC Milan’s 1-0 win over Genoa was jam-packed with late drama, as goalkeepers for both sides were sent off. Genoa, fortunately, had a substitute left and were able to bring on an actual goalkeeper, but Milan weren’t so lucky. Their red card actually came first, with Mike Maignan sent off for what can only be described as a Street Fighter-esque knee to the throat of a Genoa attacker on the edge of the area. Just a few moments before, AC Milan had used their final change, meaning an outfielder at to go in goal. Giroud took the gloves and was a bit fortunate that the resulting free-kick hit the bar via a deflection. He wasn’t lucky, however, in racing out to deal with a ball over the top, getting a vital fist on it then smothering at the second opportunity. A clean sheet, Giroud earned himself a spot in the goalkeepers second on AC Milan’s website!
After the game, Giroud told Sky Sport Italia: “I never experienced a moment like this!
“I am very proud for the team, we fought to the end, I made a good save! I was also lucky with the crossbar. We fought like lions and I am very happy for the fans.|
Of the save, and the comparison to scoring a goal, Giroud added: “Almost (the same), I wasn’t sure if it was going to be a header or not, so I thought just go and it’s better to be there than staying on the line. I do not have the movements of a goalkeeper, but that is what I felt. It really hurt my arm, but that’s fine.
“I did like to go in goal when I was a kid, so that’s why I was chosen.”
Chaker Alhadhur – Comoros (2022)
Left-back Chaker Alhadhur's game by numbers in goal vs. #TeamCameroon
4 saves made
— Squawka (@Squawka) January 24, 2022
Comoros were making their first appearance at the Africa Cup of Nations in 2022 and, against the odds, made it through to the last 16 as one of the best third-placed teams — finishing above Ghana in their group thanks to a 3-2 win in their final game. Considered one of the minnows of the tournament, a lot of neutrals were routing for Comoros and that only increased when they were preparing for their knockout tie with hosts Cameroon.
But it had not been a good tournament for Comoros’ goalkeepers as Salim Ben Boina was injured in their second group stage match against Morocco, and his fellow shot-stoppers Ali Ahamada and Moyadh Ousseni tested positive for Covid. Some squads had drafted four goalkeepers to avoid such an occurrence but Comoros didn’t have a fourth, and picked left-back Chaker Alhadhur to start between the sticks.
And he was brilliant. Sure, Cameroon still won 2-1 and an actual goalkeeper may have stopped the goals the hosts did score but he made four saves including a brilliant double save to deny tournament top-scorer Vincent Aboubakar and Nicolas Moumi Ngamaleu.
Incredible double save from the stand-in goalkeeper!! ?
Chaker Alhadhur, who is orignally their left-back, may have just kept Comoros in this! ? pic.twitter.com/VfONrYrC1l
— Sky Sports Football (@SkyFootball) January 24, 2022
John O’Shea – Manchester United (2007)
The former Manchester United defender took his place in goal after Edwin van der Sar was injured late on in an away league game at White Hart Lane against Tottenham Hotspur.
ON THIS DAY: In 2007, John O'Shea went in goal for Man United vs. Spurs after an injury to Edwin van der Sar.
He didn't concede. ? pic.twitter.com/lGZBz59Koe
— Squawka (@Squawka) February 4, 2018
United had used all three substitutes, so John O’Shea was selected to go in goal.
He even made a fantastic one-on-one save to ensure United kept a clean sheet, and they eventually won the match 4-0.
John Terry – Chelsea (2006)
In what was generally a bizarre match, both Petr Cech and Carlo Cudicini got injured in Chelsea‘s Premier League trip to Reading.
Up stepped Mr Chelsea as John Terry took his place in goal to try and help his side grab an away victory.
He duly delivered, keeping a clean sheet and sealing a 1-0 win for the Blues. Two injured ‘keepers, two players sent off, and one surprisingly competent stand-in goalkeeper.
Cosmin Moti – Ludogorets (2014)
Cosmin Moti…. pic.twitter.com/J8BeVj9qYV
— Squawka (@Squawka) September 16, 2014
Bulgarian champions Ludogorets had never been in the Champions League before going into their pivotal qualification tie against the Romanian champions, Steaua Bucharest.
Ludogorets had their goalkeeper sent off just after equalising to take the game into extra-time. Cosmin Moti, a centre-back by trade, took on the responsibility to go in goal and consequently went down in Ludogorets folklore.
The match went to penalties, where Moti scored his spot-kick and saved two from Bucharest to send Ludogorets through to the Champions League for the first time in their history.
In honour of his achievement, Ludogorets named a reconstructed stand at their stadium the ‘Moti stand’ in 2015.
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Henri Lansbury – West Ham (2012)
West Ham and Blackpool. These two sides would go on to face each other in the Championship play-off final in May, with West Ham securing a 2-1 victory against Ian Holloway’s side.
