Great goalkeeping gaffes: from John Lukic to Erik Thorstvedt via Pat Jennings


Gary Bailey, Erik Thorstvedt, Luis Arconada and Pat Jennings. Composite: Harry Goodwin/Popperfoto/Getty Images; Bob Thomas/Getty Images; AFP/Getty Images

Two for the price of one to kick us off. Come the end of this harrowing afternoon, a 19-year-old John Lukic received a commiserative arm around the shoulder from Arsenal coach Don Howe after his team had crushed Leeds 5-0 at Elland Road. In just the second minute of Leeds’ clash with Arsenal, John Hollins got to the byline and drove in a hopeful cross – “All I wanted to do was keep the ball in play,” he said later – only for Lukic to push the ball into his own net. But his nightmare wasn’t over. Arsenal’s third goal involved the same combo, as Hollins’ shot somehow crossed the line via a pinball move off of Lukic’s arm, hands, leg and heel.

Lukic ended up scrambling about for the ball like a drunk man trying to find his keys that he’s dropped outside his house. It was uncomfortable viewing. Lukic would go on to win the league title with both Leeds and Arsenal but such success must have felt a million miles away as he trudged off the pitch with Howe.

Big Pat simply didn’t do mistakes, so his error in the FA Cup third round, at White Hart Lane of all places, was a terrible moment. Garth Crooks’ strike from outside the box was pretty weak – Jennings later compared it to a back pass – so there was genuine amazement in the stands when it squeezed under the hands of Arsenal’s keeper. When a groin injury forced Jennings to limp off with 15 minutes to go – Peter Nicholas taking his place in goal – his hideous day in N17 was complete.

In his autobiography Jennings wrote that the mistake would “haunt me for the rest of my days … To this day I couldn’t tell you how or why the ball got past me. At the moment it happened I just wished the ground would open up and swallow me. I lay awake for hours that night trying to work out how I could have been so stupid. The thing which hurt the most of all was that my Cup error cost Arsenal the match.” Indeed it did. Jennings couldn’t have picked a worse time to make his blunder. It didn’t help that Tottenham went on to defend the FA Cup successfully.

Ah, the Brazil 1982 World Cup team. Junior, Eder, Socrates, Falcao, Zico and Serginho. And Waldir Peres. The Brazilian keeper played behind a thrilling attacking unit but his defence was prone to throwing in the odd error. He provided on e of his own in their first group match against the USSR.

“Oh, that’s not a bad try, and it’s in,” said Barry Davies as Andriy Bal let fly from 20 yards out, although in truth the effort was far from impressive. Bal’s effort did dip awkwardly and land just in front of Peres, but the keeper went after the ball with the agility of a middle-aged man with a bad back. And I should know a thing or two about that.

Long before Sky’s broadcasts of Friday night football, the BBC screened the first ever live league match on a Friday night in 1983. And what a cracker it turned out to be. Manchester United 4-2 Tottenham was a memorable occasion, but not one that Ray Clemence will want to recall.

Clemence had already let one shot trickle past him before his mistake in the 80th minute. Failing to hold a simple Frank Stapleton header, Clemence was helpless as Kevin Moran fired in the final goal of the match. “And Clemence is mortified,” cried John Motson, as the Spurs goalkeeper laid face-down in the muddy goalmouth in front of the Stretford End. The clanger dominated the back pages but, as we will find out later, this was far from the worst goalkeeping blunder from a Spurs keeper the 1980s.

To many in Northern Ireland, Luis Arconada will be forever linked with Gerry Armstrong’s goal in the 1982 World Cup, but the Spanish keeper would also have an unfortunate moment of fame linked with Euro 84. Arconada had been superb, his saves against West Germany playing a huge part in Spain reaching the semi-final. Yet such is the lot of the goalkeeper, that Arconada’s tournament would be remembered for the wrong reason.

Michel Platini’s free-kick in the final should not have beaten Arconad – indeed the he seemed to have saved the effort – but then disaster struck. The ball squirmed under the keeper, Arconada trying desperately to recover, as slowly it dawned upon everyone what had happened. Just like Oliver Kahn in 2002, Arconada chose to wrong moment for a howler.

Not the ideal international debut for Manchester United’s Gary Bailey. England were beating the Republic of Ireland comfortably thanks to goals from Trevor Steven and Gary Lineker when Bailey was called upon to deal with his first shot on target of the evening. As Liam Brady moved towards the England goal, there seemed very little danger. But then calamity struck for the debutant.

The shot across goal was hardly a piledriver, yet Bailey allowed Brady’s effort to squeeze under his body and dribble apologetically over the line, somehow being beaten at his near post when the original attempt had been heading towards the far post. Picking the ball out of the net, Bailey thought it best to hide his embarrassment by clapping enthusiastically and geeing up the rest of the England team. It was not the greatest way to impress on a rare opportunity at international level; he would only win one more cap.

Chelsea were 1-0 down to QPR in a League Cup quarter-final replay when their keeper, Eddie Niedzwiecki, moved purposefully from his goal. Niedzwiecki was desperate to launch one more attack and get his team back into the tie but it all went wrong.

