Penalty Shootout

When and Why Was the Penalty Shootout Invented?

There are some games of football in which the two teams slug it out and cannot be separated – a draw is the fair result, and the players shake hands and go their separate ways. But that just won’t do in the knockout stages of big tournaments, while cup games also need some kind of closure – there cannot be an endless stream of replays, as it felt was the case in years gone by. And so the humble penalty shootout was born – a device to separate two previously-inseparable outfits. But when was the dreaded shootout invented and who was involved in football’s first set of penalties?

When Did Penalty Shootouts Start in the UK?

UK goal

It may not surprise you to learn that football had no way of deciding a ‘tie-break situation’ when the first sets of rules were determined back in the 1800s. But it may blow your socks off to learn that that remained the case until 1970!

Replays and extra time were the only methods available to a governing body in trying to break the stalemate of a cup tie or tournament game, but of course neither of those were guaranteed to achieve the desired outcome. In the most desperate of cases, the number of corners won was used as a tie-breaker – and, believe it or not, there were plenty of big games at major tournaments settled by the two captains drawing lots in years gone by.

At the 1968 European Championships, the semi-final between Italy and the Soviet Union was decided on a coin toss – simply because there was no other mechanism to end their 0-0 stalemate. So Giacinto Facchetti goes down in the history books as the only captain to have secured his nation a place in a major final by correctly guessing heads or tails.

It was a rather farcical situation, and one that embarrassed all involved – how could a game of this magnitude be decided by a 50/50 flip of a coin? The International Football Association Board (IFAB), the game’s rule-makers, haven’t always hit the nail on the head – as evidenced by their interest in introducing a blue card to the sport. But in 1970, realising that the drawing of lots was not an appropriate way to decide football matches, they sought an alternative.

Penalty shootouts had been trialled in some lower-key club competitions, such as the Coppa Italia and the Yugoslav Cup, and the general consensus was that they worked reasonably well as a fair, if somewhat cruel, way to split two teams in a drawn game. So, at their 1970 congress, IFAB decreed that they were to introduce penalty shootouts as the new tie-breaking procedure in football – a decision which has stood the test of time to this very day.

In that very same year, the first official penalty shootout of the new era was played out at Hull City’s then Boothferry Park home. Competing in the now defunct Watney Cup, the Tigers tackled Manchester United in a game that went all the way to penalties – the legendary George Best securing a unique legacy as the first player to net in a shootout in English football.

His teammate, Denis Law, would soon become the first player to miss in a penalty shootout in English football – however, his Red Devils colleagues would have the last laugh as they won the shootout and progressed to the final of the cup.

It wasn’t long before an English side was involved in the first penalty shootout in European Cup history – Everton defeating Borussia M’gladbach from the spot 4-3 in November 1970.

When Was the First World Cup Penalty Shootout?

The timing of IFAB’s decision came too late for the 1970 World Cup, and the insistence of FIFA in using replays – rather than deciding games on the day with a penalty shootout – would drag out until 1982.

That was despite the fact that player power had convinced UEFA to switch to a shootout rather than a replay to decide games at the 1976 European Championship – the nations then known as West Germany and Czechoslovakia refused point blank to play a replay of their final, so the governing body had no choice but to relent. The Czechs won courtesy of the infamous ‘Panenka penalty’ from their player, Antonin Panenka.

Fast forward to 1982, the year of the first penalty shootout in a World Cup finals game. West Germany were taking on France in the semi-finals, and a rip-roaring contest ended 3-3 after extra time. The scene was set for the most nerve-jangling scenario in football.

The Germans would be victorious, commencing their incredible record in penalty shootouts in major finals. Alas, they would go on to lose the 1982 World Cup final to the Paolo Rossi inspired Italy.

Are England Really That Bad at Penalty Shootouts?

If you leaf back through the record books to 1990, when England’s men’s team played their first penalty shootout, it would be fair to say their history in spot-kicks since has been derisory. So poor are the Three Lions in penalty shootouts that their woes have become almost part of cultural folklore – which hardly helps to settle the nerves of their players when eyeing up the goal from 12 yards away.

England lost to West Germany at Italia ’90 courtesy of a penalty shootout, lost to the same opponent – via the same method – in the semi-finals of Euro ’96 and then went on a four-tournament spree of disappointment from the spot:

  • World Cup 1998 – Argentina (lost 5-6)
  • Euro 2004 – Portugal (lost 7-8)
  • World Cup 2006 – Portugal (lost 1-3)
  • Euro 2012 – Italy (lost 2-4)

But at World Cup 2018, England would defeat Colombia in a penalty shootout to book their place in the quarter-finals. Had they finally exorcized their spot-kick demons? Erm, apparently not. At the final of Euro 2020, the biggest night in English football for more than 50 years, England were defeated by Italy… you guessed it, in a penalty shootout.