Sport

The 10 Worst Debut Matches Ever

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Dave Fawbert
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It's safe to say that things have not gone well for Joe Hart over the last six months.

Following Manchester City's damp squib of a campaign last season, he was then part of England's disastrous Euro 2016, letting in two howlers, before returning to City to find out that new manager Pep Guardiola had decided to replace him.

On deadline day, he made good his escape from life as a third choice at the Etihad to join Torino on loan. "A fresh start," he probably thought, "The fans will love me!", he mused. "I just want to go out there and show them what I can do".

Sadly for Joe, it was the same-old bad news, as first he was named as 'John Hart' on the teamlist, before he misjuged a cross, allowing Atalanta to score. He then later went the wrong way for a penalty, which led to defeat for Torino in his first match in the Serie A.

Proving that you don't always get it right first time, we present the all-time 10 worst debut matches of all time. Better luck next time chaps.

Jonathan Woodgate (Real Madrid)

It should have been the pinnacle of his career: instead it turned into a nightmare. When they make Jonathan Woodgate: The Movie, as they surely will, this will be the tagline. Despite having become a fan favourite at Newcastle United during his time there, it was still something of a surprise when Spanish giants Real Madrid stumped up £13.4m for his services in 2004. He'd been signed despite being injured, and indeed it was injuries that prevented him making his debut for a full year. By the time it was over, he probably wished he'd never got back to fitness, as his match against Athletic Bilbao saw him score a comical own goal before being sent off for two bookable offences; or, to put it in the local lingo, he had 'una pesadilla'. Woodgate himself, with brilliant understatement commented, "Obviously, I did not want to get an own goal... I just can't believe I got sent off."

Ali Dia (Southampton)

One of the most famous examples of why you should never, ever trust an agent when he is talking up his client's talents. Saints boss Graeme Souness had received a phone call seemingly from former World Player of the Year George Weah, tipping him off about his cousin Ali Dia, who had seemingly played 13 games for Paris St Germain and been capped by his country, Liberia. He was urged to sign him before anyone did and - not having checked whether any of this was true, which it wasn't - he was duly awarded a month's playing contract.

A freak set of circumstances led to him being named on the substitutes' bench for a match against Leeds: he'd completed just one training session, where Matt Le Tissier had concluded, "He's not very good. He's probably not going to make it" and had been due to play a reserve game against Arsenal where he would surely have been found out - but it was called off due to a waterlogged pitch. Then, during the match, Le Tissier himself was forced off with injury and on went Dia. "His performance was almost comical. He kind of took my place, but he didn't really have a position. He was just wandering everywhere", commented Le Tissier. He was so off the pace that he lasted only 53 minutes before being subbed himself. He was released days later and his next club was non-league Gateshead where, to be fair, he scored on his debut in a 5-0 win. One of the truly great football cock-ups.

Jason Crowe (Arsenal)

Compared to poor Jason Crowe, Jonathan Woodgate lasted a lifetime on the pitch for his Madrid runout. Aged just 19, Crowe came on as a substitute for the Gunners in extra time against Birmingham in a 1997 League Cup match. He put in a high foul and was promptly sent off by referee Uriah Rennie after just 33 seconds, the fastest debut sending off in English football history. He never played for Arsenal again; indeed, he played longer against Arsenal when playing for Leyton Orient in a 2011 FA Cup match at the Emirates (pictured above), lasting 65 minutes before leaving the pitch - substituted this time rather than via any premature disciplinary action.

Chris Iwelumo (Scotland)

Chris Iwelumo must have thought his chances of playing international football had long gone, but at the ripe old age of 30 he was given his debut for Scotland, being brought on as a substitute in a crucial World Cup qualifier at home to Norway in 2008. With 35 minutes left to play, he had surely been told to go on and 'become a hero'. Sadly, when a perfect cross came his way, with the goalkeeper helplessly stranded, all he had to do was push the ball in and he'd have achieved his aim. Somehow, he managed to miss. If you want to hear the entire Hampden Park crowd make a noise that translates as, "did he actually just miss that", then watch the clip above.

Stanley Milton (Halifax)

No one ever really wants to go in goal. Even keepers themselves are always dreaming of doing a FIFA-style run up the pitch and getting involved up the other end. But in every park game, someone has to draw the short straw and go 'in sticks'.

