A Brief History of the Shoot Out

It was a mild September evening in communist Budapest; the 30th day of September 1970 to be precise. On the same calendar day some 15 years earlier James Dean had died in a car crash. The US President of the time was the Republican Richard Nixon and in Hungary, it was the era of János Kádár – ‘Kádárism’ a political ideology that made Hungary the so-called ‘happy barrack’ within the former Eastern bloc.

It’s said many players sing a favourite song to themselves as they make the long walk from the centre circle to take a spot kick in a penalty shootout. Anything to block out the pressure and anxiety of the kick they face from 11 meters; mere 12 yards out from the goal.  On that September day, the big hit on either side of the Atlantic Ocean ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’ by Diana Ross may just have had lyrics that rang true for those nominated to step forward and take a penalty kick.

The story of the penalty kick, of course, goes further back than 1970.  As a rule of the game, it has its origins in amateur matches played in County Armagh, Northern Ireland during 1890.  Although discussed by some of the early Sheffield footballers in 1879 its introduction is credited to a goalkeeper and businessman by the name of William McCrum.

His idea for punishing foul play inside the box was presented to the IFA (Irish Football Association) who submitted the concept to the International Football Association Board (IFB) during June 1890. At first, a decision on a law seen as highly contentious was adjourned. However, it was finally approved on 2nd June 1891 and agreed upon as rule number 13 – unlucky for some, fortunate for others.

The Irishman’s Motion

To the earliest pioneers of the English game, the method was sneered at as ‘an Irishman’s motion’.  Moreover, the suggestion of the penalty kick was condemned as being only likely to ‘reduce play to a gridlock’ and thereby curb the natural flow of Corinthian expression and passing movement.

Essentially to the Victorians, the penalty kick was seen as ‘unethical’ in both practice and idea. While it occurred in the game, the existence of the foul to the earliest gentlemanly pursuers of football was continuously denied. ‘Play on’ rather than punishment was seen as a finer example of sporting integrity.

But given in its simplicity, the penalty rule became integral to competitive football in the years ahead. Goal nets become commonplace after the introduction of penalty kicks.  An FA Cup final saw a penalty kick awarded in 1910 as did the Olympic football tournaments.  But the common theme continued to be its contentiousness; the award in itself being ever controversial as the man in black pointed to the spot.

By its very nature, the penalty continues to be a controversial topic in the game up to the present day.  But the most progressive refinement to the penalty rule and its utilisation in football matches (the advent of the shootout) came much later.

Despite the growth of competitive organised football, both in terms of prestige and global reach, many important matches in Europe were still decided by the toss of a coin or via the drawing of lots up the late 1960’s.

Losing a football match by virtue of drawing the shortest straw or via a foreign coin landing on a muddy pitch hit hard on many footballers.  Just as many great wars were decided with a spiritual showdown at the conference table so football matches needed a proper footballing end to its drama.  But the merest suggestion of ‘Russian Roulette’ between two sides from 12 yards out left much sweating at the thought of its introduction.

The earliest proponents of the penalty shoot out by the late 1960’s were a German and the Israeli FA.  The German was Karl Wald known to the Germans as ‘Der Vater des Elfmeterschießens’. However, the introduction of the penalty shoot out as a ‘deciding’ method post 120 minutes is now credited officially to the Israeli FA.

The Israelis alongside backing from FIFA’s refereeing committee-scripted an official motion for the introduction of the method by FIFA.   The idea was discussed by the International Football Association Board (IFAB) which in turn sanctioned its acceptance as a law of the game in June 1970.

The method was now part of the football rule book but with its introduction so the rule needed a vehicle to prove its concept.

The very first official use of the penalty shoot-out came during the early stages of the 1970-71 season in the European Cup Winners Cup and in the former European Cup.  It was used as a deciding mechanism post extra time and only during the early rounds.

In April of 1970 Aberdeen FC had won the Scottish Cup 3-1 against Celtic at a time when the Glasgow side was only days away from the second leg of a European Cup semi-final against Leeds United.  By virtue of being cup winners, the Aberdeen side qualified for the 1970-71 UEFA Cup Winners Cup where they were drawn to face Honved of Budapest in the first round.

