Penalty! The 7 most defining spot kicks of all time

As everyone’s favourite 12-yard showpiece turns 125, we recall the most defining penalties in football history…

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It was 2 June 1891 that the beautiful game changed forever.

Exasperated by the cynical tackles that would fly when strikers dribbled toward the opposition goal, the four FAs across Britain held a meeting in Glasgow, to come up with a new law. It read:

If a player [does] intentionally trip or hold an opposing player, or deliberately handle the ball within twelve yards from his own goal line, the referee shall, on appeal, award the opposing side a penalty kick, taken from any point twelve yards from the goal line under the following conditions—all players, with the exception of the player taking the penalty kick and the opposing goalkeeper, who shall not advance more than six yards from the goal line, shall stand at least six yards behind ball; the ball shall be in play when the kick taken; a goal may be scored from the penalty kick.

And lo, the spot kick was born.

One hundred and twenty five years later, the mighty pen has seen Champions Leagues won and World Cups squandered, not to mention English hearts broken on no fewer than six occasions (much to the amusement of the Scots).

Yes, pennos are football at its most merciless – underdogs squeaking their way to victory, the better team a mere footnote in history – yet it’s this same rule that makes the game so melodramatic, so thrillingly tense; so beautiful.

And thus, until we agree a spirited game of conkers is the rightful way to punish a two-footer in the box, or that rock-paper-scissors shall henceforth settle cup finals, we’ll continue to observe the brilliantly sadistic law that is the penalty.

So in honour of its birthday, please be upstanding for seven times the spot kick became the story.

1. James McLuggage, Royal Albert FC (vs Airdrieonians FC); 6 June 1891

Football’s first penalty was awarded (and scored) four days after it came into law, in an Airdrie Charity Cup clash between Airdrieonians and Royal Albert. Scottish Sport reported on “…what is in all likelihood the first case of a referee granting a foul under the new law for tripping, holding, or handling the ball within twelve yards of goal.”

James McLuggage was the scorer for the away side, even if he – and the other 21 players on the pitch – were confused as to what on Earth was going on.

2. Thomas Rowlandson, Corinthian FC (vs unknown); 1907

Before merging with Casuals FC in 1939 (to become Corinthian-Casuals, currently in English football’s eighth tier), Corinthian FC was an amateur team where gentlemanly conduct was gospel.

With no ground, and a refusal to enter the FA Cup or Football League (forbidding themselves to “compete for any challenge cup or prizes of any description”), the club largely plied their trade on tour. Corinthians once trounced Manchester United 11-3 (still their heaviest defeat), were the inspiration for Real Madrid’s white shirts and Brazil side Corinthians Paulista’s name.

Most nobly, the side refused to take penalties – claiming all foul play was accidental – and would instead pass the ball wide of the post or gingerly tap it to the ’keeper.

The most famous instance of ‘Corinthians Spirit’ came in 1907. During a tour of South Africa, goalkeeper Thomas Rowlandson – who would later be killed during the Battle of the Somme in 1916 and receive a military cross – stepped aside to watch the opposition score from the spot. Fair play (quite literally).

3. Antonin Panenka, Czechoslovakia (vs West Germany); 20 June 1976

A moment that simultaneously won Euro ’76, spawned a cult hero and fashioned a technique aped by the likes of Zinedine Zidane, Lionel Messi and, er, Dwight Yorke, it’s safe to say Antonin Panenka’s delicate chip against West Germany is rather iconic.

With the shootout score 4-3, Panenka took a fast bowler-esque run up and dinked the ball down the middle. The Czech sprinted away, arms outstretched, planet’s mouths agape, as we ushered in the age of the ‘Panenka’. Forty years on, it shows no signs of stopping.

4. Bruce Grobbelaar, Liverpool (vs AS Roma); 30 May 1984

For the against-the-odds comeback, swashbuckling Scouse heroics and outright miracle of Istanbul, you could stake a legitimate claim for Liverpool’s 2005 Champions League shootout win against AC Milan here.

Yet, without the Reds’ reign in Rome 21-years previous, there would have been no seminal ‘spaghetti legs’ for Jerzy Dudek to emulate.

Though Phil Nicol blazed Liverpool’s first pen over the bar, the Reds found themselves in the shootout’s driving seat, score 4-2, with Francesco Graziani needing a goal to keep Roma in it.

He clearly wasn’t expecting Bruce Grobbelaar, with the moustachioed goalkeeper suffering a bout of jelly-legs between the sticks, wobbling all over the goal line until Graziano skied his spot kick, gifting Liverpool their fourth European Cup.

5. Chris Waddle, England (vs Germany); 4 July 1990

With six fruitless shootouts and a whole gamut of players (Pearce, Southgate, Batty, Vassell, Lampard, Carragh– we could go on), choosing one pen to embody the England national team is not easy.

We could take the positive route – Stuart Pearce’s screamer (in every sense) at Euro ’96, or Beckham’s Argie redemption in ’02 – but then joy is an emotion seldom experienced by the England fan.

But as it was Chris Waddle’s Italia ’90 effort that accidentally kicked off England’s trend of abject failure, it’s only fitting he wear the crown of ignominy.

The Germans, ever efficient, dispatched all four of theirs with relative ease, but after poor Psycho cannoned his into Bodo Illgner’s legs, Waddle simply had to score to give England a chance of making the final. He blazed it over the bar, and those years of hurt just keep on increasing.

6. Rik Coppens/Andre Piters, Belgium (vs Iceland); 5 June 1957

Johan who? Though more popularly known as the ‘Cruyff’ – a nod to the Dutch maestro’s one-two penalty with Ajax teammate Jesper Olsen in 1982 – the inaugural two man penalty was a nonchalant stroke of genius by Belgian duo Rik Coppens and Andre Piters.

The standout finish in a 8-3 drubbing of Iceland, Coppens surprised the ’keeper and stadium crowd both by nudging the ball to his right, with Piters running on to the ball and squaring it back to Coppens for the finish.

Coppens went on to be voted the 73rd all-time great Belgian, with the style later imitated by Plymouth Argyle in 1964, then Cruyff and, with far less success, Thierry Henry and Robert Pires in 2004.

7. Roberto Baggio, Italy (vs Brazil); 17 July 1994

“Roberto Baggio, the saviour of Italy…” gushed the commentator, as Il Divin Codino (The Divine Ponytail) readied himself for the most important kick of his life. If he scored, the World Cup final would be an three all on penalties. Miss, and the trophy would belong to Brazil.

Well, we all know what happened next, don’t we?

Later describing it as the single worst moment of his career, Baggio went on to receive the Silver Ball (for second best player of the tournament) and Silver Boot (second most goals scored), before finishing the runner-up for the Ballon d’Or and third for FIFA’s World Player of the Year.

Always the bridesmaid, eh Roberto?

Honourable mentions Helmuth Duckadam, Steaua Bucharest (vs Barcelona); 1986 / Theyab Awana, UAE (vs Lebanon); 2011 / Joonas Jokinen, FC Baar (vs FC Sempach); 2011

Dishonourable mentions David Trezeguet, France (vs Italy); 2006 /  Asamoah Gyan, Ghana (vs Uruguay); 2010 / John Terry, Chelsea (vs Manchester United); 2008

Goals: they're beautiful aren't they? This article is part of FourFourTwo's partnership with BetVictor and their Million Pound Goal campaign. Find out how to enter and more here.