Top 10: Things all neutral fans love to see
“There’s a dog on the pitch!”
Occasionally, things happen on a football pitch which give the fans a strange sort of joy – whether it’s an animal on the pitch, a comedy own goal or a fight between teammates.
Moments like these show how close elite football is to the jumpers-for-goalposts, headers-and-volleys game which every young footballer grew up with.
Here are 10 moments in a match which give the game an old-school feel and make supremely talented footballers seem, well, just like one of us.
1. Keeper going up for a corner
A goalkeeper heading up for a corner in the dying minutes perks up any match. It makes you nudge your mate in the pub and say, ‘Hey look! The keeper’s up.’
It’s rare for this to lead to a goal, but it’s still entertaining to see the defending team make a break-away as the goalkeeper races back like an extra from a Benny Hill parody.
Peter Schmeichel scored 11 goals during his career, including one for his national team. Although the prize for the best goal goes to Baroka FC goalkeeper Oscarine Masuluke, who scored an audacious 96th minute overhead kick in the South African top-flight last year. The goal sparked wild celebrations and earned him a nomination for the Puskas Award 2017.
2. A dog on the pitch
The same joy as when a dog somehow ends up in your school playground, a dog on the pitch seems to happen less often than in the 1970s. A song title by Half Man Half Biscuit neatly sums this up, ‘Even Men With Steel Hearts Love To See A Dog On The Pitch.’
In April last year, a dog interrupted play in a Northern Premier League match between Halesowen Town and Skelmersdale United. Dusty, a pet dog owned by one of the players halted the game for nearly 10 minutes as players tried but failed to catch him. His owner, Asa Charlton, later said the only way to distract Dusty was with bacon, ‘Somebody got food out which is the only way we’ve been able to get him after running about.’
3. A fan on the pitch
A highlight of this genre is when the fan escapes the attention of stewards as he or she darts around the pitch.
A friend of mine once ran onto the pitch at the Riverside Stadium after a late Ugo Ehiogu winner. To this day, he cherishes the photo of him celebrating with his idols.
Here is a classic – a West Ham fan runs onto the pitch and take a free kick…
Sometimes, the knock-on effect can be worse than a £200 fine and a night in the cells.
On Valentine’s Day 2009, in an FA Cup tie between Blackburn Rovers and Coventry City, 20-year-old James Miller ran onto the pitch in his underpants as a romantic gesture to his girlfriend. He was dressed as Cupid, and fired love arrows and roses at the Coventry City players.
The extra injury-time meant that Chris Samba scored a 95th minute equaliser to set up a replay. As for his girlfriend, she ended their relationship.
“He must think it’s funny, but after that I didn’t want anything to do with him. If he thought I would be impressed then he must be more stupid than he looks.” Ouch.
4. Player going in net
John Terry, Rio Ferdinand, Robbie Savage, Peter Beardsley, Niall Quinn, Phil Jagielka, Dean Windass and Shaun Wright-Phillips. This is just a selection of players who have spent time between the sticks.
Quinn even saved a penalty for Manchester City up against Derby striker Dean Saunders. Windass also faced a missed penalty. Before the spot-kick was taken, Windass said to his opponent, Matty Fryatt, “You’re gonna let your family down now.” Suitably intimated, Fryatt missed the penalty.
Surprisingly, Wright-Phillips proved one of the most adept. Seeing a player in goal is always a joy, and will inevitably result in fans shouting ‘Shoot!’ whenever a player has the ball.
The reverse of this is the rare occurrence of a goalkeeper playing outfield, as David James did for Manchester City in 2005. Despite what a disaster this turned out to be, it was no less hilarious to see James gangling around up front looking baffled whenever the ball came near him.
5. A foul on a player running the clock down
This is a niche event where the rules of the game seemingly no long apply. As a neutral fan, seeing a player casually take the ball towards the corner flag causes an irrational sense of rage.
If it was your own team in a crucial derby game, for example, you’d be chuffed to see it happen. But not you, son. No way.
In desperation, the defending player often laces the time-wasting forward with an old-fashioned reducer.
