coin toss football

Heads or tails? When football matches were decided by a coin toss

How do you decide the winner of a football match when the scores are level? How about a coin toss?

Did you know that, while penalty kicks often settle drawn matches, other methods have been used at various times.

USA’s Major League Soccer introduced a 1v1 shootout decider when it was launched in 1996, while at the World Cup in 1990, the second and third spots in England’s group were decided by a mini draw, after Netherlands and Republic of Ireland finished with identical records.

‘Golden Goal’ was another way that winners have been established, with the first goal scored in extra-time deciding the game.

The first golden goal recorded was in 1993 for Australia and Uruguay’s quarter-final at the World Youth Championship. The 1995 Football League Trophy, where Birmingham City beat Carlisle United 1–0, followed by the Euro 96 final, won by Germany over the Czech Republic, were also settled by the golden goal.

But there have been times when an even more random method of settling football matches, and big ones as well, has been used: the coin toss.

In fact, the Premier League giants Liverpool have benefitted from the coin toss to send them into the last four of the European Cup.

Back in March 1965, Bill Shankly’s Reds took part in an epic quarter final contest with German champions Cologne. After two 0-0 stalemates, a postponement, and a 2-2 draw in a play-off game on the neutral soil of Rotterdam’s Feyenoord Stadium, the two sides could still not be separated.

Following 300 gruelling minutes of football, the tie was to be settled by the toss of referee Robert Schaut’s coin, and even that took two goes.

With Liverpool skipper Ron Yeats and his Cologne counterpart Wolfgang Overath flanking Schaut, and surrounded by a crowd of players and staff, the official flipped the coin.

Yeats got into the referee first, calling tails before it was tossed into the air. As it came down, though, it stuck in a divot in the bobbly pitch. Another flip was needed and though the German captain looked angered, the referee tossed the coin once again, and it came down tails.

Liverpool celebrated on the pitch before heading down the tunnel and towards a semi-final meeting with the eventual European champions, Internazionale.

That season’s competition had also seen other games decided by ‘heads or tails’. Anderlecht got past Bologna and Dukla Prague prevailed against Gornik Zabrze thanks to random 50/50 flips in the preliminary round.

Three years later, a similar method decided the semi-final of the 1968 European Championships.

In those days, the ‘finals’ was a four-team mini tournament, which was staged in Italy. In the opening semi-final game in Naples, the hosts were held 0-0 after extra time by the Soviet Union. So the captains were called together in the dressing rooms for a coin toss with German referee Kurt Tschenscher. The Azzurri’s Giacinto Facchetti correctly chose tails, which sent the home nation into the final, where they would beat Yugoslavia after a replay in Rome.