Back in 1934, Halifax Town played Stockport County and a chap by the name of Stanley Milton made his goalkeeping debut for Halifax. At half-time he'd have been disappointed to see his team trail 2-0, but still with hope of pulling it back in the second 45. Unfortunately for him, Stocky went on the rampage and Milton picked the ball out of his own net fully 13 times, as Town suffered the biggest league defeat in history. We're almost certain he asked his boss if he could go up front next week instead.

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Gaetano Berardi (Leeds)

Every player wants to make their mark for a new club as quickly as possible. But usually this doesn't mean literally. Swiss right-back Gaetano Berardi joined Leeds from Sampdoria in the summer of 2014, making his first appearance for the Elland Road club in a League Cup match against Accrington Stanley. For some unknown reason, with just two minutes to play, he decided that that was the moment to unleash his new 'flying two-foot scissor kick' kung fu move on his hapless opponent. Naturally, he received an instant red card. And they say the Swiss are always neutral.

Emmanuel Frimpong (Barnsley)

If you buy Emmanuel Frimpong, we wouldn't expect too much from his first match for you. Having been sent off for two bookable offences in his first match for Arsenal, he played just five more times for the Gunners before being shipped off to Barnsley in January 2014. He did not endear himself to the home faithful by sulking when taking part in a photoshoot with his new club's strip, before tweeting that playing for a less fashionable team would stop him being able to "draw girls". He completed his charm offensive by being sent off within half an hour, following two fouls in seven minutes on the same player. Still, at least it gave him extra time in the changing rooms to get ready for his big night out in Barnsley after the game.

Henrik Larsson (Celtic)

He would go on to become a Parkhead hero, but Henrik Larsson endured a less than stellar start to his Celtic career. Having been signed by manager Wim Jansen from Feyenoord for just £650,000, he made his debut against Edinburgh side Hibernian as a late substitute. One of his first moments of action was to pass the ball to Hibs' Chic Charnley, who proceeded to score, wrapping up a 2-1 win for his team. As if this wasn't enough, his European debut saw him score an own goal, in a 6-3 win against Tirol Innsbruck. With fans wondering if they'd signed a complete dud, things proceeded to go rather well after that, as Larsson finished the season as top scorer with 18 goals, before eventually netting an astonishing 174 goals in 221 games for the Bhoys.

Zlatan Ibrahimović (AC Milan)

He's a self-styled superstar, but things aren't always deft flicks and wondrous goals for Sweden's Zlatan Ibrahimović. August 2010 saw the hitman make the move to the San Siro to play for AC Milan where big things were expected of the former Barcelona striker. However, his first match was a disaster, with Cesena, playing their first match in Serie A, taking a 2-0 half-time lead. Nonetheless, the fightback came, with Milan earning a penalty in the 88th minute. Could this be the time for Zlatan to become an instant hero with the Rossoneri? Sadly, no, as he proceeded to miss the ensuing penalty, with the game finishing 2-0. Like Larsson, though, the move eventually worked out, as he netted 28 goals in 32 games. But it should really have been 29.

Graeme Souness (Rangers)

You'd normally expect your manager to set an example, to lead a club with grace, patience and calmness - but this really isn't Graeme Souness' style. Having returned from Italy, where he had been playing for Sampdoria, back to his native country, he made his debut as player-manager for Rangers in August 1986, opening the season with a match against Hibernian at Easter Road.

The opening 15 minutes were full of vicious tackles as the teams sized each other up and it finally reached boiling point as a shocking tackle from Souness on George McCluskey earned the manager a straight red and sparked a mass brawl, during which Colin West was lucky not to also walk for a headbutt. He walked off the field at the same time as his victim was being carried off, complete with an open wound.​ 21 of the 22 players on the pitch were booked and Rangers lost 2-1. Oh to have been a fly on the wall during the post-match debrief in the Rangers dressing room that night.

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Dave Fawbert

ShortList.com staff writer Dave’s primary passions are pop, prose, punning and power ballads (and alliteration). A lower division football enthusiast and long-suffering cricket fan, he is one of only 110 people followed on Twitter by Chas Hodges from Chas ‘n’ Dave. Follow Dave on Twitter like Chas: @davefawbert

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