Offside

'Neither winter chill nor legal sanctions can deter some people from whipping off their clothes and cavorting naked around football pitches.'

Duleep Allirajah

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It’s been a good week for one-man pitch invasions.

First, an impostor gatecrashed the Manchester United team photograph before the Champions League quarter-final against Bayern Munich on 18 April 2001. Then, on 21 April, a rather portly Scouser ran on to the pitch at Highbury to confront Everton’s Alex Nyarko.

The United impostor was later named as Carl ‘Fat Neck’ Power, who had inspired the Black Grape song Fat Neck. It also transpired that Mr Power, whose neck appeared to be thick but not excessively blubbery, was not acting alone: the stunt was carefully planned in conjunction with the lads’ magazine Front. This, however, makes Fat Neck technically ineligible for the Offside award for the best solo pitch invasion of the season.

If the quality of a one-man invasion is judged purely by its impact on a player or a team, then the prize would go to the bare-chested Evertonian who offered his shirt to Alex Nyarko. According to the Ghanaian midfielder: ‘The man offered me a black shirt to wear instead of the blue – and told me to fuck off.’

And that is precisely what Nyarko did. He immediately asked to be substituted and then announced that he was retiring from football. You might think Nyarko’s reaction was a bit drastic, but then you’ve probably never been faced with a fat topless Scouser waddling towards you.

For entertainment value you cannot beat the traditional British streaker. The censorious policy of TV broadcasters means that the public is kept in the dark about the true extent of streaking. However the website streaking.net (which, I must emphasise, I discovered entirely by accident) documents recent football-related streaks (1).

In February 2001 a streaker jogged on to the pitch during England’s friendly international against Spain, and shook hands with Michael Owen before trotting off again. In March 2001 streakers appeared at Scotland’s World Cup qualifying match against Belgium and Aston Villa’s Premiership clash with Arsenal. In April 2001 a pair of streakers – male and female – interrupted Manchester City’s game against Arsenal. Neither winter chill nor legal sanctions, it seems, can deter some people from whipping off their clothes and cavorting naked around football pitches.

The authorities, however, are determined to stamp out all incursions. Last week I recounted the saga of Palace fan Nicholas Gale, who was given a three-year ban for dancing on the pitch to celebrate a goal (2). In February 2001 a streaker who ran on to the pitch at Coventry was banned from football for one year.

In 2000, Clint Leach, described as one of Hull City’s ‘most famous supporters’ (because he had flashed his Tigers’ boxer shorts on ITV’s Blind Date), was banned indefinitely for running on to the pitch during a match against Hartlepool. ‘It has absolutely destroyed me’, said Mr Leach. ‘Watching the game on Teletext just isn’t the same.’ (3)

The appearance of a streaker or lone pitch invader is always greeted with loud cheers from the fans who recognise that this is an act of great courage and self-sacrifice. With mass pitch invasions there is safety in numbers. The solo intruder, however, runs the gauntlet of police and stewards in isolation. He faces certain expulsion from the ground and a lengthy banning order. Yet, as long as the human spirit remains unbowed, there will always be the pitch invader.

(1) streaking.net

(2) See Offside, 20 April 2001

(3) Guardian, 18 August 2000

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