The 21st of August 1965 may seem like another unremarkable date in history for many, but in the world of English football, it’s a date on which things permanently changed. It was the day the first ever official substitution was made in the English Football League. To mark the 12th edition of Pickles, it’s only fitting that we take a moment to consider football’s original number 12, and a name that will forever be entwined with the beautiful game.
The substitute was introduced to English Football League laws in the 1965-66 season. Teams were only allowed to make one substitution per game and that could only be to replace an injured player. However, it quickly became apparent that there was a flaw with this plan. For some teams, players started to get injured on a remarkably consistent basis around the 70-minute mark which, understandably, led to calls of foul play. Tactical substitutions were eventually introduced for the 1967-68 season and, thus, the substitute as we know it today was born.
The player lucky enough to be the answer to the pub quiz question ‘Who was the first ever substitute?’ is Keith Peacock, then of Charlton Athletic. In fact, the 21st August 2015 marked 50 years since that momentous occasion. Peacock came on in what would be comical circumstances by today’s standards. Charlton’s goalkeeper Mike Rose got injured 11 minutes into a game against Bolton. Scottish international John Hewie was put in goal and Peacock wrote his own piece of history by making his way onto the pitch.
Speaking about the game to The Telegraph in 2005, Peacock commented: “Great, isn’t it? I played 591 games for Charlton but I’ll always be remembered for the one I didn’t start. “In the old days you soldiered on; if you had a gaping cut in your head you got it bandaged. You only came off if you broke your leg, otherwise you hobbled on. I was disappointed when I was told I wouldn’t be playing and doubly disappointed that a lad younger than me, Alan Campbell, was in. Before the rule change, the 12th man came along and pushed the kit skip and was there in case of an emergency. Suddenly I was expected to get changed and prepare with the rest. But after 11 minutes I was on and it was unbelievable.”
Peacock may be somewhat uncomfortable with his obscure accolade, but he should take comfort in the fact that his name will be etched in English football history for the rest of time. Despite a decent career, Alan Campbell, the ‘lad’ who started ahead of him that day, is not a name that comes up so often.
Development of the substitution rule was slow after that. Teams had to wait until the 1987-88 season for a second replacement to be introduced for league games before a third was added for the first ever Premier League season in 1992-93, although one of those had to be a keeper and only two could be used. In the 1995-96 season, restrictions on the three substitutes were lifted and the following year, the number of Premier League subs was increased to five. Finally, this was increased to seven subs for the 2008-09 season, which is, of course, where we stand today.
Interestingly, under current laws, the referee has no specific power to force a player on the pitch to be substituted. In theory, a player can simply refuse to leave the pitch when he sees his number held aloft. It’s actually quite surprising that in this era of petulant players and stroppy strikers (I’m looking at you, Mario), we haven’t seen more players decline to come off and force their manager’s hand. Lionel Messi famously refused to come off for Luis Enrique last season, but that was a fairly isolated example and, after all, he is Lionel Messi. Generally, the most we see is disgruntled players shaking their heads as they depart and the assault of a few pitch-side water bottles.
We have also seen the reverse. Carlos Tevez proved himself to be the nightmare substitute in 2011 when he refused to come off the bench for Roberto Mancini’s Manchester City in a Champions League match against Bayern Munich. This famously led to the Argentinian being ostracised by the club. As Roberto and Man City found out, the substitution isn’t always as straightforward as it seems.
However, being a substitute can make club careers as well as break them; you only need ask David Fairclough to know that. The former Liverpool striker made his name in the 1970s under Bob Paisley; in an eight-year spell at Anfield, he made 154 appearances, 62 of which came from the bench. From those substitute appearances, he returned an impressive 18 goals.
Speaking to the BBC in 2001, Fairclough spoke candidly about being labelled a super sub: “I felt it handicapped me and only really appreciated being remembered for it when I had finished playing. I got pigeonholed. I always had to do something dramatic. Expectations were huge. Bob Paisley used me as his secret weapon but I would have preferred a longer run in the team. Once, I scored three goals after starting yet was back on the bench three days later.”
Clearly, being a super sub is a double edged sword. The statistic that not many Reds fans will know is that Fairclough also had to sit on the bench as an unused substitute 76 times. For any player, that would leave a sour taste.
Being a substitute is not always glamorous; it’s certainly not what children dream of as they’re kicking a ball around the playground. The first-hand accounts from those who have experienced it regularly at the highest level are understandably tinged with resentment. However, the introduction of the substitute to official Football League laws in 1965 changed the face of football. Fifty years on from Peacock’s landmark moment, substitutes are more important in football than ever. One wonders what the next 50 years will bring for football’s original number 12.