Greatest sportsmanship ever? When Paolo Di Canio caught the ball mid-match for West Ham

  • Kobe Tong

Paolo Di Canio has waded through his fair share of controversy over the years.

From losing his rag mid-game for West Ham United to pushing over a referee with Sheffield Wednesday, the fiery Italian certainly made some enemies during his time in the Premier League.

However, it says everything about the enigma of the man that he’s also responsible for one of the greatest moments of sportsmanship in the competition’s history as well.

Everton 1-1 West Ham (2000)

And that’s the topic of our trip down memory lane today because footage of Di Canio catching the ball when he had an open goal during West Ham vs Everton in 2000 will never get old.

With the scores locked at 1-1 on a wintery December night, the Hammers looked to have a brilliant opportunity to find the net when onrushing Everton goalkeeper Paul Gerrard pulled up injured.

The crocked Gerrard ended up stranded outside the penalty area and the ball was soon floated into the box towards Di Canio with the enigmatic forward appearing to have a clear shot at goal.

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Di Canio’s incredible sportsmanship

However, instead of trying his best to hook or head the ball towards goal, he instead decided to show remarkable fair play by catching the cross in order to allow Gerrard to receive treatment.

Di Canio received a round of applause from the Everton fans for his admirable response and was presented with the FIFA Fair Play Award by Gerrard before the reverse fixture in March 2001.

To this day, Di Canio’s brilliant sportsmanship makes for both a bewildering and heartwarming rewatch, so be sure to relive one of the Premier League’s most iconic moments for yourself below:

How West Ham reacted

Now, the pessimist’s argument is that Di Canio wouldn’t have been able to score anyway, but you’ve got to give him the benefit of the doubt for what must be seen as a fantastic piece of camaraderie.

However, not everybody was delighted with Di Canio because the Hammers’ hunt for points was potentially hampered by his decision, leading to some eye-opening reactions in the dressing room.

In fact, per talkSPORT, then West Ham manager Harry Redknapp revealed in 2019 just how angry he was at Di Canio in the immediate aftermath, while Stuart Pearce sounded absolutely apoplectic.


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Redknapp and Pearce furious

Redknapp said: “My God, the day he caught the ball at Everton with five minutes to go and we needed the points badly and instead of heading it in he catches the ball so Gerrard can get treatment!

“I’ve come off at the end and I’m like ‘what’s he done?’, Stuart Pearce comes thundering into the dressing room and says ‘don’t let me near him, I’ll kill him, I’ll kill him, I’m going to rip his head off!’

“Two minutes later I’ve got to do an interview live on Sky and the guy says to me ‘what a great day for football.’

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“The game wasn’t that good! He then went ‘Di Canio, great sportsmanship, you must be so proud of him’. I’m going ‘oh yeah, yes of course, wonderful’ but we want to kill him really!”

Well, I guess you can’t please everyone…



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