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20 Most Bizarre Incidents Ever in Football

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Football can be a funny old game.  Just when you think you have seen everything another moment comes along that makes you shake your head in disbelief.

These may not always be the moments that define the game (although they sometimes do), but they sure as hell are the memories that seem be ingrained in our mind for the rest of our lives. Good or bad, these are the moments make the game of football so unique.

Whether its a ball boy scoring a goal or sheikhs taking the pitch, it’s safe to say this game never gets old. Welcome ladies and gentlemen, to the bizarre and beautiful world, of association football.


1. Sheikh-Up

Do you remember when you were a kid playing football in the street, and your older brother just wouldn’t give you a chance? He would blast goal after goal past you as you begged for mercy, and that tiny chance to be Gary Lineker. It would usually get so bad that your mother would emerge from the kitchen, to insist that things were evened up a bit.

OK, so that was slightly pointless nostalgia there, but it does have a bearing on this incident. Only this one didn’t take place in a Liverpool suburb, but at the 1982 World Cup. Kuwait, trailing 3-1 to Michel Platini’s France, conceded a fourth goal late on to Alain Giresse, but were convinced they had heard a referee’s whistle in the build up, causing several of their players to stop.

Ignoring the age-old cries of “Playing to the whistle”, Sheikh Fahid Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, at the time the President of the Kuwait FA, emerged almost god-like from the stands, marched onto the field of play, and began to remonstrate with the referee. He then urged his team to leave the field, unless the goal was chalked off. Incredibly, and probably sensibly, the referee relented, and the goal was ruled out. France did go on to add a fourth anyway, and the referee would lose his International status in the aftermath. Apparently he was pretty Sheikh-en. Sorry.

2. Iron Girder!

677488 mediumsquare 20 Most Bizarre Incidents Ever in Football

Sticking with the World Cup theme, how about this one? In July 1950, Rajko Mitić of Yugoslavia was all set to take on the mighty Brazil in the Maracana stadium. But as he bounded gleefully from the dressing room to the field, he managed to crack his head off a girder, causing a severe cut to his forehead. Of course those were the days before substitutes, so Yugoslavia were forced to start the game with only ten men, as Mitić was patched up for the first twenty minutes.

By the time a dazed and bloodied Mitić arrived on the field, his team were a goal down (Mitić was not informed of the scoreline until half time), and they would finish with a 2-0 defeat, which led to their elimination from the tournament.

3. Hoof!

Ok, this one is a little over-played, a little obvious, but can you really deny either its outrageousness, or its hilarity? Thought not.

Zaire were a surprise qualifier for the 1974 World Cup in West Germany, the first black African nation to qualify for a World Cup finals, and there was enormous pressure on their shoulders, with the country’s leader, Mobutu Sese Seko informing the players- via his armed guards- that should they lose by four goals or more to holders Brazil in their final group match, there would be dire consequences.

Perhaps understandable then, the way Zairian defender Mwepu Ilunga carried on when faced with a free kick 25 yards from his goal. As the Brazilians, including Jairzinho, lined up to send the ball goalwards, Mwepu burst from the defensive wall, and simply lamped the ball upfield. The Brazilians were gobsmacked, the commentator was almost laughing, the referee issued a yellow card.

Mwepu had the last laugh though, his side only lost by three goals, and the team were allowed to return home. Not so much with their heads held high, but at least they still had them.

4. Phantom Goals

Stuart Attwell may not be the most popular person in football this season. In fact, he definitely isn’t. But when he awarded a goal to Reading for an “effort” that not only failed to cross the goal line, but also didn’t go within ten yards of the goal-posts, in a game against Watford last September, he did bring some good to the game. Not the point that the goal ultimately earned Reading, not the pain he caused the shamelessly-irritating Aidy Boothroyd in the process, but the fact that we could dig up this classic little incident from 1993.

