THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Events at the interval have chnaged greatly since the days of the police dog-handling display. Matthew Gooding highlights the tedious, the surreal and those for a good cause

You expect to see certain things at football matches – grumpy old men, over-excited children, pies containing meat of dubious origin. But in all my years watching football I never expected to see Timmy Mallett taking penalties against a moose, using a pair of giant testicles, while a Sven-Göran Eriksson lookalike watched on. As anyone who was at the recent Blue Square Premier match between Cambridge Utd and Oxford Utd will tell you, it really happened, and it was glorious.

At least this most bizarre of shootouts had a noble purpose, as part of the “Testicle Tour” to promote the fight against testicular cancer. The moose in question was the Cambridge mascot, Marvin, while Mallett, a fan of Oxford, agreed to get involved along with retired midfielder Paul Wanless, who played with distinction for both clubs. The significance of the Sven-a-like is unclear, but presumably Fabio Capello’s doppelganger was otherwise engaged. As Testicle Tour founder Darren Couchman wrote on his website, onelumportwo.org.uk: “The event was a huge success and many people must have left the game with ‘fluffy testicles’ on their minds.”

That’s certainly true in the case of this particular fan, although it is not the first time spectators at the Abbey Stadium have been treated to an unusual form of half-time entertainment. During the reign of the club’s legendary PR man, Graham Eales, interval activities included a paper aeroplane throwing contest, which didn’t make for great viewing, and an appearance from rising hip-hop act Mark B and Blade, who performed their single, You Can’t See The Signs, over the club’s crackly PA system. This incongruous link-up apparently came about because the track was a favourite among the U’s players of the time. It didn’t go down quite so well with the Newmarket Road End, who made sure the duo could see the (crude) signs being made in their direction. It’s arguable that the pair’s career never recovered.

Veteran rockers Saxon strutted their stuff during half time at Sheffield Wednesday v Sunderland in 2007, and were mercilessly booed throughout. A football crowd can be a tough gig for musicians, unless you are lucky enough to be a group such as the Wurzels, whose anthem Drink Up Thy Zider has been adopted by fans of Bristol City. As a result the west country troubadours often perform on the Ashton Gate pitch.

Most clubs just play it safe when it comes to half-time entertainment and stick to variations on the good old penalty shootout, which always strikes me as being a bit uninspired. We often spend 90 minutes watching a bunch of incompetents trying – and failing – to kick a ball into a goal, it would be nice to see something different during the break.

In recent years Burnley have tried to jazz the format up by using balls cunningly disguised as peas, and a goal resembling a giant pie, while Wolves and Crystal Palace allowed their fans to partake in some DIY-based fun with games of On Me Shed Son and a Game of Two Baths, both of which were sponsored by a well-known chain of home improvement stores. The former saw participants chipping balls into a roofless shed to win – wait for it – a shed, while the latter was along similar lines, but involved baths instead.

At least shootouts and sing-songs are relatively harmless. An RAF skydiver, Flight Sergeant Nigel Rogoff, almost died when he crashed into the roof of the Trinity Road stand at Villa Park during a charity parachute jump which took place halfway through a match between Aston Villa and Arsenal in 1998.

Dressed as Santa Claus for the jump, Rogoff broke his pelvis, hips and several ribs in the accident, and subsequently had to have his leg amputated. Fortunately he survived and the story has a happy ending – Rogoff fell in love with one of the nurses who helped save his life and the couple had twins in 2001. But perhaps it is not surprising that, when it comes to half time, most football clubs prefer to stick to what they know.

From WSC 280 June 2010

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