THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

There are very few individuals who can run on a pitch designed for professional footballers without being jeered at by anybody who sees them

The game was a load of old tutt. Union Berlin against FC St Pauli at the arse end of nowhere: both teams were experimenting with a revolutionary new defensive system which only works if it has AC Milan defenders operating it, and the forwards were so bad that they were running offside anyway.

Then just as Union were preparing to hoist another alehouse ball into the St Pauli penalty area, something mildly interesting happened: a small, plump, Terry Mancini lookalike rushed onto the pitch and, for about ten seconds, managed to do a lap of the six-yard box and cuddle the St Pauli goalkeeper before the stewards sedated him.

While the offender was being led away, my companion turned to me. Distraught, he gestured repeatedly towards Terry Mancini and made whimpering noises, as though he wanted to belch, but couldn't. Eventually, he regained his powers of speech: "Do you think that man is happy?"

His happiness was not in question. He was unequivocally ecstatic. Wearing a grin as wide as Tony Cascarino's hips, he was babbling away to the stewards so frantically that he sounded as eloquent as David Coleman with his trousers ablaze. It would perhaps be more relevant to ask why he was so happy.

Quite apart from the hooligan connotations, people should have realised by now that there are very few individuals on this planet who can run on a pitch designed for professional footballers without being jeered at by anybody who sees them.

Footballers themselves look acceptable enough because they are supposed to be there (admittedly, Brett Angell runs around like a child lost in a supermarket, but, then again, he 's not supposed to be on a football pitch designated for professionals), but think of all the referees, St John Ambulancemen and stewards that have ever been sighted on the hallowed turf. Most seem to have electric eels down their trousers, and those who don't look like they are participating in It's a Knockout. 

Physiotherapists fare a little better, although I cannot recall ever having seen one who didn't look like Norman Wisdom running for a bus. And these are people who have regular access to football pitches. Most fans don't have such access, most fans know how ridiculous they would look. That's probably why most fans don't bother invading the pitch.

But those who do are confronted with another problem, namely what to do when they reach their destination. Personally, I have never really wanted to go somewhere so much that I have been prepared to break the law to do so, so I don't really know how I would react if I got there.

However, I am almost certain that I would turn to face my onlookers and start wobbling my beer gut, rubbing my crotch or doing any of the other things I have seen in the last few years. Maybe Edmund Hillary, on the summit of Everest, treated Sherpa Tenzing to a quick snatch of that arm-pumping-hip-wiggling dance that still doesn't appear to have died out at football matches, or perhaps Roald Amundsen led his crew on a five-minute conga at the South Pole. But even if they did, there are very few people who could tell you why.

And, as aforesaid, it is the why for which I am searching, because I, too, have twice been onto football pitches designated for professionals. There was no perimeter fence to scale, no police dogs to battle past and no stewards to lay out on the way, simply because there was no game going on at the time, and I still don't know why I did it.

The first time was summer 1982, during an end-of-season schoolboy football club function at the 51 Club, Ashton Gate. Bored by a comedian who refused to swear, we went out onto the terraces, walked through an open gate and there we were. A combination of heat, a freshly mown wet pitch and the seemingly endless version of Hi Ho Silver Lining droning from the disco was all too much for us. We made a beeline for the sprinklers in the centre circle and indulged in an orgy of frolicking, wrestling and splashing, with the chorus of Hi Ho Silver Lining thrown in for good measure. Glastonbury Festival met Lord of the Flies in sta-press trousers and Fred Perry shirts.

The second time was the last St Pauli game of last season, in Wolfsburg. For some reason, the stadium authorities had arranged for the fans to be allowed onto the pitch at the end and, subsequently, at the final whistle, the stewards opened the gates and everybody flooded through. All of the classic symptoms were in evidence: we all ran in a manner which suggested we had dirtied our underpants; grown men, some of them old enough to be my father, pretended to engage in acts of frottage with one another; others wrestled or played games of “He” in the centre circle. Quite possible there was somebody somewhere who hummed Hi Ho Silver Lining. To a fan, we were as happy as could be, behaving like we behave in no other place, simply because we were on a football pitch. Matt Nation

Ten excuses for being on the pitch

1 A player from the opposition was in your primary school class. You can't resist going over to say hello and ask him if he still wets his pants.

2 Replacing divots.

3 You drop a toffee wrapper which blows across the touchline and feel duty bound to retrieve it because it may only be a tiny bit of paper but what if everyone in the world dropped a toffee wrapper and didn't pick it up, then where would we be?

4 Sleepwalking during a particularly tedious battle of the offside traps.

5 A substitution is to take place and the number of the player coming on is the same as that of the replica shirt you happen to be wearing – you seize the moment.

6 You are the real Maurizio Gaudino – this man is clearly an impostor.

7 A player on the far side of the field appears to be gesturing at you, so you go over to find out what he wants.

8 You are trying to re-establish the historic footpath rights guaranteed in the Magna Carta. And you'll be writing a stiff letter to the chairman about his failure to maintain stiles and kissing gates to the required standard (copies to your local MP, the FA, the FSA and This Morning with Richard and Judy).

9 Checking for New Zealand flatworms, a major menace to British agriculture.

10 "I am Ragnarok, righteous Elf-Lord of Portman Road and this is my domain. Be gone usurpers or prepare to feel the steely wrath of Thunderblade the troll slayer."

This article was originally printed in WSC 97, March 1995. Subscribers get free access to the complete WSC digital archive – you can find out more details here

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