It was on this day, eleven years ago, that Sunderland took all three points in perhaps the most bizarre fashion ever seen in the Premier League.
Back then you’ll remember the away fans were housed behind the goal in the South Stand, and after a Liverpool fan twatted a red beach ball in the direction of the pitch, a one-in-a-million moment occurred that has gone down in the history books.
Steve Bruce’s Sunderland had made an impressive start to the 2009-10 season, going into the Liverpool game at the Stadium of Light sitting 6th in the Premier League. This lofty position came mainly on the back of a 5-2 victory over Wolverhampton Wanderers in our previous home game and an agonising 2-2 draw at Old Trafford, where only a last-minute Anton Ferdinand own goal deprived Sunderland of all three points.
Optimism was high and the scene was set for Sunderland to build on their opening eight Premier League games, and a bumper crowd of 47,327 reflected the anticipation for the visit of the previous season’s Premier League runners-up.
Little did we know it, but the game had actually begun before the first whistle in the South Stand where the Liverpool contingent were housed. As the atmosphere was building an inflatable red beach ball was being knocked around the away end and, thanks to an innocuous touch from a 16-year-old visitor from Merseyside, it would eventually find its way in front of Pepe Reina’s goal as the two teams lined up to kick-off.
Sunderland began the game attacking the South Stand and for some unknown reason, the Liverpool goalkeeper either chose not to remove the beach ball from the the penalty area or didn’t get an opportunity to do so, as Steve Bruce’s side started the game brightly.
Five minutes into the game, an attack down the right hand side of the pitch found Andy Reid who, from an unfamiliar position, played the ball across the box with his right foot.
After taking a deflection the ball fell to the feet of Darren Bent, a couple of yards inside the box. The England striker, who’d joined the club that summer, hit a fairly innocuous shot that was heading directly for Pepe Reina’s arms – only for the ball to hit the beach ball, deflecting the football past Reina and into the net, and the beach ball out for a goal kick.
What happened next was pure pandemonium and chaos, both on and off the pitch.
Although everybody knew something odd had occurred, nobody could quite put their finger on what exactly. As the home fans got busy celebrating the Liverpool players got busy complaining to referee Mike Jones. It was at this point that everyone, especially Mike Jones was reaching for the rule book as well as the help of his linesman who he went to consult.
Despite the official laws of the game stating that if an “outside agent” makes its way onto the pitch the game must be stopped while it is removed, in the heat of the moment the goal was given.
The remaining eighty-five minutes were played out with Darren Bent’s strike remaining the only goal to give the Lorik Cana-inspired Sunderland all three points in a game which also marked Bolo Zenden’s debut for the club, after he replaced Lee Cattermole with around half an hour remaining.
In the aftermath, the young lad who knocked the beach ball onto the pitch received death threats, the referee was demoted for a week ahead of taking charge of 202 Premier League games and as for the beach ball itself, it’s now on display in the National Football Museum... in Manchester. It’s a funny old game.
Saturday 17th October - Barclays Premier League
Stadium of Light
Sunderland 1 - 0 Liverpool (Bent/Beach Ball)
Sunderland: Gordon, Bardsley, Turner, Ferdinand, McCartney (Henderson), Malbranque, Cana, Cattermole (Zenden), Reid, Jones (Campbell), Bent Substitutes not used: Fulop, Nosworthy, Da Silva, Healy
Liverpool: Reina, Johnson, Skrtel (Mascherano), Carragher, Agger, Aurelio, Leiva, Spearing (Voronin), Benayoun, Babel (Ngog), Kuyt Substitutes not used: Cavalieri, Insua, Kelly, Riera