The game is Partick Thistle against Dundee Utd, a Scottish Premier League game. What happens is simply ludicrous. Dundee Utd score a perfectly legitimate goal through Paddy Connolly, the ball blasted from close range into the back of the net. As the ball comes out of the goal, it is caught by Thistle defender Martin Clark, who hands it to keeper Andy Murdoch to launch upfield, in anticipation of the restart. Yet, unbelievably, neither the referee nor the linesman spot the goal, or the handball, and wave play on, with United livid. Luckily, the disallowed goal did not cost Dundee Utd in the end. Imagine the scenes if it had!

5. Ball Boy Scores!

It’s a dream job for a young lad, to be ball boy for his local side. Free tickets to the games? Check. Rubbing shoulders with the stars? Check. Scoring a last minute equaliser? What?

But that is exactly what happened in Brazil in September 2006, in a game between Atletico Sorocaba & Santacruzense. With Sorocaba leading by a single goal in the dying minutes, they were mightily relieved to see Santacruzense striker Samuel’s shot zip wide of the post. However, when a cheeky ball boy decided to bring the ball onto the pitch, and sidefoot it impishly into the goal, the referee- Silvia Regina de Oliveira (the first female to referee in the Brazilian National Championship)- had turned her back, and when she saw the ball nestling in the back of the net, simply assumed that the shot that everyone- including her- had seen go wide, had….erm….actually gone in. The game finished 1-1, and the Brazilian FA were forced to uphold the result, but the referee and her linesman (who was really to blame of course) were suspended. Not unreasonably…

6. Lightning strikes twice

Freak weather can often hit football hard. December & January often sees mountains of fixtures postponed due to frozen or waterlogged pitches. But those elements pale into insignificance when compared to this. They say lightning never strikes twice, well once is more than enough thank you.

Its 1998, and a game in South Africa between Moroko Swallows & Jomo Cosmos. Suddenly, a blast of lightning strikes the pitch, sending players and supporters from both sides scattering. Two Swallows players were kept in hospital with their injuries, whilst the game was understandably abandoned.

They were lucky, later in the same year a match in the Democratic Republic of Congo between Bena Tshadi & Basanga in the Eastern Province of Kasai ended in tragedy when a lightning strike killed eleven players, leaving thirty others seriously injured. Football really does not seem so important when compared to life and death.

7. Chinny runs the line

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They really don’t make football like they did in the 1970s, do they? Could you picture this scene in today’s game?

It involves a game between Arsenal & Liverpool from September 1972. In it, the linesman, Dennis Drewitt (they don’t make names like they did in the 70s either), pulled a calf muscle and was unable to continue. Rather than abandon the game, and in the days before fourth officials and so-forth, the matchday announcer at Highbury simply asked over the tannoy whether there was a qualified referee in the crowd.

Step forward prominent-chinned TV pundit Jimmy Hill, watching from the stands as a spectator. Ditching his civvies for an ill-fitting tracksuit, Hill proceeded to run the line to howls of laughter (and probably abuse too), as the game finished in a 0-0 draw. Hard to imagine Alan Hansen or Andy Gray doing something similar, isn’t it?

8. She shoots, she…..ruins everything

Celebrities and football have had an undeniable link since the halcyon days of the late 1960s when George Best opened the floodgates. Who can forget Raquel Welch’s cringeworthy appearance at Stamford Bridge? Or Ian Botham’s less-than-glorious run outs for Scunthorpe? But for sheer hide-behind-the-pillow cringeworthy-ness, there can only be one winner. Step forward, Miss Diana Ross.

The 1994 World Cup, being held in the USA, was always going to be viewed with suspicion. The MLS was still two years away from formation, and there was global doubt as to whether America really “got” football. But they were determined to put on a show, and as part of their outlandishly glitzy opening ceremony, had drafted in the Supremes singer to glam up proceedings even more. All she had to do was mime through a few songs, look happy, and bury a close range penalty past a paid-off keeper to trigger the ticker-tape parade. Unfortunately, Ross had not kicked a ball in anger since the Tamala Motown 5 a side bonanza of 1965, and shanked her shot horribly wide of the target. Not to worry, the goal still snapped in two, releasing a thousand white balloons and enough glitter to outshine even Girls Aloud at an awards do. We salute you America.

