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The Magnificent Seven: Invasions and interference

Johnny Hoogerland’s horrific crash at Le Tour got us thinking about some of the most famous moments of sporting interference.

Alan O'Connor shows Cork's 16th man the way to the sideline.
Alan O'Connor shows Cork's 16th man the way to the sideline.
Image: ©INPHO/Morgan Treacy

1. Johnny Hoogerland: Man on Wire

Professional cycling owes a lot to television.

The nature of the sport, with its strung-out fields and bunched groupings, makes it incredibly difficult to get an overall sense of the action without live TV’s ability to chop and change between different scenes.

Of course, in order to provide these images for millions of viewers around the world, TV crews need to get their cameras right in amongst the action.

And with such a vast number of bikes and cars travelling at huge speed in close quarters, the margin for error is minuscule – as Juan Antonio Flecha and Johnny Hoogerland discovered during last Sunday’s stage of the Tour de France.

The pair were involved in a nasty accident when a television car swerved to avoid a tree and clipped Flecha’s bike, sending the Spaniard sprawling and Hoogerland flying through the air where he landed on a barbed wire fence.

To their credit, both battled on to finish the stage, despite the fact that Hoogerland’s leg looked as though it had been put through a medieval meat slicer.

Now, a week later the story of the Dutchman’s courage, resilience and determination has become one of the most compelling storylines of this year’s Tour.

In a similar situation, many would have given up the ghost. But, as the peloton prepared to mount the infamous Pyrenean slope of the Col du Tourmalet yesterday, Hoogerland pushed through the pain barrier to force an early attack.

It was a gutsy move, one that will win him many new fans, the majority of whom won’t care that he gradually faded away shortly afterwards.

2. Beachball 1-0 Liverpool

Just when you think that football has lost its capacity to shock and amaze, a beachball scores the opening goal for Sunderland at the Stadium of Light.

A beachball.

Looking back on it now, a couple of things strike me, the most obvious being that this confluence of events isn’t as unlikely as it might seem. Fan throws object onto the pitch. Nobody does anything to remove it. Shot. Deflection. Goal. Carnage.

Really what I’m asking is, how come this kind of thing doesn’t happen more often?

The other, more interesting question is how come the goal was allowed to stand? In the ensuing brouhaha, it emerged that the goal should have been disallowed under the laws of the game, even if Steve Bruce did think that only a “saddo” would be aware of that particular rule.

Maybe Mike Dean didn’t know the rule. Maybe he was aware of its existence but was simply too flustered to realise that now was the time to apply it. Maybe he’s a secret Sunderland supporter or had Sunderland backed to score first.

Whatever the reason, surely common sense should have dictated that play restart with a drop-ball which Reina could’ve hoofed back to Sunderland. Sadly, no …

As Lord Ferg might have wryly muttered that afternoon, “Beachball? Bloody hell.”

3. Alan O’Connor cleans up in midfield

Cork’s Alan O’Connor has a reputation for being a tireless midfield slogger, so it hardly came a surprise when he was quickest to react to the presence of an unexpected guest during the 2009 Munster Football Final.

Dogs on football pitches are hardly the most unusual sight at GAA games, but the manner in which O’Connor ejected this particular pitch invader was.

After a couple of others had half-heartedly tried and failed to catch the dog, O’Connor was determined not to be given the runaround.

As the animal shot off for another jaunt around the centre circle, the midfielder acted decisively, pouncing as if to claim possession of a low breaking ball and scooping the dog up into his arms in one fluid motion.

Job done.

4. “The Dancing Priest” spreads his message

In his pre-Britain’s Got Talent days, Father Neil Horan – “the Dancing Priest” – was quite a regular feature of some of the world’s biggest sporting showpieces.

The idea was quite simple: in order to get the maximum possible publicity for his belief that the end of the world was rapidly approaching, Horan decided to appear at events which were bound to command a huge global audience.

Pitch invasions happen all the time and, more often than not, they are little more than a minor irritant. However, Horan’s “stunts” had the potential to be a lot more dangerous – both for himself and for the stars whose event he was interrupting.

