By now we’ve all seen last Friday’s shocking images from Hillsborough, where Chris Kirkland was brutally felled by a gentle shove to the face from a Leeds United supporting-thug. This act of workplace bullying got me thinking of other notorious overzealous spectator participation from the annals of sport. The inevitable conclusion is this: a poorly-researched subjective sample of The Top Five Pitch Invasions… Of All Time!
1. While he’s spending four months at Her Majesty’s pleasure, Aaron Cawley can at least consider himself lucky his drunken decision making didn’t lead him to seek out a more physically robust opponent than Kirkland to accost or, even worse, the referee.
For this is what Danish fan Ronni Noervig decided to do in June 2007 after German official Herbert Fandel awarded a late penalty to Sweden in a Euro 2008 qualifier, with the game level at 3-3. Spooked by the near assault, Fandel called the game off and gave Sweden a 3-0 win. Uefa – ever eager to crack down on fan misbehaviour, of course – ordered Denmark to play their remaining two home qualifiers away from the national stadium, at a projected loss of over £200k in gate receipts. After his release, Noervig was pursued for damages by the Danish FA and commanded to cough up £120k. Noervig took the decision to the appeal courts. And saw the fine doubled.
2. No list of pitch invasions would be complete without a token streaker. This particular gentleman naturist has well-earned his place in the Top Five by also getting a little too close to the action. The action was cricket but the sporting lines become blurred somewhat as the inebriated Robert Ogilvie came bounding up to a padded-up Andrew Symonds. Ogilvie was promptly and unceremoniously floored by a hefty charge of the batsman’s shoulder that wouldn’t have been out of place in Aussie Rules Football.
The event was summed up beautifully by the Sydney Morning Herald, who also had a reporter stationed outside the cells for Mr Ogilvie’s release the next day:
Asked what it was liked to be hit by Symonds, Ogilvie said: “It was great, actually. It was just like playing football.”
Was he embarrassed? “Oh, nah, not really, no.”
Did he regret it? “You only live once, don’t you.”
Would he do it again? “Nah, nah. Done it once.”
3. In rugby – a game for hooligans’ played by gentleman, lest we forget – very few instances of crowd trouble spring to mind. The most famous instances took place in the 1970s and 80s in protest at the participation of teams from apartheid-era South Africa. All very worthy. Sadly, professional rugby is a slightly different beast to its aristocratic amateur days.
That much was evident last year when Lucien Harinordoquy – father of the France and Biarritz No8 Imanol Harinordoquy leapt to his son’s defence during a mêlée in the Basque derby against Bayonne. Monsieur Harinordoquy (senior) made his way onto the pitch and tried to punch a Bayonne player in the maw. He didn’t get that far and was tackled to the ground by the Bayonne fly-half Benjamin Boyet, who later gave his version of events:
I tackled him because he was attacking one of my team-mates… I put him to the ground and [the Biarritz hooker] Benoît August told me to stop, because it was Imanol’s father.
4. Sometimes, in fact often, pitch invasions are occasions of shared ebullience. The sight of football fans streaming onto the pitch after a goal or victory fill the memories of those who grew up watching the game before the Hillsborough disaster change everything forever. The sepia-tinted perspective of these events is of over exuberance, though of course the spectre of crowd hooliganism loomed large at the time.
The Wembley pitch invasion by Scottish fans after England lost 2-1 to the Auld Enemy in 1977 is an example of how the perception of crowd trouble has changed over time. Though denounced in Parliament and the media at the time as thuggery; a symptom of the blighted society of Britain, today the act is seen more as a patriotic outpouring by oppressed Scots against the yoke of tyranny south of the border. Framed pictures of the pitch invasion are for sale on eBay, and those who dug up the pitch take to football fora to boast that they were there on that special day when the English football citadel was shaken.
5. As we’ve seen from the work of Messrs Symonds and Ogilvie, down in Oz they do things rather more facetiously. Australian rules football, in particular, attracts dedicated followers with a quirky sense of humour. The most famous example of this took place in 1993 at the Sydney Cricket Ground during the Swans’ game against St Kilda.
In an apparent bid to wind up star opposition forward Tony “Plugger” Lockett some still-unidentified Sydney fans released a pig onto the field (of play) bearing the misspelt moniker “Plugga” on its side. It took three minutes to tackle the porker. While Plugga hogged the limelight, the real Plugger was in the stands after missing the game through injury. St Kilda won 155-118.
The story doesn’t end there. In 2006 the legendary tale was hammed up further after ex-Swans player Scott Watters went squealing to the press. His testimony states that some Swans players had been approached in the pub the week before by a man claiming to be a pig farmer. The ensuing discussion, fuelled by beer, seems to have led to the most famous pitch invader in Australian sporting history. That’s if Watters’ story is kosher, of course.