9. The Bladdered referee

It is not uncommon, after a series of dubious refereeing decisions, for fans across the world to ask the following question- “is the ref pissed?” But who would have believed that one day the answer to that particular poser would be- “Actually, yes he is. He is hammered!”

To set the scene, it is a Belarusian Premier Division match between Vitebsk & Naftan. The official in question is Sergei Shmolik, the referee who officiated England’s 6-0 win over Luxembourg at Wembley back in 1999 and one who was voted as Belarus’ finest in 2007. A decent pedigree. But there was nothing decent about his behaviour here. According to reports, the referee spent much of the game staggering around the centre circle, failing to keep up with play, and refusing to issue any cards whatsoever, despite some tasty tackles.

At the end of the game, Shmolik was helped off the pitch by another official like a drunken uncle at a family wedding, waving to the crowd as he left. He was taken to hospital for tests, which revealed that he had huge levels of alcohol in his system. The Belarus FA acted quickly, suspending Shmolik, who claimed that his strange performance was due in part to “a bad back” rather than “a bad pint”

10. Dog pisses on Greaves

Dogs and football rarely mix. Just ask Chic Brodie, the former Brentford keeper who suffered a career-ending injury after being attacked by an uninvited four legged guest. How many childhood games were ruined for you by the arrival of an over-eager, and less-than-friendly canine pitch invader?

But this particular dog/football story has a more comedic element to it. It takes place in the 1962 during the World Cup in Chile, as Jimmy Greaves’ England take on the holders Brazil. On rushes a small black dog, chasing after the ball with more energy than some of the England players could muster. Several players try to apprehend the dog, but none are as clever about it as Greaves, who gets down on all fours to beckon the dog towards him. It works as well, but there is always a twist with this kind of story, and so it comes as the terrified pooch proceeds to urinate all over Greavesie’s pristine white England jersey. A truly classic World Cup moment, one that legendary Brazil star Garrincha enjoyed so much, he took him home as a pet (the dog, not Greaves).

11. 3 seconds of football…or so they thought

As a Saturday league connoisseur, I am used to turning up at some ramshackle ground in the middle of nowhere at ten to three, only to find that either the game is off, the other team hasn’t turned up, or that the venue has changed. Sometimes all three.

But when the game in question is a World Cup qualifier, questions have to be asked. Scotland were due to play Estonia in Tallinn at 6.45pm on 9 October 1996. But Scots manager Craig Brown was concerned about the quality of Kadriorg Stadium’s floodlights, and FIFA shared those concerns. The game was switched to a 3 o’clock kick off, at 9 o’clock the same morning. Estonia protested that they were not given sufficient notice, or preparation for the game, and simply didn’t turn up.

In some of the most farcical scenes ever seen, Scotland’s players- including full debutants Billy Dodds & Jackie McNamara- were made to line up, stand on ceremony through both national anthems, and then kick off the game. Three seconds later, the referee blew his whistle and Scotland were on their way with a default 3-0 victory.

Or so they thought. FIFA later ordered the game to be replayed at a neutral venue and, typically for the Scots, they were held to a frustrating goalless draw in Monaco’s Stade Louis II stadium a couple of months later.

12. Gassed out

Those early World Cup finals really were a bit special weren’t they? What with girders and politics and the entire competition being hosted within one city. But nothing my friends, can beat this for downright farce.

Montevideo. The semi finals of the first ever World Cup. Argentina v the USA. July 1930. The Americans were growing increasingly displeased with what they perceived to be “rough-house tactics” from the Argentinean’s. So much so in fact that after one particularly heavy foul, the US trainer leapt from the bench and raced onto the field of play to remonstrate with the referee. In his anger, the sandwich-short-of-a-picnic fella threw his medical bag to the floor, cracking open a bottle of chloroform, and knocking himself spark out.

Galvanised by this incredible setback, the Americans proceeded to play with style, grace, panache and poise, losing 6-1.

13. Show some flare

When you need a win in the Maracana stadium to have any chance of qualifying for the World Cup, you know you are in trouble. And when you are down by a goal to nil with just twenty minutes remaining, desperation starts to kick in.

