“Does anyone like football?” – Part 4: When goalkeepers score goals

Kieran

Image by Kieran Wilkinson

The WOAP series looking at football’s great moments continues as Jason McKeown retells the extraordinary story of a goalkeeper scoring in the final minute of the season.

April 2013, and at Valley Parade Bradford City and Rotherham United are squaring up to each other in a promotion six pointer. With 10 minutes to go Rotherham take a crucial 1-0 lead and, deep in stoppage time, the home side – pressing hard for an equaliser – force a corner.

The signal goes up from the bench. With every City player forward for the set piece, goalkeeper Jon McLaughlin is told to join them. The corner prompts unease but Rotherham clear, and suddenly Kieran Agard has the ball on half way and there is no City player anywhere nearby to stop him. The pacy striker runs through and slots the ball into the unguarded net despite McLaughlin’s best attempts to get back. Bradford City 0 Rotherham United 2. The Millers go onto achieve automatic promotion.

That is the downside of a gamble that is often seen in football, where a team who are losing get desperate and send the goalkeeper up for a set piece. Their threat is two-fold: goalkeepers are typically one of the tallest people on the field and make a great target to aim a corner towards. Secondly, with the defending players invariably drilled to defend corners a certain way, often with each person given their own man to mark, the unexpected presence of a goalkeeper to watch too can spark confusion and blindside someone into failing to do their job.

But it rarely works. Goalkeepers by their nature are not the best at heading corners into the net. In most cases, a winning team will usually see a game out. In Roy Keane’s first autobiography, he commented on the positive difference that his goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel made in the 1999 Champions League Final, when he came up for a corner in stoppage time with United a goal behind, helping Teddy Sheringham to equalise – Keane saying “I’d never seen that tactic work before”. It did this time and, seconds later, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer grabbed a winner. The gamble to send the goalkeeper up for a corner paid off handsomely.

Yet there is an even greater example, from that very same month, of a goalkeeper affecting the outcome of a match – and, indeed, an entire season – by their contribution in the opposition’s penalty box. Step forward the stopper Jimmy Glass, who 16 years ago scored a goal that kept Carlisle United in the Football League.

It occurred during a desperately disappointing era for the club. Under the chairmen Michael Knighton, Carlisle had twice enjoyed promotion from the fourth tier and reached the Football League Trophy final, but in 1998/99 they were sinking fast and Knighton was deeply unpopular.

Knighton was certainly one of the game’s most eccentric characters. In 1989 he appeared on the Old Trafford pitch before Manchester United’s first home game of the season, where it was announced that he was buying the club for £20 million. The flamboyant new owner walked out onto the pitch in a Manchester United training kit (including shorts) and embarked upon a lap around the stadium, where in front of his new fans he produced keep-uppies with a ball.

As Neil Webb, making his United debut that day, recalled in 2011, “We thought he just wanted to join in with the warm-up, but I couldn’t believe what I was seeing when he ran on to the pitch and whacked the ball into the net at the Stretford End. It was hilarious, really. Unbelievable. He just decided that he wanted to go out there and have his own little cameo role. It was the kind of thing that football chairmen just don’t do and we all wondered what was going on.”

There was just one problem: Knighton didn’t actually have the financial backing he thought he had. The deal fell through, much to the embarrassment of everybody involved. Knighton’s bizarre lap around Old Trafford would be the closest that he would get to the top. The Premier League was just around the corner, firmly placing clubs like United well out of Knighton’s financial reach. Although people have subsequently claimed that the rapid commercialisation of United and others was all the vision of Knighton, and they all followed his blueprint. In 2009, Knighton wrote a book titled ‘Visionary’ to tell the story of his failed takeover and argue this point.

Ultimately Knighton had to set his sights much lower and in 1992 bought Carlisle United. He did well for a time, funding a push up a league and talking of a grand vision to reach the Premier League. But his eccentric approach undermined such progress. He told the Carlisle News and Star that he had been visited by Aliens in 1976, and that they had spoken to him, saying (telepathically) “Don’t be afraid, Michael”. This disclosure prompted the infamous News & Star headline ‘Knighton: Aliens Spoke To Me’ and very quickly national ridicule.

Worse still, in 1997 and with Carlisle in the third tier but struggling, Knighton sacked popular manager Mervyn Day and appointed himself as the manager. Under his guidance they were relegated and made a dreadful start to life in the bottom division in the 1998/99 season. It was car crash stuff, and as Manchester United were dominating English football and growing hugely unpopular with everyone else, there were plenty of people who rued the fact the Red Devils’ had dodged Knighton’s bungling stewardship.

Knighton, who could no longer bankroll Carlisle to the same level because of some serious financial issues, stepped down as manager in December 1998. The distinguished Middlesbrough defender Nigel Pearson – who had recently called time on his playing career – accepted the position of Carlisle manager. It was some baptism of fire for Pearson – who, after leaving Brunton Park at the end of that season, stayed away from management until 2006.

