Football’s 5 most unlikely heroes

Ben Mountain

With a whole year fuelled by successful underdogs and high soaring outsiders – Leicester City’s title triumph and Iceland’s European euphoria come to mind – we take a look back at football’s most unlikely of heroes that have graced the beautiful game.

1) Roy Essandoh

No list of surprise mavericks in the footballing world is complete without this FA Cup hero. The story of Essandoh being the successful applicant to a desperate Lawrie Sanchez’s advert on Ceefax for a player to see the injury-stricken Wycombe Wanderers through a semi-final is well documented.

The slightly duller truth that Essandoh’s agent secured him a move from Rushden & Diamonds is in fact the real version of events, but the key moment runs consistently in whatever story you know. With the Chairboys drawing 1-1 with Leicester City at Filbert Street, Essandoh came onto the pitch as a late substitute. Inevitably, the big Irishman scored the winner and celebrated with teammates he’d reportedly never met. No other outcome would have made the list, as you can imagine. Far from a club stalwart, Essandoh’s actions were heroic nonetheless.

2) Deportivo 1999/2000

These La Liga regulars may come (rather conveniently) as a surprise inclusion on this list. However, the Spanish side made jaws drop across the country during the turn of the Millennium. Having finished twelfth and sixth in their previous two seasons, not even the most optimistic Turco could envisage their historic trumping of Spanish giants Real Marid and Barcelona in the race for the title. Deportivo took the title by five points, scoring 66 goals in the process. Time to get off those high horses Leicester fans – it’s been done before.

3) Pickles the dog

This sharp Collie cross found himself in the right place at very much the right time with his owner David Corbett one day. A week after the coveted Jules Rimet trophy was stolen, Pickles saved nationwide embarrassment by sniffing out the abducted cup. Had the prized pooch not managed to uncover it, the crowd may never have made it onto the pitch, thinking it was all over. This dog certainly is a Jule in the crown, or even a diamond in the ruff… Sorry.

4) Denmark ’92

In this well- known story, unexpected stars Denmark managed to win the European Championship even after missing out on qualification. If you don’t already know this one, allow us to explain. The former Yugoslavian team were not allowed to compete due to a raging civil war, which meant the runners up in qualification – the Danes – were entered into the competition as replacements. Players ended summer holidays prematurely and began to focus on European glory, with little or no outside expectation on their shoulders. Again, the impossible happened with Denmark storming to victory that summer…hence their inclusion on this coveted list.

5) Niall Quinn – City’s No.1

Quinn scored an emphatic volley against Derby to reach his 20th goal of the season. No surprise hero story there then. However, in an unexpected turn of events, Tony Coton was sent for an early shower that left City keeper-less, leading only by a slim one-goal advantage and facing a penalty to bring the game up to 1-1. Quinn, the man of the hour at one end of the field, donned the spotted green jersey at the other. In another emphatic moment, Quinn flew low to his left and struck the well-hit penalty away with a strong palm. Derby were thwarted that day and this result was one of many that sent them spiralling into the Second Division.


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