That was the situation facing Chile as they trailed Brazil in Rio back in September 1989. Fortunately their goalkeeper, Roberto Rojas, had a Baldrick-esque “cunning plan” up his sleeve. Literally.
Producing a razor blade he had stashed in his gloves pre-match, Rojas cut himself on the forehead, and fell to the floor with blood streaming from the wound. Nearby, a flare thrown from the stands was smouldering. Rojas’ concerned team-mates carried him from the field, and refused to go back out to play, citing “unsafe conditions”.

However, what Rojas had reckoned without was…..the fact that there were a million cameras inside the Maracana that night, and as luck would have it, a good few of them had seen the firework land nowhere near him, whilst a fair few had seen him cut his own bonce. Brazil were awarded a 2-0 win, and Chile were not only eliminated from the 1990 World Cup, but banned from the 1994 tournament as well. Rojas was banned for life by FIFA- although the ban was lifted in 2001 under appeal….when he was 44.

Some good did come of it all however, the fan who threw the flare- Rosemary de Mello- went on to pose for Playboy, and appeared in several adverts on Brazilian TV. Reality TV was born.

14. Devine Inspiration

There are few things more nerve wracking in football than the penalty shootout. Standing in the way of Jan Molby when the tannoy announces half price burgers perhaps? But for sheer edge of your seat tension, the old shootout has to be the king.

Step forward then, Peter Devine. Not the most household of names, but for anyone familiar with Nick Hancock’s “Football Nightmares” series, the name will instantly resonate.

The setting is an FA Trophy match between Lancaster City & Whitley Bay, the scores are level at 4-4, with all eight previous penalty takers having scored emphatically. Up steps our hero, places the ball on the spot with poise and focus, takes a few steps back, begins his run up and……stumbles ridiculously towards the ball, stroking it a couple of yards forward, before doing the only dignified thing. Pretending he was injured. Note the sympathy from the keeper, who must have had to stick both gloves in his mouth to drown out the laughter. Lancaster lost by the way, and it was Devine’s fault.

15. Scorpion Kick

Jamie Redknapp’s England career never really reached the heights it was supposed to did it? I mean yeah he did score that stunning goal against Belgium, but really he didn’t actually do that much in an England shirt. But he was involved in one of the most ridiculous footballing moments of all time, although in a way I’m pretty sure he wishes he wasn’t.

It is 1995, and an international friendly at Wembley between England & Colombia. The game is a pretty drab affair; the commentators are in danger of dozing off as Terry Venables’ side attempts to mould into their new fangled “Christmas Tree” formation. Alan Shearer is going through a dry spell in front of goal, Paul Ince is shaking his fist but not really getting much done, and David Seaman is contemplating growing a ponytail at the other end.
But then, the ball is pulled back to Redknapp 25 yards out. Here comes trouble, you think. But Redknapp’s effort is mistimed, the ball loops harmlessly towards the flamboyant (a.k.a. mental) Colombian keeper Rene Higuita. Easy catch, you think. Not with this guy. Higuita produces the now infamous “Scorpion Kick”, jumping forwards, but kicking his legs behind him to fire the ball out of the danger area, to the delight and bemusement of all concerned. Except Redknapp, who never fully recovered from the humiliation of seeing someone do that to one of his “shots”.

16. Push off, ref

Look up the phrase “fiery Italian”, and chances are you will come across a picture of Paolo Di Canio. In Italian football, Di Canio fell out with coaches- Fabio Capello amongst them- team-mates, referees, presidents, the lot. In Scottish football he played well, but demanded a move after a couple of seasons.

But perhaps his most infamous moment came in September 1998, when playing for Sheffield Wednesday against Arsenal. Di Canio became embroiled in a scuffle with Gunners defender Martin Keown, aiming a kick as players from both sides got involved. The referee, Paul Alcock, saw this and beckoned the Italian over to him, before issuing (justifiably) the red card.

At this point, a fired up Di Canio pushed Alcock with both hands in the chest. Out of order of course, but the manner in which the referee stumbled theatrically to the ground following the push was not only bizarre, but utterly hilarious.

