The first substitutes during competitive 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 competitive 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
- 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 competitive football was Keith Peacock, who came on for Charlton on August 21, 1965, replacing his club’s injured goalkeeper after 11 minutes. (Unless you count circumstances like this, where the remainder of an abandoned match was played on a later date with a different player, all the way back in 1897. Subs were also used in friendly matches, though still rarely before the second half of the 20th century.)
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. Quinn replaced an injured Perry Groves, like Peacock also after just 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 – two subs was I think trialled in the FA Cup before being adopted in the League. 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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