What adds to this is that the linesman rarely awards the attacking team with a throw-in / foul / corner due to some warped concept of sportsmanship. Cue outrage by the attacking player for less than half a second before he has to dash back to help his team defend. Classic.
6. Referee involved in play
There is an old adage that the best referees are the ones you don’t notice. Some officials have strayed far away from that mantra.
Mike Dean, who is perhaps more ‘noticeable’ than most referees in the Premier League, was sarcastically congratulated by Jose Mourinho for a “fantastic performance” after his side lost to Sunderland.
Referee Matt Massias once accidentally did what most other officials can only dream of – giving pantomime villain Robbie Savage a swift back-hand across the face.
In contrast, Lionel Messi used a referee, who had strayed too close to the action, to his advantage. Mid-dribble, Messi used the referee as a shield to fox a Celta Vigo midfielder, who then allegedly shouted, “Which game are you watching, referee?” To which the obvious response is, “The one where you just got embarrassed by the world’s best player.”
7. Last-ditch tackle / goal-line clearance
This act seems to be monopolised by the old-school, no-nonsense centre-backs in the mould of John Terry and Terry Butcher.
The most famous incident is Phil Babb’s attempt to stop Chelsea’s Pierluigi Casiraghi scoring at Anfield in 1998. As the ball rippled the net, Babb skidded, legs apart, full-blast into the post. It makes every man shudder at the mere thought of it.
On the other side of this coin, a cynical foul as the ‘last man’ which results in a red card but only a free-kick. Ole Gunnar Solskjær is the stand-out example – in 1998, he got sent off for a cynical foul on Rob Lee with the Newcastle man bearing down on goal. Sir Alex Ferguson later fined Solskjær for his efforts, but he was given a standing ovation by the Old Trafford faithful.
8. Player missing a sitter
Nothing can reduce a fantastic player down to pub-level football like missing an open goal.
Nick Hancock and Danny Baker made the stand-out bloopers videos of the 90s. Their work featured a series of misses so unbelievable you had to rewind to watch them again. One featured Hancock’s brilliant commentary, ‘He’s clear, he’s clear, he’s…clearly a tw*t.’
Ronny Rosenthal is the champion of this genre; his famous sitter against Aston Villa in 1992 is still revered as one of the Premier League’s most amazing misses.
Some of the finest footballers in the history of the game have been guilty of astonishing misses. The beauty of not being a professional footballer is that a catastrophic error will never end up on a bloopers compilation. Small mercies.
9. Floodlight failure
Several matches over the years have suddenly been plundered into darkness, with the crowd standing helpless in the stadium.
This was long before the days of smartphones with lights on them. In the late 1990s, the incidents were allegedly caused by Asian betting syndicates, and were shocking mainly because of how easy outside forces could infiltrate the Premier League.
After West Ham’s Frank Lampard scored an equaliser in November 1997 against Crystal Palace, the floodlights went off and the game was abandoned. A month later, the same thing happened during a Wimbledon vs Arsenal match.
The syndicate tried for a third time, at a Charlton Athletic vs Liverpool match, but their plan failed. The security guard who was bribed to trip the lights told his colleague, who then reported it to the police. Four men, including the Charlton security supervisor, were jailed for between 18 months and four years.
10. Fight between teammates
With such an array of egos in any top-flight team, it’s inevitable that things will bubble over.
There have been countless examples of team in-fighting. Graeme Le Saux and David Batty exchanged blows in Blackburn’s catastrophic Champions League campaign, but neither player was booked.
Not so lucky for Kieron Dyer and Lee Bowyer, who were both sent off for their scuffle. Dyer has since said, “As he was raining punches in, I thought ‘You need to get on the weights because they aren’t hurting.'”
Alan Hansen didn’t see the funny side, describing the incident as ‘another stain on the game of football.’
In a training match during the 2002 World Cup, Olof Mellberg had a comedic scrap with Fredrik Ljungberg after a mistimed tackle. Little damage was done as the pair just rolled around on the ground. Mellberg said: “You can’t put a positive spin on what I did. It is nothing to be proud about. It was stupid.”
A foolish act by both men, but hilarious for the rest of us.
What other things would you add to this list? Let us know here…