The own goal is the ultimate moment of soccer self-destruction. Few footballing sights are as awe-inspiring as that split second of lunacy in which a gangling centre half dives full-length to head the ball past his hapless keeper. What follows is a celebration of ten of the worst ever own goals, some funny, some bizarre, some genuinely tragic – and a lot of them on YouTube. All proof indeed that, as a dramatic moment, the own goal knocks anything Shakespeare managed to come up with into a feathered bard’s hat. So here, featuring Leeds United, Manchester City, Liverpool and Arsenal are the biggest howlers in history.
1. Lord Kinnaird
WANDERERS vs Oxford University, Kennington Oval, 1877
In the 1877 FA Cup Final, Wanderers goalkeeper Arthur Kinnaird caught a seemingly innocuous shot and fell backwards, carrying the ball over the goal line. It was one of the very first recorded own goals, befuddling spectators and newspaper reporters alike. Kinnaird’s blushes were saved – Wanderers won the cup in extra time. Lord Kinnaird was perhaps football’s first celebrity, a kind of nineteenth century David Beckham, albeit one with a big red beard who played in long white trousers, a jumper and a cricket cap. He played in nine FA Cup Finals and scored in three of them.
2. Gary Sprake
Liverpool vs LEEDS UNITED, Anfield, 1967
Just before half time on a wet December afternoon, Sprake gathered the ball in front of the Kop and shaped to throw it out to Leeds full back Willie Bell. Somehow, the calamitous goalkeeper instead managed to fling the ball into his net. Liverpool’s Kop couldn’t have had a better view of Sprake’s moment of madness. At half time the Anfield DJ played Des O’Connor’s Careless Hands over the PA. When the players returned to the pitch, the Kop regaled Sprake with a rendition of the song, and did so each time he returned to Anfield with Leeds.
3. Jamie Pollock
MANCHESTER CITY vs Queens Park Rangers, Maine Road, 1998
For a crushingly important own goal, look no further than Manchester City midfielder Jamie Pollock’s spectacular strike in this desperate Division One relegation battle with Queen’s Park Rangers. Manchester City went ahead in the very first minute through Georgi Kinkladze, but Mike Sheron equalised for QPR. Then Pollock scored his jaw-dropping own goal, flicking the ball over opponents and colleagues, and heading it past his keeper. Lee Bradbury equalised, but the game finished 2-2. City were relegated to Division Two for the first time in their history, and QPR survived, all thanks to Pollock dropping a bollock.
4. Andres Escobar
COLOMBIA vs United States, Pasadena, 1994
No own goal has had such appalling consequences than this one in the World Cup Finals of 1994. 33 minutes into the crucial game, defender Escobar sliced a John Harkes cross into the back of the Colombian net. The USA won 2-1, qualifying for the second round at Colombia’s expense. ‘Humiliated!’ cried one Colombian newspaper headline, as the side returned home in disgrace. Tragically, ten days later, Escobar was gunned down in his hometown of Medellin. Reports suggest the murderer shouted ‘Own goal! Own goal!’ as he emptied a .38 into the footballer. Escobar was 27 years old.
5. Stade Olympique de L’Emyrne
AS Adema vs STADE OLYMPIQUE DE L’EMYRNE, Madagascar, 2002
In the final match of the Malagasy League Championship, reigning champions SOE deliberately scored 149 own goals in protest at a controversial refereeing decision. What is most remarkable is that at no point during the 149-0 biggest defeat in footballing history did the team think that perhaps they had proved their point. Not at ten, or fifty, or a hundred goals. Impressively, SOE scored one own goal every 36.2 seconds. But, upon hearing the final whistle, you can’t help but think they must have been disappointed not to have reached 150.
6. Chris Brass
BURY vs Darlington, 2006
Pity poor Chris Brass. He made more than 350 first team appearances as a professional footballer over 16 years, but his career has become defined by a split second of bad luck. It is a startling good own goal, mind you. Dealing with a looping through ball, defender Brass attempts an overhead clearance, only for the ball to smack him in the face and ricochet into the back of his own net. It’s the type of thing that would once have turned up on a VHS blooper tape presented by Nick Hancock. In the Internet age, YouTube has ensured that Brass’s bruised nose and ego have been seen by millions around the world.
7. Chris Nicholls
Leicester City vs ASTON VILLA, Filbert Street, 1976
No English league footballer has ever scored a hat trick of own goals, but several have scored braces. In 1999, Liverpool’s Jamie Carragher put the ball into his own net twice in a 3-2 home defeat against Manchester United, and in 2003, Michael Proctor scored two of Sunderland’s three own goals in a home defeat against Charlton. But, most impressively, in 1976, Villa’s Chris Nicholls scored all four goals in a 2-2 draw away to Leicester. Twice Nicholls haplessly put Leicester ahead, before twice heroically grabbing equalisers for Villa.
8. Lee Dixon
ARSENAL vs Coventry City, 1991
This was probably the low point of Lee Dixon’s career, until he became a regular on Match of the Day 2. Watching him dispense jocular bon mots from the MOTD2 sofa it would be easy to imagine he was infallible. Not so. This 1991 match saw Arsenal at home to Coventry. Seemingly under no pressure, Dixon turned and lobbed David Seaman from 30 yards, years before Nayim or Ronaldinho would attempt such a feat. Arsenal lost 2-1, and went on to lose the league title to Leeds.
9. Andoni Zubizarreta
SPAIN vs Nigeria, Nantes, 1998
Spanish goalkeeper, team captain, and national hero Andoni Zubizarreta played 126 times for his country and 600 times for his league clubs – both Spanish records. He won six Spanish league championships, three Spanish Cups, the European Cup Winners’ Cup, and the European Champions Cup. But cruelly, his magnificent international career ended with a horrible own goal in the World Cup Finals. Zubizarreta palmed Garba Lawal’s harmless cross into his own net during his country’s opening match with Nigeria. Spain lost the match 3-2, and Zubizarreta retired from international football two weeks later.
10. Mursyid Effendi
INDONESIA vs Thailand, Ho Chi Min City, 1998
Both teams had already secured progress to the semi finals of the Asian Tiger Cup, but the winners of this group stage match would play tournament favourites Vietnam on their home turf. And neither side fancied their chances. So, both teams attempted to throw the match. With the score tied at 2-2, with only seconds remaining, and with Thailand bizarrely defending their opposition’s goal, Indonesia’s goalkeeper Mursyid Effendi grabbed the ball, turned, and booted it into his own net. Indonesia lost the match, and avoided playing Vietnam. Fittingly, both sides lost their semi finals.
Paul Brown’s new book, Unofficial Football World Champions, is available now.
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