by Stuart Moriarty-Patten
22 December 2007: Nicklas Bendtner scores the fastest ever goal by a substitute
The practice of allowing substitutions in football was only officially adopted in England in 1965. Before then an injured player either struggled on, or the team was reduced to ten men, and quite a few games were ruined as a contest in this way. One of the more notable instances being the 1960 FA Cup final between Wolves and Blackburn, when the loss of Dave Whelan, now Wigan Athletic’s owner, with a broken leg following a tackle by a Wolves player, saw the game effectively ruined as a competition. On their way up the Wembley steps to get the trophy the Wolves’ players were pelted with programmes and paper cups by disgruntled Blackburn fans that felt Wolves had won unfairly.
At first substitutes were for replacing injured players only, but football managers attempted to get round this by getting players to over emphasise an injury so that tactical switches could be made. It was the referee’s decision to say if a player was injured enough to be replaced, but the amount of pressure they were put under to make a decision saw the rules relaxed to allow tactical substitutes just a couple seasons later.
When innovations are introduced into the game naturally a whole new set of practices are introduced. The site of a player warming up on the touch-line after getting the nod to come on, and jokes about being pulled off at half-time became part of football, as did tantrums, shirt-throwing, water-bottle kicking and transfer requests by players aggrieved at being named substitute, or substituted.
Perhaps the most endearing legend around substitutions that has emerged is that of the supersub, which instantly brings to mind Liverpool’s David Fairclough who was the first to earn the sobriquet in the 1970s. In his debut season he scored seven goals in fourteen league appearances, nine of which were as substitute, and helped Bob Paisley’s Liverpool team to win the 1975/76 league title. Since then there’s been a host of supersubs, probably the most famously being Ole Gunnar Solksjaer who it was said actually preferred coming on as a sub as it gave him time to study the opposition defenders’ weaknesses before entering the field of play. His record of course includes the famous injury-time goal winner in the 1999 Champions League Final against Bayern Munich. He also scored 4 after coming as a substitute for the last 19 minutes in an 8-1 thrashing of Nottingham Forest at the City Ground, leaving then Forest manager Ron Atkinson to quip, “Good job they didn’t put him on earlier.”
A variety of records also came with the introduction of substitutes. Some of these of course never be broken, such as Keith Peacock being the first ever substitute at Bolton on 21 August 1965, following the injury of Charlton’s keeper after 11 minutes. Another that will always stand is that of first goal by a substitute, which was by Bobby Knox when he scored for Barrow against Wrexham, but others are set only to be broken again some time in the future. One such record is the fastest goal by a substitute. Nicklas Bendtner, who came off the bench on 22 December 2007 to score straight away with a deft header giving Arsenal a 2-1 victory over Spurs, is the current holder of this record. The goal, which was also Bendtner’s first in the Premier League, was officially timed as coming a mere 1.8 seconds after his introduction to the pitch.
Bendtner who was 19 at the time was not lacking self-confidence in such a young man; he related afterwards how he had told the Arsenal kitman, Vic Akers that he should be bought on for the corner because he knew he would score. Its unsure how much influence the kitman has over the Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, but Bendtner was sent on and did what he said he would do, and a new star and Arsenal hero was born, or so everyone thought. Sadly Bendtner, whose career has been blighted by injuries and poor form, has never really shone as brightly again. A poor return of 22 goals in 99 games for the Gunners in the seven seasons he played for the club saw him fall out of favour with Wenger and he was loaned out to Sunderland last season and to Juventus this season.
Despite failing to so far to live up to his potential, Bendtner’s record of scoring in 1.8 seconds will be difficult for anyone to beat, and it is probable that his name will be carved in to the record pages of football annuals for a long time to come.