How NOT to make an impression: The ten worst debuts in football

How NOT to make an impression: The ten worst debuts in football

Today marks sixteen years since Jonathan Woodgate made a truly unforgettable debut for Real Madrid, a debut so extraordinary that it is still talked of to this day. Yes, with an own goal and two yellow cards in little over an hour Jonathan Woodgate well and truly wrote himself into the Real Madrid history books. It’s hard to imagine it getting much worse for a player on his debut, but rest assured, it has. 

From a moment of madness that saw a new signing last just two minutes before head butting an opponent or actually being so bad in goal that not once but twice did your debuts set all time club records for goals conceded. 

This is story of ten of the worst debuts ever seen in football. From Jonathan Woodgate to Henrik Larsson via a whole lot of red cards, own goals and horribly misplaced back passes. Just sit back and revel in the schadenfreude. 


1. Jonathan Woodgate - Real Madrid 2005



Where better to start than with Woody himself. After spending a year sidelined after his £13 million move, Woodgate finally appeared at the Bernabeau in September 2005. Just over an hour  later he was off, having chalked up one spectacular own goal and two yellow cards.

Speaking after the game he confirmed that "It was not the best start in the world." - just in case there were any doubts.


2. Jason Crowe - Arsenal 1997



With the game level at start of extra time in Arsenal October 1997 League Cup tie against Birmingham, Arsene Wenger looked to freshen up his side with the introduction of full back Jason Crowe, handing a debut to the 19 year old who had been with the side since his early teens. A mere 33 seconds later he was trudging back past Wenger after what was adjudged to be a dangerous and high challenge.


3. Ade Akinbiyi - Burnley 2005



"He's had 10 days of frustration here, desperate to play for his new club and desperate to get out on the field. When he's out there he tries to do everything and he does that. I think I can safely say Ade's Burnley career will get better from here” - so said Burnley manager Steve Cotterill after Ade Akinbiyi spent his first two minutes at the club charging around, attempting to elbow a defender and then successfully head-butting another to achieve what was seemingly his aim - getting sent off after just two minutes.


4. Chris Iwelumo vs Norway 2008



Just moments after taking the field for his country for the first time, Scotland’s Chris Iwelumo ensured his international debut would be a memorable one. With the score at 0-0 in a crucial World Cup qualifier against Norway, the striker found himself in an excellent position just 3 yards and with the goal wide open. As the ball fizzed over to him to tap into the open net he misjudged his angles and sent it as much cannoning back the way it came as towards goal. The game would finish 0-0.


5. Stanley Milton - Halifax Town + York



When it comes to rubbish goalkeeping debut’s there’s bad, there’s historically bad and there’s Stanley Milton’s debut for Halifax Town way back on the 6th January 1934. With the side sat 4th in the table and operating with a largely unchanged squad - bar Milton - expectations were fairly high going into their clash with Stockport. The 13-0 final scoreline, including 11 in the second half, both stand as English League records. Almost exactly five years later he made his debut for York and promptly conceded 7, again the most in the sides history.


6. Henrik Larsson - Celtic 1997



The best Celtic striker of the modern era, Henrik Larsson’s start to life in Glasgow couldn’t of been much worse. After arriving for £650,000 from Feyenoord he made his debut in the dying moments of a league game. An errant pass moment later led directly to Hibs scoring the winner. A short time later he made his European debut for the side - where he promptly scored an own goal.


7. Mike Salmon - Oxford United 1988



While not rivalling Stanley Milton anytime soon, Mike Salmons catastrophic debut is notable because as both his first and last game for Oxford United as the loanee brought in to help strengthen the side shipped seven goals against Birmingham City. The resulting average of seven goals conceded a game surely standing as one of the worst in world football.


8. Maximiliam Hofmann - Rapid Vienna 2013 



Off to Austria now and the catastrophic debut of 19 year old Maximiliam Hofmann back in 2013. With less than 90 seconds on the clock the young Rapid Vienna centre back scythed down Sturm Graz forward Robert Beric to concede a penalty, followed swiftly by a red card. It clearly didn’t knock the young mans confidence too much however as eight years later he remains with the side having made over 150 appearances.


9. Marcos Antonio -  Nuremberg 2012 


<iframe width="560" height="315" src="" title="YouTube video player" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe>


A lot of the horror debuts on this list revolve around a moment of stupidity or to an extent misfortune. For Brazilian defender Marcos Antonio’s first run out for  Nuremberg back in 2012 however, he was just bad. It took just 30 seconds for him to misjudge a throw in, get his feet tangled and play a delicately weighted through ball for the striker to score. Just over 10 minutes later he did the exact same thing again with the Stuttgart attacker firing wide. He was hooked after 16 minutes for his only Bundesliga appearance.


10. Messi vs Hungary 2005



The greatest of all time had a remarkable introduction for his senior national team. Just not in the way you would expect. Having taken to the field as a 63rd minute substitute and with virtually his first touch he received the ball looking to burst into space. Hungarian defender Vilmos Vanczák was having non of it, grabbing onto the young Argentine’s shirt. As he wriggled to free himself, Messi connected with the defenders face and sent him sprawling to the floor. Messi’s international debut lasted just two minutes.


Words by Andy Gallagher





Back to blog

Leave a comment