And for a long time it looked like he would have Carlisle’s relegation as a blotch on his CV. Carlisle had never fallen out of the Football League since they were elected into the Third Division North in 1928; but after a wretched run of one win in 12 they were on the brink of going down, as they went into the final day of the season.

Back then only the team that finished bottom were relegated to the Conference. Carlisle were in a straight dogfight with Scarborough, who were having their own problems. The Seasiders had reached the play offs in the 1997/98 season, but suffered an almighty hangover the year after, losing six of their first seven games. Between 26 September and 23 February, they won just three out of 23 games. Over the month of April, they lost five out of five.

With a few weeks to go came the moment of controversy. On the 25 March Carlisle sold goalkeeper Tony Craig to Blackpool (allegedly for just £5,000) and signed Richard Knight on loan to replace him. Knight played six games, but was then injured during Carlisle’s 3-1 defeat to Rotherham on 17 April.

There was no transfer window back then, but a transfer deadline at the end of March which meant no club was allowed to sign players after that point. Carlisle pleaded with the Football League for help, and were given a lifeline: permission to bring in another keeper on loan, even though the deadline had passed. Scarborough were unhappy, but even they could not have envisaged just how crucial the Football League’s leniency would prove. The goalkeeper who Carlisle brought? One Jimmy Glass.

There were only three games to go, and the arrival of the Swindon keeper was pivotal. On his debut, Glass conceded three goals at home to Darlington, but Carlisle at least scored three at the other end to draw the game. They got a point in their next game too, away at Hartlepool. They still had a chance.

It all came down to the final day of the campaign. Carlisle welcomed Plymouth to Brunton Park. Scarborough were at home to Peterborough. As long as Scarborough matched Carlisle’s result, they would be safe.

Initially the goal action occurred at the McCain Stadium. Peterborough took an early lead, but on the half hour mark Scarborough earned parity. 1-1 at half time, and 0-0 at Brunton Park. Carlisle were 45 minutes away from going out of the Football League.

And the situation grew worse when Plymouth went 1-0 up in Cumbria after 49 minutes. Carlisle piled the pressure on, and David Brightwell equalised. 28 minutes left. 28 minutes to find a winner. They continued to attack, attack, attack.

At the McCain Stadium the final whistle sounded on a 1-1 draw, and Scarborough fans invaded the pitch. With no further goal news from Carlisle, they began to assume they had survived and started to celebrate the achievement. A cruel, cruel twist was coming.

For deep into stoppage time, Carlisle won a corner. It was time to gamble. Pearson waved Jimmy Glass forward, and he took a position just inside the six yard box. The corner was swung over, a header was tipped out by James Dungey, and there was Glass to pounce on the rebound. Like a veteran 20-goal striker, he was cool and calm. And he had technique, volleying the ball into the net. Carlisle United 2 Plymouth Argyle 1.

Cue a mass pitch invasion from home fans, and the biggest game of ‘all pile on’ that Cumbria has ever known. Somewhere at the bottom of it was a stunned Jimmy Glass. An unknown keeper from Swindon was about to spark worldwide headlines.

The crowd was cleared off the pitch and the referee blew for full time, prompting them all to go straight back on to celebrate the great escape. Glass was carried off a hero. Back over on the East coast, Scarborough cheers turned to horror. Stunned disbelief. They were going down because a goalkeeper had scored a last minute winner. Get your head around that.

And it was a truly pivotal moment in their history. Scarborough never returned to the Football League, going bust in 2007. Today, the reformed Scarborough Athletic play home games in nearby Bridlington and in the eighth tier of English football.

For Carlisle it got worse before it got better. Knighton left in 2002 but they continued to toy with relegation to non-league, until they eventually went down in 2004. Yet under Paul Simpson they bounced straight back, and the season after (2005/06) Carlisle won League Two. In 2008, they reached the League One play offs, beating Leeds United at Elland Road in the semi final first leg but losing the return match.

For Knighton, it was the end of football, and a very different direction. He reinvented himself as an artist and for several years hid behind the name of Kongthin Pearlmich (KP). It all sounds ludicrous but – according to his own website at least – the mystery man KP became big in the art world and, according to Tom Kendrew, from Christies, “Michael Knighton is up there with the very best modern day artists”. He’s also a poet. So now you know.

For Glass, his goal was an extraordinary peak to an otherwise unremarkable career. That summer he was released by Swindon and had brief spells at eight different clubs, most in the non-league. He now works as a Taxi driver in Dorset.

He was not the first keeper to score a goal, and he hasn’t been the last. But as a tactic it rarely works. That’s why moments such as Jimmy Glass’ goal belong in football folklore.

(With special thanks to Matthew Cox for supporting research.) 

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