Football as come to know a cheeky chipped penalty as the “Panenka” in honour of the Czech footballer who did it in the 1976 European Championship final.
But Manchester City fan Dave Massey has unearthed evidence that Billy Meredith – who also played for Manchester United and is often labelled football’s first superstar – was doing it for the Blues over 70 years before the man whose name it carries!
Antonin Panenka won the Euros for his country with a nerveless dinked spot kick in the penalty shoot-out with West Germany, after the teams had finished level at 2-2 in the final.
Uli Hoeness – now the controversial Bayern Munich president – missed his penalty, and Panenka could win the match if he scored.
With the brilliant Sepp Maier in the German goal, Panenka strode up, feinted to place it in the corner, and after Maier dived, calmly chipped it into the middle of the net.
After that, any attempts to emulate that famous penalty have been dubbed a “Panenka”, putting the current Bohemians Prague president in the company of players like Johann Cruyff and Zinedine Zidane, by having a football technique named after him.
By rights, that form of penalty should be known as the “Meredith” – as Dave, and football historian and City fan Gary James have discovered.
Dave discovered reference in a matchday programme for a Sheffield United game in 1905 which hinted that Meredith might have been using the unusual penalty technique long before Panenka.
The programme states: “Meredith, the Manchester City crack, has a special way of taking penalty kicks. He stands close up to the ball, puts his toe underneath, and lifts it slowly over the goalkeeper’s head.”
Another supporter then supplied a cutting from the Lancashire Evening Post from 1905, written by a referee, and headlined “Lifted Penalties”.
Written by a referee, it describes how one football fan to address a rumour that Meredith was actually holding the ball on his foot with his fingers, and then flipping it over the keeper when the ref blew for the spot kick to be taken.
The ref replied that was not the case but said he had seen Meredith’s technique in a City vs Stoke match.
He wrote: “The ball having been placed, he simply approached, placed his toe under it and lifted it over Whitley’s head.
“There can be no question this was a legitimate kick – one frequently sees exactly the same kick made when a goal kick is ordered.”
The circumstances were a little different back then, as the laws of the game allowed goalkeepers to rush off their line as soon as the referee’s whistle had been blown, but the principle remains the same.
Meredith is often hailed as football’s first true star – he played with a toothpick in the corner of his mouth and was instrumental in the setting up of the first players’ union.
The Welsh international won a second division title and FA Cup – the first major honour won by any Manchester club – for City and went on to take two league titles and another FA Cup with United.