What happens when Sheffield United's keeper gets injured or sent off?
But what happened in the days when there was only one substitute, three substitutes or, more recently, five substitutes? Don’t ask what happened when there were no substitutes, because I can’t remember that far back. The goalie probably limped on, even with a broken leg, or in the case of Bert Trautman, a broken neck.
In the late sixties and early seventies United had an almost-regular stand-in goalkeeper in right winger Alan Woodward. But before him, and before substitutes, there was at least one occasion when Alan Hodgkinson had to go off. This was the last league game of the 1963/64 season, which United lost 3-0 away to Birmingham City.
Denis Clarebrough’s book The First Hundred Years recalls bluntly: “Hodgkinson injured (25 minutes) and Graham Shaw in goal.” How many of the three goals Shaw conceded is not clear.
Then, during the 1965/66 season, Hodgkinson played much of a 3-2 home win over Stoke City with, according to Clarebrough, “no vision in his left eye.” What caused this handicap and how it affected Hodgy’s game are not explained. Presumably it didn’t hurt too much because he was able to complete the match.
The first time Woodward had to go in goal was in the 1967/68 season. It was November 11th 1967, at home to Leeds United. Hodgkinson had to leave the field injured after only nine minutes; it was Woodward who volunteered to go in.
Whether Woody had practised goalkeeping during training, or whether it was prearranged that he would play in goal if Hodgy was injured, is not known. Whatever the circumstances, Clarebrough wrote that Woodward “performed heroics”. He kept his goal intact and had the added satisfaction of watching Mick Hill get the only goal of the game as United beat their Yorkshire rivals 1-0.
Just under two years later Woody was at it again, this time in a League Cup tie at home to Newcastle United in September 1969. This match was indeed an eventful one for our star winger. He scored the first goal, then John Tudor got the second, before Woodward went in goal for the last 15 minutes. Once again he did not concede a goal.
Hodgkinson’s unspecified injury was serious enough to keep him out of the next game, allowing long-time reserve Graeme Crawford to make his first-team debut.
Now things start to get spooky. It’s November 11th again, this time 1972. The opponents are Leeds United again, but this time at Elland Road. Allan Clarke headed Leeds in front in the first half then scored again, this time leaving Tom McAlister lying prone just inside the area as he did so. There was no foul, apparently, but McAlister could not continue.
An 11-year-old’s scrapbook (the Ed’s) shows a photograph of McAlister on the ground injured as Clarke turns away after scoring. Peter Lorimer, though, looks more concerned with McAlister’s welfare than celebrating his team’s second goal. Good for him. So Alan Woodward had to go in goal again and although David Staniforth pulled one back United lost 2-1.
But Woody still had not let a goal in; his clean sheet record now stood at 133 minutes.
Woody was back between the sticks again inside a year, when Manchester City came to the Lane in October 1973. Denis Law had already scored for City when Tom McAlister came out at the feet of Rodney Marsh. Observers said that Marsh could have pulled out of the challenge but he kept going and McAlister’s leg was broken.
Then Woodward’s long unbeaten run was ended in an unlikely manner - an own goal from Blades centre forward Bill Dearden. Dearden later got one at the right end but United lost 2-1 and McAlister was never the same again.
Just an aside here. United entered the Anglo-Scottish Cup in the 1979/80 season. The organisers were indeed innovative. They allowed an extra substitute. Well, it was Europe. Whether one of the two subs had to be a goalkeeper I don’t know, but in both legs against St Mirren Neil Ramsbottom was on the bench.
It was 0-0 at the Lane but United were dumped 4-0 in Paisley and lost Steve Conroy with a broken arm, so Ramsbottom took over.
The Sheffield & Hallamshire County Cup followed suit in allowing two subs and in May 1981 United entertained Rotherham United in the semi final of the competition. But this time there didn’t need to be a keeper on the bench; United’s chosen two were Steve Neville and Gary Marrow. But Conroy was injured again, with John MacPhail going in goal as United lost 2-0. I don’t know how many of the two he conceded.
