More than anything, sports fans love to marvel at exciting plays in games or events. But perhaps a close second would be watching bloopers, gaffes, and screwups committed by highly-skilled professional athletes. Maybe it’s because it helps fans remember that even these well-paid players are human and are therefore capable of making mistakes just like any other person.
And when it comes to mistakes, the own goal is arguably the gravest error in team sports.
True, there are own goals in ice hockey, but they are more easily overcome due to the propensity of scoring in that sport. Once in a while, you’ll see a tipped basketball into a team’s own bucket, but those rarely affect the outcome of a game. There are even a few storied tales of “wrong-way” runs in football that resulted in a safety when the wayward player thought it was a touchdown. And it’s impossible to accidentally score a run for the other team in baseball (although having a home run hit off of your head is close).
But in soccer, an own goal is like a dagger through the heart. That’s because goals of any kind are so rare in a given match, and so many precautions are taken to ensure that these calamities don’t happen. Even so, the soccer ball does sometimes take odd and unpredictable bounces – and once in a while, those caroms wind up touching net. Case in point: after four years of the requisite hype, buildup, and anticipation the 2014 World Cup finally got underway on June 12. And with billions of fans watching globally, the first score of the entire tournament came… on an own goal, when Brazil’s Marcelo attempted to clear a ball out of the box but instead pushed it into the Brazilian net in the 11th minute of his side’s match against Croatia. (Brazil wound up winning 3-1.) Then three days later, two own goals were recorded on the same day (by Honduras and Bosnia and Herzegovina) for only the fourth time in World Cup history.
These ten own goals stand out from the rest because of their flair, impact, astounding incompetence, or a combination of all three. So the next time your son or daughter accidentally scores a goal for the other side in a kids’ match, just remember these ten inauspicious moments in top-level soccer history:
10. Lee Dixon – Arsenal vs. Coventry (1991)
It’s a popular tactical move in soccer: playing the ball back to your keeper who can distribute it elsewhere or clear it downfield. Believe it or not, there was a time where the goalie was allowed to pick up or catch a ball kicked to him from his own team. Even that wasn’t enough to keep Dixon, the Arsenal left back, from committing an embarrassing gaffe. Very early in the match, Dixon tried to lob the ball back to his keeper (Rule #1 of soccer: never, ever, EVER lob it back toward your own goal), but couldn’t even put it near his goalie’s hands. The result was an early lead for Coventry.
9. Wayne Hatswell – Forest Green v Morecambe (2001)
It’s definitely sad when the most memorable moment during a player’s tenure with a team was an own goal. But that’s arguably the case for Forest Green Rovers back Wayne Hatswell, who played 60 matches for the side from 1999 to 2001. Undoubtedly, one of his strong points was being well-positioned in key situations – just like he was in this FA Cup match with Morecambe in November of 2001. Hatswell was right on the goal line to back up his keeper when a ball floated to his feet. He settled nicely and fired a clearing shot – right into the corner of his own net. The own goal popped up regularly on the BBC’s Match of the Day because presented Gary Lineker liked it so much.
8. Lauren – Arsenal vs Manchester City (2003)
What is it with Arsenal and own goals? The single-monikered Cameroon-born footballer was one of the club’s “Invincibles,” so named for the 2003-04 side that went unbeaten in the English Premier League. And Lauren certainly showcased his football skills during this match against Manchester City, when he ran half the length of the pitch, beat two other players to the ball, and settled a bouncing ball with the bottom of his foot. Then he appeared to power a shot perfectly into the corner of the net – but it was into his own side’s goal. In actuality, Lauren was trying to play it to his keeper but got bumped by a Man City player, thereby causing the miscue.
7. Festus Baise – Sun Hei SC vs. Citizen AA (2011)
Many African footballers are known for their acrobatic athleticism, and the Nigerian-born Baise certainly fits into that category. While playing for Sun Hei in the Hong Kong Premier League in 2011, he executed what is known as a “reverse scorpion kick,” where he suddenly threw his legs out to one side and booted the ball with his ankle over his head. This breathtaking maneuver propelled the ball over his keeper’s head and softly into his own net. It may have been one of the prettiest goals in history had it gone into the Citizen goal. Instead, it was viewed over five million times on YouTube as one of the unluckiest own goals of all time.