Most famously, he showed up at Silverstone for the British Grand Prix in 2003, running down the 200mph Hangar Straight, brandishing a sign which encouraged people to read the Bible.

(As an aside, I wonder about the perimeter security. Surely if you see an aul’ fella in traditional Irish get-up loitering around the crash barrier with a gigantic sign, you become slightly suspicious, no?)

Thankfully, nobody was hurt as one of the marshals managed to bundle Horan off the track before he was hit by a car. The courts took a pretty dim view of the whole thing though, sentencing him to two months in prison for the invasion.

It hardly deterred him though. The following summer, he made it all the way to Athens where he infamously prevented race leader Vanderlei de Lima from winning Olympic gold in the marathon by tackling him into the crowd with just under four miles to go.

5. Ball-boy makes mistake, Troicki throws strop

Sometimes people make mistakes, a fact which Viktor Troicki would be well advised to remember.

Playing against Andy Murray at this year’s French Open, the Serb was on the receiving end of an honest and unfortunate mistake – a young ball-boy, thinking that the point was over, stepped onto the court as Troicki was hitting a definite winner, forcing the match referee to call for the point to be replayed.

Not a set. Not a game. A point.

In Troicki’s defence, the match was finely poised at two sets all and on serve in the fifth – the stage of a match at which every point can be crucial.

But, rather than forgetting about the incident and refocusing, Troicki seemed to let it linger, gesturing to the same ball-boy later in that game that he should have interrupted a point which Murray was certain to win, and then kicking a ball away from him as he moved to retrieve it.

Classy.

Troicki went on to win that game, breaking Murray’s serve to go 4-2 up in the decider. When he eventually choked and threw away the match, I can’t say that I felt too sorry for him.

6. “Only the balls bounce”

There’s nothing better than a streaker with a sense of humour. Well, apart from a fully-clothed person with a sense of humour, but you know what I mean …

Back in the days when Anna Kournikova actually played tennis and wasn’t just Enrique Iglesias’ missus, serial sporting nudist Mark Roberts decided to bare all during one of the Russian’s doubles matches at Wimbledon.

Rather than following the traditional streaker routine of running around in a slightly-panicked frenzy, evading the flailing grasps of security officials, Roberts had a plan. And a signal.

As the umpire called for “new balls please,” the 35-year-old Liverpudlian obliged, stripping down to his birthday suit before jumping over the net and rolling around on the court for a little while.

Scrawled across his chest were the words “only the balls bounce,” an (admittedly rather clever) corruption of the slogan which Kournikova had once used to advertise sports bras.

Officials at the All-England Club weren’t the only ones dismayed by Roberts’ appearance though. One English bookmaker had offered odds of 2-1 that one of Kournikova’s matches at the tournament would be interrupted by a streaker.

They took the loss in good humour though, with a spokesman joking that at least the streaker wasn’t the only one who had lost his shirt.

7. Jimmy Jump’s finest moments

You have to love the sheer audacity of Jimmy Jump, the man who has taken pitch invasions to a whole new level, practically turning it into an art form.

Jump (or Jaume Marquet to give him his proper title) rarely invades a pitch for the sake of doing so. Instead, most of his stunts have sought either to promote his native region of Catalonia or to openly mock a sporting icon.

Perhaps his most successful stunts were the times he managed to get close enough to both Samuel Eto’o and Roger Federer to place his trademark red barretina on their heads.Last summer, he was inches away from fixing the hat on the greatest prize of all – the World Cup – when a security guard gave him a swift karate chop and escorted him from the premises.

He has been spotted at European Championship Finals, Champions League Finals, Rugby World Cup Finals and Grands Prix, reportedly racking up over €100,000 in fines and punishments.

He even made an appearance at the Eurovision two years ago, “joining” the Spanish act on stage as they performed their entry.

After the World Cup stunt last year, Jump swore that he was retiring, that his pitch invading days were over. Yet, in May, there he was at the Champions League Final between Manchester United and FC Barcelona, engaging Leo Messi in a brief chase around the Wembley pitch.

Who knows where we’ll see him next?

Read more of The Magnificent Seven series here >

About the author:

Niall Kelly

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