Di Canio was banned by the FA for eleven games, and would never play for Sheffield Wednesday again. Never one to shirk a challenge, he was picked up by Harry Redknapp at West Ham, where he went on to gain cult status. All’s well that ends well I suppose.

17. Kung-Fu Eric

In the wake of the recent Sol Campbell police enquiry, chanting at players has been under scrutiny this season. Debates have raged about whether players should be expected to tolerate vile personal abuse simply because the culprits have “paid their money”

One of the first, and certainly the most high-profile, to take a stand against abuse from the terraces was the King himself. Eric Cantona of Manchester Utd. A temperamental character at the best of times, Cantona had suffered from disciplinary problems wherever he had been, throwing the ball at the referee, throwing his shirt at his manager, fighting with team-mates, getting sent off. But when playing for United in a league match with Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park in January 1995, Cantona crossed a line even he would have been surprised at.

The game was locked goalless when the Frenchman, frustrated at constant provocation from Palace defenders, kicked out at Richard Shaw. The referee, Alan Wilkie, and his linesman, had seen the incident, and had no option but to show Cantona the red card. As he was led from the field by United backroom staff and team-mates, Cantona took exception to the abuse being levelled at him by one fan in particular. That fan was Matthew Simmons. Simmons claimed he had bounded down twenty rows of seats simply to shout “It’s an early bath for you Cantona”, whilst Eric claimed that he had been subjected to racial abuse.

Either way, something inside Cantona snapped, and he wrestled free of kitman Norman Davies to launch himself over the advertising hoardings with an incredible two-footed, kung-fu-style kick to the chest of Simmons, before aiming a punch at the startled fan, who held his arms wide in a protestation of innocence. As BBC commentator Clive Tyldesley put it “ah, this is outrageous”

Cantona was escorted from the field, and would be banned from football for eight months, as well as serving 120 hours’ community service. Simmons had his season ticket confiscated by Palace, and one of football’s craziest ever scenes was set.

18. Penalty spot painted

Told you there was something special about 1970s football. OK, so the haircuts were awful, the shorts were short, and the pitches were….well, farmer’s fields.

But this game from April 1977, between Derby & Manchester City at the old Baseball Ground, takes the biscuit when it comes to footballing absurdity surely. In it, Derby are awarded a penalty for a foul on Archie Gemmill, but with the grass all gone from most of the pitch, there ensues a debate over where exactly the penalty should be taken from. City goalkeeper Joe Corrigan attempts to help the referee out by pacing out twelve yards. And receives a yellow card for his cheek!

In the end, the only sensible solution is called for. A man, County groundsman Bob Smith, with a tape measure and a bucket of white paint emerges from the stands, measures out 12 yards immaculately (whilst players and fans of both sides sit around patiently), before painting himself a nice white spot on the sandy Derby pitch. Once complete, the penalty is buried by Gerry Daly past a half-asleep Corrigan. Good times.

19. Handbags at dawn

These days, fighting on the pitch is hardly the most shocking thing about football. But back in 1975, the thought of two players, England internationals no less, coming to blows in front of the TV cameras was unthinkable.

Francis Lee & Norman Hunter were room-mates at the 1970 World Cup, two seasoned professionals with just about every major honour to their names. But on 1 November 1975, in a game between Lee’s Derby County & Hunter’s Leeds United, the two stamped their names into the history books in indelible ink for all the wrong reasons.

First, a bit of background. Francis Lee had throughout his career earned a reputation as a bit of….how can I put this…..diver. So much so in fact that some football writers had dubbed him “Lee Won Pen”, for his fondness of hitting the deck in the penalty area. Norman Hunter on the other hand was a different breed; “Bite Yer Legs” rarely went to ground, unless it was to….er…bite yer legs.

So when Lee drew a soft penalty out of a nothing Hunter challenge in this game, Big Norm was busting for revenge. And he took it in the most cynical of fashions, a sharp punch whilst Lee’s, and the referee’s, back was turned left the Derby striker with a split lip and some seriously damaged pride. Players from both sides- the likes of Kevin Hector, Billy Bremner & Peter Lorimer- waded in, and the referee was left with no option but to send the pair off. Drama over.

Not quite. As the pair left the field side-by-side, Lee lost his patience with Hunter’s goading, swinging wildly and repeatedly from the ankle with such venom that he floored the much taller Leeds man. In the end it took Derby boss Dave Mackay to intervene and lead his man from the field, with John Motson bemoaning that “a side to football we really do not want to see has unfortunately reared its ugly head”. Not so sure about that John. Personally, I love watching it.

20. Who are ya?

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It is every football fan’s dream. To walk out in a big European stadium, on a big European night, side by side with some of the best players in the world.

For Karl Power, that was exactly what happened on the night of 18 April 2001. Power, an unemployed labourer from Greater Manchester, somehow managed to evade security at Bayern Munich’s Olympic Stadium to walk out with the Manchester Utd team, before cheekily posing alongside the likes of Dwight Yorke, Ryan Giggs & Fabian Barthez for the official team picture.

Eagle-eyed Gary Neville did actually spot the imposter, and pointed him out to the rest of the team. But Power, a big Eric Cantona fan, apparently replied “shut it, I’m doing this for Eric” Bravo, sneaking onto the pitch, and telling Gary Neville to shut it. Superb stuff.

Power also hit headlines when he emerged onto the field at Lords during an England test match, and played tennis at Wimbledon- beating Greg Rusedski with great ease. Boom boom.

Also See:

Top 15 Craziest Red/Yellow Cards
Football Violence & Top 10 Worst Football Riots
10 Crazy Fans Who Shook The Footballing World

Comments (7)

  1. Great article! Although I take exception with the Diana Ross thing. She’s hardly an athlete, and her penalty shot was no worse than 80% of the PK’s taken by the English national team over the last few years. Plus, it was hardly her worst moment. Anyone that saw her at the MTV Music Awards when she groped Little Kim’s breast will attest to that!

  2. Great article, cracked me up a few times as well :) Number 12 is classic! Kinda makes me wish it was caught on tape

  3. Fantastic article. Number 20 brought back memories. Too bad the photo of him in the team picture (all 12 members of Man Utd) wasn’t the photo of choice because looking at it, you would have sworn it was Eric himself. Never knew that he actually told Gary Neville to “shut it” but it got me laughing.

    And speaking of Cantona, he actually hailed that kung fu kick as a great memory and regrets only that he didn’t fully land the kick on the fan he dubbed the “hooligan.” Caused a rucous back in 1994-95 season when it happened, but I wonder if the allegations are true, that the Crystal Palace fan was spewing anti-French vitriol, if the same scenario were to happen if a fan were spewing racist tirades at a player and the player reacted, how we’d react. If a fan threw a banana at a black player and that same player reacted with physical violence, I’d almost feel the player’s actions were justified. A debate for another time and place perhaps. Eric was legendary. And for a few seconds in 2001 it was nice to see him back.

  4. Great compilation Neil. I also like this one:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qYUoF66ugks

  5. Dan, I agree. The guy totally looked like Cantona. They should have let him play, too. Maybe United would have advanced if King Eric had been on hand to perform his magic.

    I’m not sure if I’d argue that a player is justified in going into the stands and attacking a fan. After all, Ron Artest did the same thing and we all saw how ugly things got. You can’t have athletes going into the stands and attacking fans, no matter how much provocation they have. It always ends poorly, and there are better ways to deal with a fan’s idiocy. Ban them for life. Throw them in prison. Empty stadiums. Point deductions.

  6. Excellent article

    I had forgotten about some of these but in particular the serial/professional imposter Karl Power. I watched a TV programme about him years ago and he also walked onto the Richard & Judy set and definitely got onto the podium of a Formula1 grand prix after the end of the race and before the winning driver came out.

    have a look at an official picture of the ManU team and the picture after it is him in the ashes
    http://sport.guardian.co.uk/pictures/image/0,10593,-10504317004,00.html

  7. Really funny, dude! Drunk fella at my hometown stadium. It’s famous now!