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The time an Italian club hired an actor as their new star striker

Jonny Keen
ANALYST
Feature
78   //    Timeless

"Robert Raku Ponnick" made an outrageous appearance at Castel di Sangro's Stadio Teofilo Patini

Italian club Castel Di Sangro became known as miracle workers when they earned promotion to Serie B in 1996.

The tiny village club had won several promotions in a row, finally ending up in Italy's second tier after a dramatic penalty shoot out. It was a stunning rise for a club who had gone from playing amateur football to rubbing shoulders with Italian giants in the space of a few years.

But the highest mountain was yet to be scaled. The real miracle would be for the club to survive in Serie B, and Castel di Sangro's owners knew that if they were to attract the crowds and the sponsorship they needed to compete, they would have to do whatever it took to attract media attention.

Lacking the funds and the profile to sign a big-name player, the Castel di Sangro chairman came up with a plan.

Mid-way through the season, with Castel struggling in the relegation zone, a new marquee signing was announced; Nigerian forward Robert Raku Ponnick would be arriving from Premier League side Leicester City. No one seemed to have heard of the new man, but still, his promised arrival caused plenty of excitement.

When Ponnick arrived, a press conference was called, and the Nigerian did not disappoint. He gave an interview full of promises to tear up Serie B and singlehandedly win his new club promotion, but Ponnick also caused a stir with his somewhat vulgar comments about local women.

The most surprising aspect of the Ponnick affair was yet to come: the next day, an exhibition match was arranged against a local team so that Ponnick could show off his skills.

But far from the display of goal-scoring prowess he had promised, Ponnick instead started a fistfight with his own teammates before snatching the referee's red card and attempting to send off the match officials.

Castel fans might have thought Ponnick's appearance was a farce, but little did they know how right they were. As it turned out, there was no such player as Robert Ponnick. The man purporting to be Castel di Sangro's new player was, in fact, an actor, playing a deliberately outrageous character in order to attract as much attention as possible.

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It may have been a ridiculous stunt to pull, but it had done its job. Media attention was focused on Castel di Sangro, and they had made a name for themselves amongst football fans. An increase in funding allowed them to pull off a genuine coup by signing Inter Milan starlet Gionatha Spinesi.


Castel di Sangro were able to acquire Gionatha Spinesi, partly as a result of the stunt
Castel di Sangro were able to acquire Gionatha Spinesi, partly as a result of the stunt


With Spinesi's help, Castel did manage to pull off the great escape, surviving as one of the smallest clubs ever to compete in Serie B. Sadly, the miracle workers were relegated the season after and subsequently folded in 2005.

A phoenix club has emerged to carry on the Castel di Sangro name, although they presumably don't need to hire actors to lead their forward line.

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