While the Aberdeen side could call upon several players who would soon go on to forge successful careers in the higher reaches of English football – Arthur Graham, Willie Young, Joe Harper and Martin Buchan to name only four – the post Puskas Honved of this era were a lesser force to previous generations although equally as respected in player clientele.

Amongst Honved’s ranks were Lajos Kocsis a man known as ‘Kicsi’ and ‘Csiko’ (the tiny foal) due to his short height – yet considered to be one of Hungarian football’s best known and most technically gifted players.  Even more technically astute was Lajos Tichy – known as the ‘National Bomber’. His seven goals in two World Cup finals tournaments for Hungary are remembered to this day.

The first leg had ended 3-1 at Pittodrie Stadium in Scotland and footballing history by way of the first penalty shootout would occur on 30th September during the second leg in Budapest.  The second leg also ended 3-1 to the home side leaving the tie at 4-4.

As extra time and a long 120 minutes came to a close the flamboyant Italian referee Concetto Lo Bello, then regarded as the world’s top referee (some months earlier Lo Bello had been provisionally chosen to referee the 1970 World Cup final in Mexico City only to be deposed when the Italians reached the final) took the Aberdeen and Honved captains to the centre circle in the open Kipest Stadium.  A full 12 minutes prevailed before the new rule was clarified to the confused teams somewhat perplexed at the new rule.  A coin was tossed to decide at which end the shootout would take place and both sides were briefed on the events that would follow.

Football’s first penalty saw the scorer of Aberdeen’s goal on the night Steve Murray score high into the net and Harper and Hermiston continued the scoring.  Sadly, it was European football veteran Jim Forrest who would miss the crucial 3rd kick for the Dons crashing his shot off the underside of the bar and away.  Even with Willoughby scoring the 4th penalty Tichy, Kocsis, Marosi and Vagi had all scored for the Hungarians.

That winning penalty, from goalkeeper Bicskei, meant it all ended 5-4 to Honved and resulted in Aberdeen becoming the first ever team to officially lose in a penalty shoot-out.

By a strange quirk of fate from the quarter finals onwards, the same tournament would be decided by a third game at a neutral venue.  In the subsequent QF, the tie between Gornik Zabrze and Manchester City (which ended 2-2) was decided by a third game held in Kobenhavn.

The Historic Spot of Bother

The events in Budapest on 30th September 1970 meant that the concept of the shootout had been proven and an idea started by a humble Irishman had ventured onto being perhaps the most dramatic tool used to decide football matches.

Further shootouts followed in the European Cup in November 1970 with Everton defeating Borussia Monchengladbach 4-3. Then perhaps the greatest shootout of all time came in 1976 when the Antonin ‘Panenka’ penalty decided the destination of the European Championship trophy after the West Germany v Czechoslovakia final in Belgrade.

Through the years the concept has continued in use from the conclusion of the drama to the 1982 ‘Toni Schumacher’ game between France and West Germany up to the antics of Bruce Grobbelaar on the goal line in Rome 1984.

Unpopular with many including players, fans and coaches its popularity perhaps comes thanks to another concept; that of live televised football.  Only the enforcement of the penalty shoot out can prevent matches going on forever and delaying subsequent programmes, and, to those sitting at home whether on the earliest black and white television through to modern day HDTV, it is the ultimate tie breaker to a night’s entertainment.

Such are the demands of modern football the rule has become an unmovable end game to events much like a pistol duel was to an argument between noble Russian citizens.  Hated, dreaded and loved alike it is unlikely to be removed or amended as part of the game.   Tournaments and trophies continue to be decided by this last resort method first used on a late autumn night in 1970.

European Cup Winners Cup 1970-71

First Leg: 16.09 1970 Pittodrie Stadium, Aberdeen

Attendance: 21,500 (3-1)


Aberdeen – Arthur Graham, Murray, Harper

Honved – Pusztai

Second Leg: 30.09.1970 Kipest Stadium, Budapest

Attendance: 18,500


Honved – Lajos Kocsis 2, Kosma

Aberdeen – Murray

4-4 Aggregate

Pens: Honved won 5-4 on pens

Ref: Concetto Lo Bello (Italy)