It was the third touch that really did for Niedzwiecki. The ball squirted away from him and he jumped into a tackle to retrieve the situation. He hooked the ball away from one oncoming QPR striker but only found a second, Michael Robinson, who launched a shot from the halfway line. Niedzwiecki could only look on as the ball bounced towards his empty net.

This goalkeeping error appeared to be fatal to Liverpool’s title hopes at the time. Bruce Grobbelaar’s aberration in the Merseyside derby in February 1986 gave Everton the lead in a fiercely contested match, as Kevin Ratcliffe’s speculative effort squeezed past the keeper and into the net. Gary Lineker scored a second late on to give Everton the win and an eight-point lead over their neighbours with just 12 matches remaining.

It looked like the beginning of the end for Liverpool but it proved to be the kick up the arse they needed. Claiming 34 out of the 36 points left to play for, Liverpool marched to the title and clinched an unbelievable double when they defeated Everton in the FA Cup final. With the score at 1-1 at Wembley, Grobbelaar flew through the air to pull off a dramatic and crucial save from Graeme Sharp’s header, and a little over a minute later Liverpool took the lead and never looked back.

Liverpool supporters had to learn to take the bad with the good when it came to Grobbelaar. From clown to matchwinner, things were very rarely dull when he was involved.

File this under how not to make a good impression on your league debut. After the transfer of FA Cup final hero Dave Beasant to Newcastle, Wimbledon reserve keeper Simon Tracey was given a chance to establish himself in the team. A solid performance in the Charity Shield was encouraging but, just one week later, Tracey dropped a clanger that would spell the end of his time at the club.

Wimbledon were leading 1-0 when Tracey gifted Arsenal a goal that opened the floodgates. Backpedalling to deal with a Brian Marwood cross, Tracey fell back into his goal, carrying the ball over the line in the process. He stood up, drop-kicked the ball away and then dipped his head in shame as he contemplated his mistake.

Arsenal sensed blood and their 5-1 victory was an ideal way to kick off a league campaign. Tracey, on the other hand, was dropped and never played for Wimbledon again. By October he had moved to Sheffield United.

Bobby Mimms’ entry into the hall of shame was guaranteed after a moment of staggering ineptitude at Loftus Road. Quite how he managed it is still unknown, but as David Kerslake’s (plastic) daisy-cutter rolled towards Mimms, maybe his mind was elsewhere?

Mimms’ early displays after his £375,000 move from Everton had been strewn with errors, but this blunder was on another level. As the ball squirted through Mimms’ body, and a young Massimo Taibi looked on admiringly, Tottenham’s keeper remained curled up in a ball, attempting to ignore Peter Schmeichel’s advice and making himself as small as possible. If Chris Fairclough had not picked up a distraught Mimms, he may well have still been in that position when the Loftus Road Omniturf was rolled up shortly afterwards.

The press were naturally sympathetic; the Mirror renamed the keeper Booby Mimms, and kindly described each of his goalkeeping gaffes during his short time at the club. But the final word, or guffaw, has to come from Ian St. John. As Danny Baker so rightly states in his Own Goals and Gaffes video (Part II), the former Liverpool forward summed up Mimms’ efforts so ably with a few well-chosen words.

If we’re being generous, we could call Bjarte Flem’s howler unfortunate. Even more unfortunate was the fact that the match was shown live on Norwegian television so, even before the days of YouTube, the clip was repeated ad nauseam to the amusement of viewers throughout the world. Attempting to throw the ball out to a team-mate, Flem obviously thought better of it, yet in changing his mind he signed his own death wish.

Yes, the own goal is hilarious, but there are also a couple of side dishes that make the meal complete. The defender on the edge of the box turning around to realise the full horror of the mistake is marvellous, yet it is the resignation of Flem that makes it for me. As he releases the ball that split second too late, Flem watches helplessly as it bounces towards the net, trotting towards his goal wearing the body language of a man who can just see the bus pulling away from his stop. An absolute classic.

A worrying slump in form for the aforementioned Bobby Mimms forced Venables to make a move in the market. In December 1988 the Spurs boss brought in Norway international Erik Thorstvedt. Strangely, Mimms immediately stepped up and put in a few decent displays and a bout of influenza also delayed Thorstvedt’s introduction to the English game. But come Sunday 15 January, Thorstvedt finally made his debut in a live match against Nottingham Forest on ITV.

Oh dear. Tottenham were already 1-0 down and struggling to cope with Forest when the debutant announced himself to the watching nation. After letting a Nigel Clough drive slip through his fingers, Thorstvedt slumped to his knees in horror at what he had just done. “Thor blimey!” blared the Express back page the following day, which continued on the theme with the line: “New boy Erik’s big day turns into a Viking funeral.”

“It is the worst mistake I have ever made,” said Thorstvedt. “I have never done anything like it before.” In time, though, Thorstvedt would brush off the Erik the Unready tag and win the FA Cup with Spurs. He also helped Norway qualify for the 1994 World Cup at the expense of England. So, he might have provided us with a few laughs on his Tottenham debut, but maybe he had the last chuckle after all.