A couple of years later United visited Millwall and lost Keith Waugh, who gashed his arm on one of the net-hooks. Alan Young, who once famously took over in goal for Leicester City in a televised FA Cup tie, did the same for the Blades. Indeed, some said he was better in goal than up front.
United held on to win 2-1; Young was only in goal for the last two minutes but he still had time to let one in.
Then in 1985 in a Milk (League) Cup tie on Luton’s plastic pitch, John Burridge hit the post with his head and Glenn Cockerill went in for what proved to be a comical 20 minutes. He conceded once before Burridge returned, his head wrapped up in bandages. United lost 3-1 and 5-2 on aggregate.
The next outfield player to have a go in goal was Stan the Man, who replaced on-loan Roger Hansbury at West Brom in November 1987. United were already one down and Stancliffe conceded three in a horrible 4-0 defeat as United slipped towards relegation.
The next occasion came in a momentous fixture. Dave Bassett had just taken United to a memorable promotion, back in the First Division for the first time since 1976 and the opening game of the 1990/91 season was at home to champions Liverpool. They were an awe-inspiring team back then, with John Barnes, Ian Rush, Peter Beardsley, Bruce Grobbelaar and many more household names.
Liverpool wouldn’t need any extra advantage but they got it anyway when, after only 15 minutes, Rush slid in on Simon Tracey, knee contacted cheekbone and there was only one winner. An afternoon of heart-in-mouth moments followed every time the ball went near replacement keeper John Pemberton.
Several times it appeared he would have cleared the danger, no problem, as a normal defender but with the gloves on he was a nervous wreck. He did his best, Brian Deane announced his arrival in the top division with a cracker but ultimately Liverpool won comfortably 3-1.
Roger Nilsen was noted for his versatility and handled left back and centre half with equal proficiency. He even made a decent fist of midfield on a couple of occasions. However, when Alan Kelly pulled a groin muscle during the televised home game against Norwich City in February 1997, Nilsen proved that his versatility didn’t stretch to playing in goal. He was a fish out of water, flapping away randomly as Norwich stuck two past him in a 3-2 victory for the visitors.
Howard Kendall normally named a goalkeeper on his three-man bench (at this time United had two of the best in Kelly and Simon Tracey) but for this game he selected Mark Beard, Andy Walker and Gareth Taylor as subs. He soon wished he hadn’t.
Norwich’s winner was a farce. David Holdsworth would normally have negotiated the situation with ease, without even thinking about it, but, unsure what Nilsen was going to do, in trying to head the ball behind for a corner he ended up putting it into his own net.
If there’s one United player you could guarantee that some catastrophe would befall it was Simon Tracey. Usually it would be a red card (he’s United’s most sent-off player!) but in November 1997 at Portman Road he was forced to depart after banging his head on the post making a save.
I swear you could hear the “clang!” up in the seats. Don Hutchison, not the obvious choice to Blades fans, took over. At this point the score was 1-1 with half an hour left, then Mitch Ward scored to put United in front. But they couldn’t cling on and Don conceded with three minutes left as it finished 2-2.
Just a couple of months later Tracey was in the news again, this time sent off at Portsmouth, an incident that ignited the infamous attack on a linesman by a so-called Blades fan. Pompey took the lead through Craig Foster and United were lucky to get back into it when Lee Sandford’s deep cross was carried into the net by goalkeeper Alan Knight.
Then, just before half time, Simon Tracey came sliding outside his area to block Sammy Igoe and the ball hit his arm. It was a booking at least, and referee Mark Halsey went over to linesman Edward Martin to ask if there was a covering defender goalside. Mr Martin said no and Tracey was sent off.
Shaun Derry donned the gloves but before play could restart linesman Martin was felled by a United fan who ran half the length of the pitch from the away section. The match was delayed 15 minutes as the linesman was treated and carried off. In the second half 10-man United protected Derry so well that Portsmouth barely got near him, and when they did Derry was equal to it. In the circumstances it was a great 1-1 draw.