Irish international Stephen Ireland ‘killed’ his own grandmother in order to avoid playing for his country so he could visit his girlfriend instead. When the so-called ‘death’ was revealed, the Man City midfielder had to resurrect maternal grandmother, Patricia Tallon, fast and apologize. Ireland admitted he made up a reason to be excused from the Republic of Ireland’s 1-0 defeat in the Czech Republic in 2007, in order to visit his lonely girlfriend in Cork. He even asked the club manager Sven-Goran Eriksson to leave him out of a club fixture because he was still grieving and had to help with the funeral arrangements. Eriksson later described Ireland as ‘stupid’.
Thousands of players spanning half a century found that they had been playing on a time bomb. In April 1995, a half-ton German bomb was discovered under a football pitch that had been a venue for thousands of amateur games over more than 50 years. Rendering the monster bomb from World War 2 safe meant mounting up until that time, Britain’s biggest peacetime bomb disposal operation. It meant that the 4,000 inhabitants of the Isle of Portland in Dorset had to be evacuated as army bomb disposal team moved in. The bomb was defused after hours of tense work.
Peter Storey, a member of Arsenal’s 1970-71 double-winning side, had a spectacular fall from grace after retiring. The England international defender had achieved an English First Division winners’ medal and an FA Cup medal in the same season before he retired to a crime of life – and prison. The slide began with a £700 fine and six-month suspended jail sentence in 1979 for running a brothel and the following year he was sentenced to three years in jail after refinancing a plot to counterfeit gold coins. In 1990, he was behind bars again for 28 days for trying to smuggle 20 pornographic movies in the spare tyre of his car.
Balls burst twice in England’s showpiece FA Cup final in successive years. In both the 1946 and 1947 finals at Wembley Stadium, the ball going flat interrupted games before packed crowds. In 1946, Derby County player Jack Stamps might have won the game against London side Charlton Athletic but for the ball bursting as he connected with it, enabling Charlton goalkeeper Sam Bartram to save it. It meant the score remained at 1-1 and Derby had to go into extra time to secure a 4-1 win. The next year another burst ball was a luckier omen for Charlton as they scored with the new ball to win 1-0 over Burnley.
Greame Souness arrived as manager of Newcastle United determined to instill some sprit. Unfortunately, his midfield duo of Kieron Dyer and Lee Bowyer took ‘fighting spirit’ the wrong way. They punched each other during a match and earned a red card each.
A 12-year-old schoolboy offered Ipswich Town his pocket money to try to tempt star player Matt Holland to stay. Martin Lambert offered his £5 weekly allowance to help towards the player’s £15,000-a-week wages. It didn’t work – Holland moved to Charlton Athletic.
A Spanish Cup final lasted for two days in a bizarre splitting of play. At the 1995 Copa del Rey it was all square at 1-1 between Valencia and Deportivo La Coruna when in the 80th minute torrential rain forced an abandonment of the game. It was decided that the final 11 minutes of the game should be played three days later. The game resumed and the players had barely warmed up before Deportivo scored through Alfredo Santaelena and held on to win 2-1 for the club’s first trophy in 89 years.
Lazio midfielder Luciano Re Cecconi’s sense of humour was his downfall. In 1978, he walked into a Rome jewellery shop and shouted ‘Stop! This is a robbery.’ The shop owner shot Cecconi, who died trying to explain the joke.
Three Manchester City players notched hat-tricks in 1987 when the club smashed ten goals past the bottom-of-the-table side Huddersfield Town in an English League Second Division game at Maine Road, Manchester. For a while a goal landslide didn’t look likely with Huddersfield dominating the early stages. A Neil McNab goal opened the floodgates before Paul Stewart, Tony Adcock and David White all grabbed three goals each.
Player-manager Ivan Broadis sold himself to another club in 1949 to boost the finances of the team he was leaving. Broadis became at 23 the youngest player-manager ever when he went to Carlisle United in 1946. But with the club’s finances showing some worrying signs, he saw a chance to leave a financial legacy for Carlisle and sold himself to Sunderland for £18,000. After a career that won 18 England caps and took him to Manchester City, he returned to Carlisle as a journalist for a local newspaper.
Read some of the other stories from the series here: