Being a football fan isn’t all champagne and skittles you know. Whilst some may see the glory, the celebrations, the bunking in, and the excitement as the perfect life, there are some drawbacks. The damage the game puts on your mental health is immeasurable — I have lost count of the occasions I have pronounced the word “real” (as in “real estate”) as “Real” (as in “Real Madrid”). A small price to pay, but still frustrating.
Add to that the never-ending roller coaster of emotions — even fans of successful clubs have their ups and downs — the constant fluctuations in expectations, and some of the baffling decisions taken by those in charge of most clubs, and you have a recipe for disaster. Football, ladies and gentlemen, is a madhouse.
And these particular people, or “fans”, if you can call them that, are the Lords of the Madhouse Manor. People whose actions are so imbalanced they make Cristiano Ronaldo look surefooted under a tackle. You don’t have to be mad to work here…but it probably helps!
1. Karl comes to the…rescue?
OK, so we have seen this one before. But that doesn’t make it any less incredible, or crazy.
The scene is set. Manchester United versus Bayern Munich in the Olympic Stadium. Champions League quarter-final, second leg. It’s a tense night, United have picked up a poor result at Old Trafford in the first leg and need a big performance to turn it round. Out trot the team- Barthez, G Neville, Silvestré, Stam, Brown, Giggs, Scholes, Keane, Butt, Cole, Yorke, Cantona…..Cantona??
“Cantona” in fact, is unemployed Mancunian Karl Power, who has managed to evade security guards at Germany’s Olympic Stadium to pose — in full United away strip — alongside the team for the official UEFA pre-match photo. Unthinkable really, but United’s players, to their credit, didn’t make a huge fuss and simply got on with the photo. All except Gary Neville of course, he noticed the impostor (Power, not Silvestré) and pointed it out. Power’s (claimed) reply is gold “Shut it, I’m doing this for Eric”…somewhere, in deepest France, surrounded by cakes and biscuits galore, I’m sure “Le King” was smiling proudly.
Power’s shenanigans did not end in Munich however. Since that caper he has been spotted at Headingley during an England/Australia Ashes test, at the podium of the 2002 British Grand Prix, and at Wimbledon’s Centre Court. He has also been banned from Old Trafford for life after re-enacting Diego Forlan’s infamous winner against Liverpool in front of a full house. You have to hand it to the man with the fat neck, he gets the job done. Whatever that job is….
2. Sheikh-ing it up
Another one you may be familiar with. Taking the idea of “playing nicely” to another level, we have the man who quite literally wanted to “Sheikh up the World Cup”– OK, I promise that is the last of the Shake/Sheikh puns.
World Cup 1982, Kuwait v France in Valladolid. France are in cruise control, Bernard Genghini, Didier Six & Michel Platini have given them a 3-1 lead over the World Cup minnows. And when Platini releases Alain Giresse to lash in a fourth, the icing is on the cake.
Not quite. Incensed Kuwaiti players complain that they stopped, upon hearing a referees whistle, in the build up to Giresse’s goal. They protest and protest but their protests fall on deaf ears as the Soviet referee- Miroslav Stupar- awards the goal. Time for some drastic action one suspects. Correct! From the stands emerges Sheikh Fahid Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah- the President of the Kuwaiti FA- to remonstrate with the referee. Incredibly, after threatening to take “his” players off the field, and after several minutes’ comical debate with the officials, the goal is chalked off- to the astonishment of all concerned. France would go on to add a fourth in stoppage time through Max Bossis anyway, but the damage was done to the referee, who had his international credentials (rightly) removed a few months later.
3. Just living the dream
There is a poor moral to this particular story- “moan enough and all your dreams will come true”.
That is what happened to West Ham fan Steve Davies on a balmy (and barmy) summer’s day in 1994. Davies was watching his side play Oxford in a pre-season friendly, and was incensed at the ineptitude being shown by Hammers forward Lee Chapman. Tirade after tirade of abuse rained down on Chapman — the kind not seen since his last argument with Leslie Ash.
Harry Redknapp, West Ham’s assistant manager at the time, finally lost patience with the vocal supporter, and ordered him down the tunnel. Davies re-appeared ten minutes later clad in Claret and Blue, and was given half an hour to prove he was any better. Whisper this, but he actually did, scoring. Chapman sloped off quietly after the match, whilst Redknapp had another tale to add to his collection. For Davies, the memories of a pre-season friendly at the Manor Ground will live forever.
4. A game of life or death
When Bill Shankly uttered that immortal phrase about life and death and football, a lot of people took it seriously. Clowns. Even Shanks would never have claimed that it was true, and everyone in football would have been in agreement in 1994.
Colombia’s Andres Escobar was a powerful, intelligent defender. He had earned many caps for his country by the time the World Cup USA 94 rolled around, but his 50th, and final, outing for Colombia was to have grave consequences.
Colombia had been tipped by many, including that fountain of knowledge Pele, as dark horses for the tournament. A 5-0 win over Argentina, in Buenos Aires, in qualifying confirmed their credentials. The team was packed with talent- Faustino Asprilla, Carlos Valderrama, Freddy Rincon. Unfortunately defeat in their opening Group A match with Romania meant that a similar result in their next, against hosts USA, would mean elimination. Asprilla claims that before the game players were warned that defeat could mean their lives were at stake. As such, the team (understandably) took to the field scared stiff. Escobar was the man who made the critical error, attempting to cut out a John Harkes cross, he inadvertently guided the ball home, and Colombia lost 2-1.
Asprilla, a known wild-child, was warned by the more balanced Escobar to steer clear of Colombian night-spots for a few weeks until the furor died down, but less than a fortnight after the game Escobar himself was enjoying a night out with his girlfriend in Medellin when he was confronted by Castro, who is believed to have shouted “Goooooooalll” as he shot twelve bullets into the defender. Escobar was killed instantly.
Muñoz was sentenced to 43 years for the murder, with unconfirmed reports claiming that the murder was ordered by Colombian crime syndicates who had lost big money gambling on Colombia to progress. He was released in 2005, having served 11 years.
Staying on the (rather sombre) theme of football shootings, this incident took place little over a week ago, and shook the football world.
The setting was Hillah, 100km south of Baghdad, and a match between two local sides, Buhairat & Sinjar. In the dying minutes of the game, Buhairat player was on the verge of scoring an equalising goal, when a shot rang out from the crowd. The player fell to the floor with a gunshot wound, whilst the fan was arrested immediately. The player, named as Haider Khadim, was pronounced dead at the scene. Words fail me at this point.
6. There’s no cheering in football
We all know how frustrating it is when you are trying to have a quiet meal, and cheers keep ringing out from lads watching the footy. Especially when the goals being cheered are not your team’s goals. But few of us take the sort of drastic measures taken here. At least I really hope we don’t.
Rongsaeng, 30, and Sonkun, 41, were watching Italy’s World Cup 2006 match with Ghana in the Thai beach resort of Pattaya, about 70km east of Bangkok. Unfortunately so too was an armed lunatic who demanded peace and quiet. When Andrea Pirlo lashed in Italy’s opener in the first half, the two men erupted with delight, causing a heated altercation with said armed lunatic. This confrontation spilled over into gunfire, with both men shot dead at point blank range. The perpetrator fled the scene. Again, words fail me.
7. It’s a bird…it’s a plane…it’s a parachute?!
I’ve never really got all that parachuting into a football ground malarkey myself. I mean, yeah it’s a skilled thing to do, but the big question I always ask is….why? I bet this fella asks himself that question regularly these days.
