The best I’ve ever seen #6: An outfield player in goal
We continue our ‘Best I’ve Ever Seen’ at Swindon Town series with the best display that Richard Selbourne has ever seen by an outfield player in goal…
Nothing cheers a football fan more than a win against the odds. There was no better example of that, before the days of five substitutes, than when your ‘keeper was red carded or carried off leaving an outfield player donning the gloves between the posts.
Twice, I remember watching Swindon win when faced with such adversity. On Boxing Day 1980, Jimmy Allan was carried off after just 30 minutes at Newport with the Town winning 1-0. Andy Rowland picked up the gloves and for the remaining hour did his finest Peter Shilton impression to keep the Welshmen (and in those days they were all Welshmen) out. Better still, our own Welshman, defender Russell Lewis even added a second.
The second time round victory was sweeter still; maybe just because it’s fresher in the memory. It was Saturday 14th March 1998 and Town were away at QPR. Living in West London at the time, this was the one game of the season I could actually walk to and I had looked forward to it ever since the fixtures were announced.
Rarely has optimism been so short-lived. After just eight minutes, Nigel Quashie (pronounced to rhyme with ‘khazi’, I believe) put Rangers a goal up. Rather than fold, as they had the previous Saturday when losing 6-0 at Middlesborough, Town quickly equalized with a Mark Walters penalty after a pacey run from George Ndah.
Then on 20 minutes, Fraser ‘Washbag’ Digby came to the edge of his box to collect a through ball and the linesman started flagging furiously. Fraser was dismissed for handling outside his box when it was obvious to everyone up our end of the ground – albeit the other end from the incident – that Fraser was well within his area. Remarkably video footage did subsequently prove us to be right.
With no goalkeeper on the bench, lanky centre-back Alan McDonald pulled on the green jersey. Adding to the poignancy, the Northern Irishman was a local favourite having made 476 appearances for QPR before joining Swindon. If I’d been a Sunderland fan, I would no doubt have left at this point but I stayed on to witness the best display ever by an outfield player in goal.
McDonald made a magnificent diving save to keep Rangers out and right on half-time, Mark Walters crossed for debut-man Iffy Onuora to crash home a header. 10-man Swindon had only gone and taken the lead!
With McDonald guarding the goal in front of us in the second half, the next 45 minutes lasted well over a fortnight. But with Charlie Austin still learning his times-tables at school in Hungerford, there was no Rangers striker with the necessary nous to find the back of the net. Our stand-in ‘keeper scrambled and slid his way from one save to the next.
As the final whistle sounded, I roared my approval with the other Town fans, instantly regretting my half-time pledge to turn back to God if we held out for 90 minutes. The pumped-up Scott Leitch ran over, shaking his fist, screaming “Come on!!!” repeatedly to the wall of jubilant faces.
One memorable afternoon in a highly forgettable season and I headed happily home wearing my new lucky underpants which nearly (damn you, Charlton) maintained their magic for a whole month afterwards. The dramatic win kept us mid-table, leaving Stoke, Reading and Manchester City in the relegation places.
The footnote to the story is a sad one, I’m afraid, with Alan McDonald dying suddenly on a golf course in 2012 at the age of just 48. Alan, you and your heroics will never be forgotten.
With heartfelt gratitude to the wonderful swindon-town-fc.co.uk website for refreshing my memory on many of the details.