‘They were absolutely s**ting themselves’: Two Charlton players refused to take a penalty during the Sunderland 4 Charlton 4 play-off final shootout

Charlton celebrate winning the 1998 Play-off final against Sunderland
(Image credit: Getty Images )

The 1998 First Division play-off final between Charlton Athletic and Sunderland is arguably the greatest play-off game in history, a game which finished as a 4-4 draw after 120 minutes and headed into a penalty shootout. 

Clive Mendonca, who had scored a hat-trick in the game, confidently stepped up for the first spot kick for Charlton. The striker dispatched his effort, as did the next 12 players who made the solitary walk at Wembley that day. 

While it took until the 14th penalty until someone missed, not every player was keen on taking a penalty in the shootout, as Mendonca tells FourFourTwo. 

“I’ll never forget [Richard] Rufus and Steve Jones walking off, saying, ‘I’m not taking a penalty’,” Clive Mendonca recounts to FFT. “They were absolutely s**ting themselves.

"The last thing you want is to be the lad who misses. You could be the greatest player in the world, but all you’d be known for is missing one penalty-kick, which is awful and unfair.”

Rufus literally pushed Shaun Newton forward as the Addicks sought someone to take their seventh penalty. The winger scored, and up stepped Sunderland left-back Michael Gray, who had once attended the very same Castle View school as Charlton hat-trick hero Mendonca. 

“When we practised penalties, he was very, very good at whipping them in,” Reid recalls of Gray’s pre-match proficiency. “He had a confidence that I liked – it was part of his personality.”

But Charlton were hopeful as Gray walked towards the spot. Some in football subscribe to the theory that left-footers are somehow worse at penalties – a theory that has been partly backed up by statistics. 

Charlton manger Alan Curbishley explains: “My assistant, Keith Peacock, said to me, ‘Blimey, it’s a lefty – it’s the first lefty – don’t watch it’. So I didn’t watch it. When I didn’t hear the roar, I knew that Sasa Ilic had saved it.”

With that save, Charlton reached the Premier League, while Sunderland had to wait another season before getting promoted as champions. 

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Ryan Dabbs
Staff writer

Ryan is a staff writer for FourFourTwo, joining the team full-time in October 2022. He first joined Future in December 2020, working across FourFourTwo, Golf Monthly, Rugby World and Advnture's websites, before eventually earning himself a position with FourFourTwo permanently. After graduating from Cardiff University with a degree in Journalism and Communications, Ryan earned a NCTJ qualification to further develop as a writer while a Trainee News Writer at Future. 

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