History of Substitutes: Niall Quinn – record breaker?

The first substitutes during football matches were used in the qualifying tournament for the 1954 World Cup, with the very first being Horst Eckel of Germany in their match against Saarland (who?) on October 11, 1953. The history of substitutions in domestic English football started slightly later, and goes like this:

  • From the 1965-66 season, teams could use one named substitute to replace an injured player
  • From the 1967-68 season, teams could use one named substitute for any reason
  • From the 1986-87 season, teams could use up to two named substitutes for any reason in League Cup and FA Cup matches only, still one in the League
  • From the 1987-88 season, teams could use up to two named substitutes for any reason in League matches

In 1992 the Premier League was formed, and at that point the rules diverged slightly from Football League rules:

Premiership / Premier League

  • From the 1992-93 season, teams could name three substitutes, one of whom had to be a goalkeeper, and could use any two of them for any reason
  • From the 1994-95 season, teams could name and use up to three substitutes (one of whom could only be used to replace the goalkeeper) for any reason
  • From the 1995-96 season, teams could name and use up to three substitutes for any reason with no restriction on positions
  • From the 1996-97 season, teams could name up to five and use up to three substitutes for any reason
  • From the 2008-09 season, teams could name up to seven and use up to three substitutes for any reason

Football League

  • From the 1993-94 season, teams could name and use up to three substitutes (one of whom could only be used to replace the goalkeeper) for any reason
  • From the 1995-96 season, teams could name and use up to three substitutes for any reason, with no restriction on positions
  • From the 1999-00 season, teams could name up to five and use up to three substitutes for any reason
  • From the 2009-10 season, teams could name up to seven and use up to three substitutes for any reason
  • From the 2011-12 season, the rule reverted to naming up to five and using up to three substitutes for any reason

When subs were first introduced to domestic football in 1965, Leeds always seemed to get an injury around the 70th minute. If they were losing, it was often a defender who was injured. If they were winning it was often an attacker. By reshuffling when their substitute was brought on they could attack or defend more, as needed. Needless to say, injured players always seemed to recover by the following game. This amazing string of coincidences in almost every match probably helped the League to realise that as long as the likes of Don Revie were involved in football, they may as well allow substitutions for any reason. Hence the original rule lasted only two years.

For the record, the first substitute in English football was Keith Peacock, who came on for Charlton on August 21, 1965, replacing his club’s injured goalkeeper after 11 minutes.

But what of Niall Quinn, record breaker? In 1987, the first season of two League substitutions, he came on for Arsenal against Southampton on November 21, 1987. Quinn replaced an injured Perry Groves, also after 11 minutes. Unfortunately, Quinn played badly. Very badly. I was there, I remember it well. After 77 minutes both the crowd and George Graham had had enough. George used his second substitute, Nigel Winterburn, to replace Quinn, who was definitely not injured. And so Quinn became the first Arsenal player to be substituted in the League after being brought on as a substitute, and the first Arsenal player in any competitive game to be subbed as a sub for poor play.

He wasn’t quite the first substitute in domestic English football to ever be substituted for playing badly – at least according to ‘Dixie’ in the comments below. That honour, if that’s the right word, perhaps goes to Neil Adams of Everton, in the 1986 Charity Shield. Thanks for the info.

(I should point out that I had thought Quinn was the first Arsenal sub to be subbed, full stop. But no sooner had I posted this than Andy Kelly, who has the best Arsenal stats site going at http://www.stats.woolwicharsenal.co.uk, commented that in fact on at least two prior occasions Arsenal players had been subbed after coming on as subs. The first was way back in 1978 in a UEFA Cup match against Hajduk Split, and the second in an FA Cup match the season before Quinn. Both these were for injuries, though. See the comments below, and also the Hajduk match details on Arsenal.com: http://www.arsenal.com/news/news-archive/arsenal-1-0-hadjuk-split-1978. Andy thinks two subs were allowed in European matches by the end of the 1960s – if you can confirm, please let me know.)
But, let’s give Quinn a chance to defend himself. Here he is in the Arsenal programme talking a better game than he ever played. This is from September 1987, just two months before his embarrassment.

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6 thoughts on “History of Substitutes: Niall Quinn – record breaker?

  1. what you have to remember is George Graham was the manager at the time and Arsenal Reserves had some very famous faces who couldn’t even get on the bench for the first team,and its was a tactic of George Graham to play the same team week after week.
    So breaking into the first team for Niall Quinn was in fact almost impossible even though in my opinion he was just a late developer has he proved later on in his career.

  2. Quinn wasn’t the first Arsenal substitute to be substituted. He wasn’t even the second.

    On 1 November 1978 Arsenal played Hajduk Split in the UEFA Cup. John Kosmina replaced Mark Heeley (down to the bare bones in November!). Kosmina was then replaced by Paul Vaessen.

    You may say that that wasn’t an English game. Well, 31 January 1987 we gave Plymouth a damned good hiding in the FA Cup. Perry Groves came on for Martin Hayes, ran around like a lunatic then got injured (I think he pulled his groin). He was then replaced by Gus Caesar.

    • Ok, well that’s interesting, because as far as I could find out 2 subs were only allowed from 87-88 season.

      But checking my programmes from that season, Groves did come on against Plymouth (in Jan 87) in the 78th minute and went off in the 85th.

      So when were two subs first allowed then?

      I’d still maintain Quinn was the first to be subbed as a sub for playing badly rather than injury.

  3. ‘Possibly Quinn was the first substitute in domestic English football to ever be substituted for playing badly.’

    It depends whether or not you regard the FA Charity Shield game as a ‘proper match’, but Everton manager Howard Kendall substituted substitute Neil Adams in the 1986 FA Charity Shield game vs Liverpool at Wembley in August 1986, famously for Adams not playing well. So this beat Graham substituting substitute Quinn by around 15 months.

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