6. Jamie Pollock – Manchester City v Queens Park Rangers (1998)
Lots of people can kick the ball up and play it with their head, but it takes a certain amount of skill to do it at full speed during a match. Pollock, while playing for Man City long before the club’s heyday, managed to execute this move perfectly in a late-season contest against QPR. Problem was, the ball soared past his own keeper and into the goal. To make matters worse, the own goal secured Manchester City’s relegation into the league’s third tier for the first time in club history, while QPR remained in the second division. Pollock was subsequently honored by QPR fans in a (quite unscientific) Internet poll as the most influential man for the past two millennia. Apparently just edging out Jesus Christ.
5. Gareth Bale – Tottenham vs. Liverpool (2012)
You know how Wayne Hatswell was in the right place at the right time? Poor Gareth Bale was in the wrong place at the wrong time in this 2012 match with Liverpool. The Spurs were defending a corner kick in the final 20 minutes of their match when teammate Aaron Lennon played a strong clear off the goal line – and right into the face of Bale two yards away. Bale went down like a sack of sand, the ball went into the net, and Liverpool fans were cheering and laughing simultaneously. In all fairness, that derp came after Bale had set up Lennon for one goal and scored another on a free kick in the match, and Tottenham held on for the 2-1 victory. But it still had to hurt.
4. Chris Brass – Bury vs. Darlington (2006)
It’s bad enough that Gareth Bale had the ball booted into his face by a teammate. But Chris Brass managed to kick it into his own face in an April 2006 Football League battle with Darlington. In the eighth minute of the match, Brass eyed a looping ball into the six and tried a bicycle kick clearing. But the attempt was too low and smacked Brass right in the kisser, and the ball caromed into his side’s net. Thankfully for Brass, Bury rallied for two goals in the final six minutes to edge Darlington 3-2 and avoid relegation. It causes one to wonder that had the contest’s outcome been different, Brass would never have ended up in his current role as the assistant manager of Bury.
3. Andrés Escobar – Colombia vs. USA (1994)
This own goal lands on the list for two reasons: because it occurred in a World Cup match, and because of what happened not long afterward. In a pool play match against the host United States squad, Escobar stretched to try and cut off a dangerous pass into the box; but instead, the ball went off his foot and past his keeper for the first goal of the match. Team USA went on to win 2-1, and Colombia failed to make it into the knockout round. But this own goal will be remembered for its consequences the following month, when the Colombian captain was shot down in the street in his home country. The shooting was partially motivated by an overreaction to Escobar’s costly error in the World Cup.
2. Pavol Durica – FC Fehervar v Debrecen DVSC (2008)
An own goal is horrifying enough. But one which follows an outstanding play by a teammate is truly excruciating. Such was the case in March of 2008 in a Hungarian Cup match. As the clock ticked toward full time, Debrecen was awarded a penalty kick, but the Fehervar keeper made a diving save to his right. Fehervar fans went wild. Then Durica tried to help his goalie by clearing the ball away. Instead, he zipped it into the net for an own goal. Fehervar fans and teammates collapsed weeping. Perhaps not surprisingly, Durica was dropped from the Fehervar squad several days later for not showing up to practice.
1. Peter Enckelman – Aston Villa v Birmingham City (2002)
It’s one thing for an own goal to occur because of bad luck or an errant kick or header. But it’s completely another when it happens as the result of a monumental brain fart by a goalkeeper. Such was the case in a Premier League 2002 Second City derby match. Aston Villa keeper Peter Enckelman was waiting to receive a throw-in from Olof Mellberg. The ball rolled toward the six-year box and Enckelman tried to stop it with his foot. But he only grazed it and it rolled into his goal, sending the Birmingham City fans into a frenzy. Here’s the worst part: had Enckelman simply allowed the ball to roll into the net, it would have been a corner kick but not a goal. The Villan keeper then had to endure the physical taunts of a few Blues fans who jumped onto the pitch to mock him.