The view from Germany

The own goal club

December 9, 2011
By Uli Hesse
(Archive)

Those of you who watched Manchester United's shock exit from the Champions League two days ago will remember the moment the Red Devils almost scored an equaliser. Or rather, had an equaliser scored for them. On the hour, Basel's defender Markus Steinhöfer somehow contrived to volley a Nani cross against the underside of the crossbar from just a few yards out.

Markus Steinhofer FC Basel
GettyImagesBasel's Markus Steinhofer nearly put through his own net in spectacular fashion against Man Utd

Luckily for him, the ball rebounded into play, otherwise it would have been one of the more stunning - and crucial - own goals in recent memory. Then again, had the ball hit the back of the net it wouldn't have come as too much of a surprise, given that Steinhöfer is German. (He was born 35 miles south of Nuremberg and played for Bayern reserves.) Because just last weekend, there was an astonishing glut of own goals in the top two German divisions.

On Saturday, Hertha's Roman Hubnik beat his goalkeeper with a spectacular flying header, Mainz's Jan Kirchhoff deflected a free-kick into his own net and Freiburg's Felix Bastians attempted to defend a low cross but instead knocked the ball across the line.

On Sunday, Dresden's left back Muhamed Subasic scored an own goal to tie the game for FSV Frankfurt when he tried to head the ball back to his goalkeeper, who wasn't quite where Subasic thought he was.

However, his team was back in the lead half an hour later, when a cross from the left hit the knee of Frankfurt's centre-back Marc Heitmeier and rebounded into Frankfurt's goal.

Since humans are not equipped to really grasp the probability theory, one tends to look for meaning in such a clustering of unusual events.

For instance, when Hannover 96 set a league record only two years ago by scoring three own goals in one game - against Mönchengaldbach, who won 5-3 - I wondered why such mishaps seemed to happen more often in the modern game than they used to in the past. After all, Karim Haggui had scored two own goals in that game, only four years after Mainz's Nikolce Noveski had managed to beat his own goalkeeper twice in a span of three minutes! (Against Frankfurt in November 2005. That game finished 2-2.)

One nifty, clever theory I came up with was that modern defending was to blame. Teams use neither man-to-man marking anymore nor the old zonal marking, but what is known as ball-oriented defending. It basically means that you congest space and create superiority in numbers in that part of the pitch where the ball is. Obviously, it leads to very crowded areas that tend to become even more crammed the closer you get to one of the goals, areas in which deflections become very likely and in which people often have no time to react and get out of the way.

Alas, the facts punctured my nice, little theory. There is only one other Bundesliga game in which three own goals have been scored - and that dates from 1963, the very first season of the league. On November 9 of that year, Kaiserslautern hosted Stuttgart and went ahead when VfB's defender Rudi Entenmann (the older brother of Willi Entenmann, later a well-known coach) put the ball into his own net. But just one minute later, Kaiserslautern's Dieter Pulter returned the favour and tied the game with an own goal of his own. Pulter then entered the history books when he beat his goalkeeper yet again only eleven minutes later.

Which I guess means there's nothing new under the sun and own goals have always been an occupational hazard, even when there was more space and more time to be had on a football pitch. The world record, for instance, appears to have been set many, many years ago, on October 13, 1982. On that day, only 1,188 people came out to watch Atletico Mineiro win 5-1 against Esporte Clube Democrata in the state league of Minais Gerais, Brazil.

Legend has it that a Democrata player called Jorge Nino scored a unique hat trick that day by putting the ball into his own net no less than three times. I have been unable to corroborate this, but I cannot refute it, either. So I shall be grateful for any assistance or clues one of you can provide.

Franz Beckenbauer Germany testimonial
GettyImagesFranz Beckenbauer was all smiles before going on to score an own goal in his farewell match for Germany against Hamburg

In any case, that year, 1982, also saw an own goal that proved even the greatest players aren't immune. On June 1, Hamburg played a game against the West German national team as part of their preparations for the World Cup. It was the official testimonial match for Franz Beckenbauer, who finished his career in Germany on that day and became only the third player to be named honorary captain of the national team. (Fritz Walter and Uwe Seeler were the others at that time.)

But of course, Beckenbauer played for his club on that day, Hamburg. On 48 minutes, with West Germany leading 2-0, Paul Breitner crossed from the right for Uwe Reinders, Beckenbauer tried to come to the rescue - and knocked the ball past his own goalkeeper Uli Stein from more than fifteen yards.

In a way, the Kaiser was simply going out in style, as he actually had a reputation as an own-goal scoring threat. In early 1975, for instance, he beat Sepp Maier on consecutive matchdays - first against Offenbach, then against Hertha - with Bayern losing both games.

Of course the most famous own goal was, tragically, scored by Andres Escobar. In Germany, however, most seasoned fans first think of a relatively obscure Croatian defender when it comes to own goals. His name was Vlado Kasalo and he joined Nurnberg from Dinamo Zagreb in the summer of 1989. (On, supposedly, a recommendation from Beckenbauer!)

In his first season, Kasalo didn't play much because of a broken leg, an injury that also kept him out of the 1990 World Cup. In his first game after the lay-off he quickly took a free kick against Kaiserslautern, while the opposing goalkeeper was still setting the wall, to score the first goal of the match.

However, his next two goals were the ones that caused the furore. On March 16, 1991, Nurnberg's sweeper Kasalo beat his own goalkeeper Andreas Köpke to end Köpke's run of 366 minutes without conceding a goal and lose the game against Stuttgart. Seven days later, Kasalo went up for a header and sent the ball into his own net to put the match at Karlsruhe out of Nurnberg's reach.

Now the rumours started flying. Kasalo, who was known to have a penchant for betting and gambling, allegedly owed money to the Yugoslav mafia and had been extorted. He was arrested by the police and sentenced to six months in prison, placed on probation. The German FA revoked his player's licence, effectively banning him from German football, and Kasalo went back to Croatia. However, he always denied all accusations and was finally pardoned a few years later, ending his career with Mainz in the second division.

Andres Escobar own goal World Cup '94
GettyImagesColombia's Andres Escobar: Scorer of the most tragic own goal in history during World Cup '94

There was nothing contentious about the most terrible own goal I have ever seen at a ground, though it did start a debate that ended in a rule change. I'm talking about, of course, the inadvertent header from Delfi Geli into his own net that won the 2001 UEFA Cup for Liverpool against Deportivo Alaves. As you will recall, the golden- goal rule was in existence then, and since Geli's unlucky deflection happened in extra time, it immediately ended the game there and then.

A year later, in 2002, UEFA changed the rule, having probably come to the realisation that this was too cruel a way to end an important game.

Oh, that reminds me. This is the 250th column I have submitted since 2002. I thank you for your support over those nine years and hope not too many of these columns have been own goals.