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Best outfielders in goal in football history: Memorable moments from Pelé to Muller, Kane, Giroud, O’Shea and Terry

Unexpected and glorious. Watching an outfield player don the goalkeeper’s shirt, borrow their team-mate’s gloves and get themselves ready for a stint between the sticks… there are few greater and more silly pleasures in football.

The latest to join the outfielders in goal club is Olivier Giroud, who stepped up to the task at hand when AC Milan’s Mike Maignan was sent off 98 minutes into their Serie A game against Genoa.

Giroud didn’t have to keep goal for too long, then, but he provided a match-winning intervention, diving bravely in the penalty box to win the ball.

This was no meaningless feat, either. Giroud’s actions helped Milan hold on to a one-goal advantage and take the three points to go two points clear at the top of Serie A ahead of their city rivals Inter.

And here’s Giroud’s brave save as seen from the AC Milan away end. Listen to the nervous intake of breath and then that noise of relief. Football, bloody hell!

In the aftermath of Giroud’s headline-grabbing goalkeeping performance, Milan took full advantage, adding the French goalscorer to their goalkeeper’s list on the club website!

And ahead of the October international break, the French national team did the same, sharing a photo on Instagram of their four goalkeepers, Alphonse Areola, Mike Maignan, Brice Samba and…. Olivier Giroud.

Who was the first outfield player to go in goal in football history?

Giroud is the 155th outfielder to go in goal in professional football history. The first was England’s Alexander Bonsor way back in 1875. Bonsor played the first 15 minutes of the England vs Scotland friendly international match in goal because regular goalkeeper William Carr arrived late due to a delayed train. International football has become a little better organised in the following 148 years! Oh, by the way, Bonsor kept a clean sheet in his 15 minutes between the sticks.

Interestingly, this was the only known incident of this occurring until 1902, when Rangers’ John McPherson replaced regular ‘custodian’ – as goalkeepers were known back then – Matthew Dickier, who was injured. The circumstances were even more extraordinary than in Giroud’s case.

Rangers were playing St Mirren and victory would secure them the 1901/02 Scottish Division One title. McPherson’s task was no easy one, but he did his job as Rangers won 3-2 to lift the Championship.

Again, there was another significant gap before another outfielder stepped into nets. In April 1915, a few months into World War One when professional football had not yet been stopped, John King played the entire 90 minutes for Newcastle United after their goalkeeper Bill Mellor got injured pre-match. Incredibly, King kept a cleansheet in a 0-0 draw!

Who’s the most famous outfield footballer to go in goal?

There’s only one answer: John O’Shea. Ah no, sorry John. We’re joking. It’s Pelé.

When Pelé joined the ‘outfielders in goal’ gang

The footballing great – who sadly passed away in December 2022 – replaced his teammate Gilmar in goal after the Santos shot-stopper was sent off. It was some performance from the talismanic forward who had scored a hat-trick to help Santos defeat Grêmio 4-3 and then went in goal to help his team see out vi tory in the second leg of the 1963 Taça Brasil semi-finals.

Pelé is the most famous man to join the outfielders in goal club, doing so for Santos in 1963
Pelé was better known for scoring goals than stopping them! (Photo by Icon Sport)

Several other World Cup winners have taken up the temporary position, too, as well as Pelé and Giroud.

When Gerd Muller was an outfield player in goal for Bayern Munich

Legendary goalscorer Gerd Müller scored one goal for Bayern against Hamburger in a 4-0 victory and then stepped into goal while Sepp Maier received treatment for a knee injury. He didn’t concede and stepped back outfield once Maier was fit to continue.

England captain Bobby Moore’s stint in nets

The 1966 World Cup-winning captain even saved a penalty when he stepped in goal against Stoke City in January 1972. Bobby Ferguson had got injured in the League Cup semi-final. Unfortunately for Moore, Mike Bernard tapped in the rebound from the penalty and Moore’s West Ham were beaten.

Most memorable recent outfield players in goal

Kyle Walker, Manchester City vs Atalanta – 6 November 2019

Ederson picked up an injury at half-time, and Claudio Bravo received his marching orders with nine minutes of normal time remaining. Kyle Walker took the gloves and kept an impressive clean sheet.

Pontus Jansson, Leeds United vs Sheffield United – 16 March 2019

Leeds ‘keeper Kiko Casilla was sent off. Pontus Jansson took his place. It was injury time already, so there wasn’t so much to do, but the task was made harder by the fact Jansson had himself injured his knee. Leeds were already losing 1-0, and Jansson even went up for a corner late on! He didn’t score.

Harry Kane, Tottenham Hotspur vs Asertas Tripoli – 23 October 2014

Like Pelé in 1963, Harry Kane had already scored a hat-trick when he moved back into goal. Hugo Lloris was sent off in the 87th minute and Kane stepped in. His performance in goal was not as good as in front of goal, and he let a free-kick bobble under his body embarrasingly. Thankfully, it had no effect on the result, as Spurs won.

Rio Ferdinand, Manchester United vs Portsmouth – 9 March 2008

Edwin van der Sar suffered a hamstring injury – a rare enough occurrence for a goalkeeper – in United’s FA Cup quarter-final against Portsmouth. Tomasz Kuszczak replaced him at half-time and was subsequently sent off, giving away a penalty.

Rio Ferdinand took the gloves and immediately faced a penalty, but could do nothing but watch it sail past him as Portsmouth earned a surprise victory en route to their incredible FA Cup triumph. At the end of the season, having won the Premier League and UEFA Champions League, United were left ruing their misfortune. They could have won another Treble!

John O’Shea, Manchester United vs Tottenham Hotspur – 4 February 2007

Edwin van der Sar – yes, he’s involved again – broke his nose and had to come off. Sir Alex Ferguson had used all his substitutes. In steps John O’Shea, who helped United to maintain a clean sheet in a 4-0 victory.

Phil Jagielka, Sheffield United vs several teams – 2006

Neil Warnock was so confident in defender Phil Jagielka’s goalkeeping abilities that he decided not to put a back-up goalkeeper on the bench. Jagielka had to don the goalkeeper’s gloves on four occasions, then, when Paddy Kenny was either injured or sent off. On one occasion, against Arsenal, Jagielka produced a stunning save to deny Robin van Persie.

John Terry, Chelsea vs Reading – 14 October 2006

When both Petr Čech and his back-up Carlo Cudicini suffered injuries against Reading, Chelsea icon John Terry had to step in. Cudicini was knocked unconscious very late on in the game. Terry didn’t have too much to do, but completed his task as the Blues held on for a 1-0 win.

Have any outfielders gone in goal on more than one occasion?

Yes, several. Phil Jagielka, for starters, as outlined above. But also Eddie Hapgood for Arsenal in 1933 and 1935, Bobby Shearer for Rangers in 1958 and 1960.

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