Can A Goalkeeper Actually Swap With An Outfield Player? (Explained)

We all have interesting quirks we would like to see in our favourite teams. In fact, many of us act out these quirks in video games like playing the goalkeeper in midfield and playing the strikers as goalkeepers. 

It could be quite a fun time, and you might be curious about how it can happen in real matches. And it does happen sometimes, several matches have seen goalkeepers make runs up the pitch to score goals from both set pieces and open play. 

However, what happens if they were to switch with an outfield teammate and play a proper match outside the goalpost? No doubt, we are all dying to find out how Neuer would do as a deep-lying playing maker or Courtois as a ‘Fox in the Box’ Striker. Could these actually happen?

You may wonder if a goalkeeper may swap with an outfield player. Here’s what you need to know:

Can a goalkeeper swap with an outfield player?

Based on the Laws of the Game, it is very possible for a goalkeeper to swap to play with an outfield across several positions. Depending on how worthy the risk is, a manager can instruct his players to swap with the goalie.

However, two conditions must be fulfilled for this change to happen. The referee must be notified of the change beforehand. Especially since this helps to avoid confusion when a former outfield player handles the ball. Furthermore, the change must be made during a stoppage in play. 

Referees must be notified and the change must occur during stoppage time.

Once the change is complete, the goalkeeper is no longer allowed to handle the ball and must do well to remember that. The former outfield player must also adapt to life in between the sticks.

Goalkeepers that switch positions must remember not to handle the ball anymore.

If the manager decides to switch back the positions, then the same procedure will be followed. This means that the team must once again consult the referee and swap the positions during a stoppage. Moreover, the current goalie might swap back with the former one or even with another teammate.

Has any goalkeeper ever swapped with an outfield player?

There need for such changes does arise quite a number of times. Most times, teams may be in need of goals and apply pressure with their goalkeepers up front. Or the goalkeeper may suffer a hand injury and the manager might keep them on the pitch for whatever reason by changing their position.

Usually, the goalkeeper directly swaps with a teammate who goes to the sticks as the former goalkeeper takes his outfield position. However, the change might also be facilitated by the substitution of an outfield player with another goalkeeper. 

Such scenarios have occurred quite a handful of times in football, including:

Pearce’s ace

Stuart Pearce will go down as one of the most memorable managers in Manchester City’s history. Although at the short end of the club’s managerial evolution, it is fair to say Stuart Pearce crawled so the Mancinis and Guardiolas could fly. 

In the era before Manchester City got the Oil bump, the Blues were trying to end 2004/05 season as best as possible. However, that meant qualifying for a place in the next season’s UEFA Cup (now known as Europa League). The Blues were in a deadlock with Middlesborough, who was also in contention for their desired European spot.

With five minutes to go on the clock, Pearce ordered the substitution of midfielder Claudio Reyna for reserve goalkeeper, Nicky Weaver. To complete this card trick, he moved his starting goalkeeper, David James, to the other end of the field as a striker to mount pressure for a goal.

It did work in part as James relentlessly tormented the opposition defense and contributed to Blues winning a penalty. However, Robbie Fowler missed the spot kick and downed City’s European dreams. 

The Pioneer

As much of a pioneer as Stuart Pearce is, his ace move seems to have been predated by another daring manager over a century ago. Interestingly enough, this happened during the very first international outing between Scotland and England in 1872.

The English shotstopper, Robert Barker moved up front as he directly swapped places with the striker, William Maynard. 25-year old Barker was the oldest player on the pitch and the first man in the history of the Three Lions to wear #1. He was chosen for the game due to his big stature and more successful Rugby career.

This game became his only cap for England and it was quite the memorable one.  

Built for stunners

Jorge Campos had quite the career doubling as both a striker and goalkeeper. Although his first love was between the sticks, his role as a backup goalkeeper made him ambidextrous on both ends of the pitch to get sufficient game time. By the time he moved to Atlante, Campos had built quite a reputation.

In the 1996 clash against Cruz Azul of the Mexican Primera Division, Atlante were already one goal early in the second half. But the coach remained calm and waited for the right moment to unleash his ace. The backup goalkeeper, Felix Fernandez, was brought on to open a spot for Campos up front. 

And it happened in the 85th minute when Campos unleashed a merciless volley no goalkeeper would dare save. What a moment that was! If only Stuart Pearce had this guy.


Goalkeepers are the main backbone of the team as they try their best to secure good results by conceding as few goals as possible. Sometimes the situation may dictate that they leave the sticks. And when they do, goalkeepers can also make an impact as outfield players.

In this scenario, the referee will be notified and the change will be made with an outfield teammate during a stoppage. A substitute goalkeeper can replace their outfield teammate on the pitch or they can directly swap.

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