That is because, on 13th December 1998, at a match between Aston Villa & Arsenal at Villa Park, during a half time demonstration, he managed to balls it right up. A gust of wind may have been to blame, but the parachutist, whilst trying to land neatly inside the stadium, clipped the top of the Trinity Road stand and plunged 100ft to the ground, to the horror of a capacity 40,000 crowd.
The parachutist miraculously survived, with “only” two broken legs and some cuts and bruises, and was said to be an experienced performer with 6000 jumps to his name. I wonder if he ever made it to 6001?
8. When Henry fans go wild
Some clubs will go to ridiculous lengths to capture their main transfer target. Illicit meetings in hotel rooms, tapping up players on international duty, backhanders for sneaky agents. It all goes on. But Barcelona’s pursuit of Thierry Henry saw a new method adopted. The old “get a fat bloke to give the target a shirt during a big live game” method, to be precise.
Henry, it was no secret, was Barcelona’s number one target. But thus far he had resisted the urge to leave Arsenal. At the 2006 Champions League semi final, second leg against Villarreal at El Madrigal however, Barcelona’s tactics got farcical. Awaiting the start of the second half, a fan clad in an Argentina shirt burst from the stands to the centre circle, where Henry stood with Cesc Fabregas. Evading security guards, he reached the French striker and handed him a Barcelona shirt. Henry, cool as ever, looked on smiling.
Barça would go on to defeat Henry’s Arsenal in the final that year, but the following year Henry finally gave into the Catalan’s demands and wound up at the Nou Camp. Probably because of that fat fella in Villarreal. Or maybe not.
9. Edward Betchley
It is every football fan’s dream. The World Cup. The Jules Rimet trophy, in your hands.
Of course for Edward Betchley, a former RAF soldier, the trophy should never have been anywhere near his grubby little hands. Betchley had taken advantage of some incredibly lax security at Westminster’s Methodist Central Hall, where the trophy was being exhibited in a glass cabinet, to steal the thing from right under the noses of those responsible for its safekeeping.
For the FA, this was nightmare territory. Three months before the World Cup was due to be staged in England, and England had gone and lost the trophy. Brilliant. A few days later and a ransom note (plus part of the trophy- kidnap film-style) were found at Stamford Bridge, the ransom price was £15,000 in five and one pound notes. A proposed meet with the cup-napper went wrong, Betchley sussed he was being tailed by police and tried to escape. He was arrested.
Betchley claimed he was just the middle man for a mysterious crime lord known simply as “The Pole” — Jerzy Dudek’s home was raided, naturally — and refused to disclose the location of the trophy. A week after its disappearance, the Jules Rimet trophy was found by Pickles the dog in Norwood, South London, concealed in newspaper beneath a car.
Betchley served two years in prison for demanding money with menaces, and died in 1969 from emphysema. The full truth behind the theft has never been found or revealed, but I bet Betchley had a few moments lifting that cup high above his head, just four months before Bobby Moore et al did it for real at Wembley.
10. When Danes attack
OK, lets be honest here, we have all felt at some point like dishing out some pugilistic retribution on a match official, right? The way they make big bad decisions and prance around like they don’t even matter annoys me, it annoys you, it annoys everyone. But then most of us are able to control this aggression and keep it locked away in a neat and safe bundle. Not so this fan.
Denmark v Sweden, a Euro 2008 qualifier in Copenhagen’s Parken Stadium, June 2007. Sweden had led 3-0 at one point, only to be pegged back dramatically to 3-3 by a spirited Danish fightback. But in the 89th minute the Danes were reduced to ten men after midfielder Christian Poulsen was dismissed for punching Sweden’s Markus Rosenberg in the stomach, with the visitors awarded a penalty.
At this point a Danish fan, incensed by the perceived injustice (wrongly, if you ask me) ran onto the field, and aimed a punch at German referee Helmut Fandel, who immediately abandoned the game (rightly, if you ask me). The game was later awarded as a 3-0 win to Sweden, who went on to Euro 2008, whilst Denmark did not. The fan should be very, very proud of himself.