However, during the league match at Bloomfield Road earlier in the campaign, Hammers ‘keeper Robert Green was sent off for a foul on Roman Bednar.
With the score 2-1 to West Ham, the red card had real potential for ruining the travelling supporter’s day out, only for former Arsenal youth player Henri Lansbury to take Green’s place.
A ruling back then meant Championship clubs could only have five substitutes, and well, Sam Allardyce reluctantly refused to travel up north with a reserve ‘keeper, so up stepped Lansbury.
The east London side didn’t concede any more goals, in fact going on to win 4-1.
Phil Jagielka – Sheffield United (2006)
Neil Warnock’s men were up against Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal side in a match labelled ‘David vs Goliath’, a football cliché classic.
Sheffield United were 1-0 up when Warnock favourite Paddy Kenny limped off with a groin injury. Warnock was famous for not having goalkeepers on his substitutes bench, prompting Phil Jagielka to swap tops with Kenny and go in goal.
A fantastic reaction save from a Robin van Persie effort epitomised both Jagielka and United’s performance as they played the last 34 minutes of the match.
The full-time whistle earned United a famous victory against the Gunners, with a little help from makeshift goalie Jagielka.
Alex Revell – MK Dons (2016)
MK Dons vs Preston. 1-1. Just over 10 minutes to play. It was getting near to full-time when Dons ‘keeper Cody Cropper fouled Preston’s Eoin Doyle in the area, earning himself a red card in the process.
With no substitutions remaining, up stepped striker Alex Revell to face the resulting penalty kick.
What happened next? You guessed it, a great save from Revell kept MK Dons in the contest, with the game finishing as a score-draw.
Kyle Walker – Manchester City (2019)
“Ladsss! Don’t worry, I’ve got this!!!” pic.twitter.com/plNvgbKtaQ
— Kyle Walker (@kylewalker2) November 6, 2019
City travelled to Atalanta for an intense Champions League group stage clash in November 2019, and with the scores level heading towards the final whistle, substitute goalkeeper Claudio Bravo was sent packing for a last-ditch foul on Josip Ilicic.
In doing so, he became the first-ever substitute goalkeeper to be sent off in Champions League history, and with Ederson having already been withdrawn because of a muscular injury, Pep Guardiola turned to Kyle Walker.
The England international’s first job was to keep out an Alejandro Gomez free-kick, and that’s exactly what he did, though it’s safe to say it was not the most convincing of saves.
However, that save was actually the first made by an English ‘keeper in three years in the competition, while he also went on to keep a clean sheet — though he’ll definitely have his City teammates to thank for that, having done brilliantly to keep the ball for the proceeding minutes.
Rio Ferdinand – Manchester United (2008)
Sir Alex Ferguson’s United side were dominating English football in 2008, as they aimed for the Treble.
In an FA Cup quarter-final clash at Old Trafford vs Portsmouth, Edwin van der Sar had to go off injured and his replacement Tomasz Kuszczak managed to get sent off, leaving the pitch as Portsmouth set up for their penalty.
Up stepped Rio Ferdinand, who was put in the United goal and had to face Sulley Muntari’s penalty. Despite guessing the right way, Muntari dispatched the spot-kick past Ferdinand.
United went on to lose the game to eventual cup winners Portsmouth 1-0, failing to win the Treble. However, they did win manage to win the Premier League and Champions League Double, so it wasn’t all bad…
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Harry Kane – Tottenham (2014)
Although often cited as one of the best strikers in the world, Harry Kane clearly would never have made it as a No.1.
Tottenham faced Asteras Tripolis in the Europa League and looked assured of victory after Kane had bagged himself a hat-trick to put Spurs out of reach.
But late on, Spurs ‘keeper Hugo Lloris was sent off for a foul outside the area and Kane replaced the Frenchman in goal. His first shot faced was from the resulting free-kick, which most ‘keepers would, and should, have dealt with comfortably.
However, Kane flapped at the ball and saw it roll through his legs into the back of the net. Spurs did go on to win 5-1, with pundits impressed by his goalscoring exploits… but tickled by his goalkeeping attempts.
Robbie Savage – Derby (2010)
Derby County faced Reading in a Championship clash back in 2010. Already 2-1 down, first-choice ‘keeper Stephen Bywater was forced off injured and substitute Saul Deeney was then sent off just before half-time.
After seeing first choice goalkeeper Stephen Bywater come off injured and backup Saul Deeney sent off within 40 minutes, Derby are forced to play over an hour away at Reading with Robbie Savage in goal. Derby lose 4-1.. pic.twitter.com/x2EDgGs8Lu
— Ryan O'Meara (@_omeara_r) January 24, 2018
It was then former midfielder Robbie Savage’s turn to salvage something for his side.
Perhaps we’re a little harsh on Savage. He did make some decent saves in the match, but he did let in a further two goals that saw Derby lose 4-1 away to the Royals offering little help to his Rams side, who went on to struggle but ultimately just about avoid relegation to League One that season.