It was a windy autumn day when then-unknown Portugal youth keeper Samu Soares looked up the pitch to see his opposite number standing a bit off his line. Soares’ Benfica B side was down 1-0 to Liga Portugal 2 relegation contenders CD Trofense with only 25 minutes to go. He decided to launch the ball forward in an audacious attempt to score himself.
The provincial stadium, though nearly empty, erupted, the benches cleared – his long-range screamer cannoned off the crossbar and in. As the video circulated online following Benfica B’s eventual 2-1 turnaround, Twitter, too, was abuzz – some called for this newfound hero to be given the Puskas Award.
But there was a deflating twist. Upon closer inspection, the ball had actually bounced off the Trofense goaltender and in. What had been a goal-of-the-year contender was stricken from the record. A killjoy’s own goal was recorded in its place. It was watching this unfold that solidified a long-held casual belief of mine into a low-stakes hot take that needed soapboxing. I was utterly convinced – it was time to abolish most own goals. Here’s why.
— SL Benfica (@SLBenfica) November 7, 2022
It’s simply not in the spirit of the game to rob the rightful scorer of their name’s place on the scoresheet. And what purpose does putting the hapless defender in their place serve? None. It’s a veritable lose-lose – surely both players involved would prefer the reverse.
As is already acknowledged in other areas of the game, intent matters, and unlike the unfortunate victim of physics on the opposing end, the scoring player actively set into motion events resulting in his ultimate objective being fulfilled – scoring a goal. Job done. But beyond emotion, own goals are logically inconsistent as well.
The flawed (and, believe it or not, actually unofficial) rule at present states that if the attacking player strikes the ball on-target, i.e. the trajectory would carry it over the line regardless, a deflection on the way doesn’t change a thing. Only if an otherwise off-target shot ricochets off an opposition player and in does the record reflect an own goal. In Soares’ case, if left untouched, the ball would’ve bounced off the crossbar and away from the goalmouth.
But consider how hitting the frame of the goal itself is technically off-target – if the ball deflects off that off-target woodwork and in it’s still a goal for the shooter. So what difference does it make if some center back was standing in front of the post and the ball went in off his body instead? Why does it matter if the intermediary stop between the boot and the net is inanimate or not? It shouldn’t.
The more you think about it, the sillier it gets – using this logic, how do you judge a shot that strikes the off-target post, hits a defender standing on the goal line, and then goes in? It’s impossible to know, and these inconsistencies are confusingly impractical.
We should change the laws of the game to clearly state that if the inertia of the ball crossing the goal line was initially created by an attacking player, that player caused the goal to happen and should be credited as such. If you fire a gun, you are liable for whatever the bullet does until it comes to rest, even if it ricochets.
Statistics, though they could never tell the full story in any case, are meant to translate and condense the fluid action of sport into intelligible data points that explain what transpired. At present, the own goal system only obfuscates things.
When you see an own goal on the stat sheet you instantly want to know what actually happened. Whose header was fumbled in? Who hit the 30-yard howitzer? We should know that first – the real scorer shouldn’t be an asterisk, the go-between stepping stone of another body should be.
And there’s already a stat that serves the purpose of shaming the clumsy conceder – “error leading to goal” exists as a data point for a reason, and it can remain alongside. Wouldn’t you agree that it more accurately describes most of these events being misattributed as “own goals”?
But perhaps most telling of all are the numerous times that the current rule has already been bafflingly misapplied or apparently forgotten. During City’s infamous 6-0 thrashing of Spurs, Alvaro Negredo’s initial shot was undeniably on target, yet the scoreline was still later changed to show a bewildering Sandro own goal.
In an opposite scenario, Juve’s Milos Krasic hopefully smacked the ball across the face of Lazio’s goal in the final minute of a tied game. According to existing precedent, when Fernando Muslera flailed it into his own net it should’ve been registered as a clear own goal, yet inexplicably, justice was served as Krasic’s name went on the scoresheet instead.
One could argue that spin would’ve somehow carried the Serb’s ball into the far corner without intervention, but the uncertain subjectivity of this gray area itself is evidence that such criteria just aren’t fit for purpose. We shouldn’t have to break out a protractor to confirm an attacker’s winning goal – we know who everyone that watched that frigid match remembers as the obvious protagonist. Certainly, no one noticed, much less felt aggrieved, that this “mistake” happened.
Now, of course, as with most good rules, there are exceptions. Plays that begin fully in the possession of the conceding side, such as a hilariously errant back-pass or an embarrassing keeper blunder, are true own goals that should remain as such. The bizarre ones that smell of match-fixing are what they are, no changes are needed there. We can think sensibly about this.
Crucially, those shockers shouldn’t be equated with an unfortunate defender knowing nothing of a ball glancing off his back or doing his best to stretch to block a blast. These deserve to be differentiated. With this one small, harmless tweak, they can be. Everybody wins… even if not literally.
By: Weston Pagano / @westonpagano
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Quality Sport Images / Getty Images