The President of Mauritania, Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, hasn’t previously troubled the world of international football. But his fidgety nature at the country’s Super Cup final led to one of the most magnificent displays of petulance the game has ever seen.
Last weekend saw footballing superpowers FC Tevragh-Zeina and ACS Ksar face each other. After 63 minutes, with the score at 1-1, Aziz had enough. He deemed the match so dull that it was to be stopped there and then, and was to fast-forward directly to a penalty shoot-out.
The President’s low threshold for tedium (has he seen Manchester United this season?) didn’t go down well. Outrage ensued across Mauritania.
“He deemed the match so dull it was to fast-forward directly to a shoot-out”
What’s that? Oh, sorry, FC Tevragh-Zeina won the shoot-out.
It’s not the first time a match has been interrupted, redirected or abandoned by a freak intervention or berserk set of circumstances….
France v Kuwait, 1982
One of the most high profile pitch interruptions occurred at the 1982 World Cup. France were beating Kuwait 3-1 when Alain Giresse scored a fourth as the opposition defenders reacted even more slowly than usual. In fact they’d actually stopped altogether.
The Arab team protested that they’d heard a whistle from the stands. Nothing to do with me, said the ref, and tried to move things along. This is when Prince Fahid, the Kuwaiti FA President, piled in. He raced down from the stands to remonstrate with the official. Implausibly, ref Miroslav Stupar was swayed by his demands and caved in, disallowing the goal. Eventually the match finished 4-1 anyway, but later the referee was banned. Prince Fahid was fined £8,000. That possibly didn’t hurt his bank balance too badly.
Derby v Wimbledon, 1997
Closer to home, over the decades, there have been countless calamities involving extreme weather, missed trains etc. Floodlight failure can often happen in the lower leagues, but as recently as 1997 the same problem caused the abandonment of Derby County vs Wimbledon in the Premier League. It was a peculiar season for floodlights. Three months later, West Ham vs Crystal Palace collapsed for the same reason. Another month on, and Wimbledon vs Arsenal also fell foul of temperamental floodlights.
Sunderland v Liverpool, 2009
Liverpool fans were left cursing their luck at Sunderland in 2009. “Beachballgate” remains one of the oddest goals for decades. Darren Bent’s shot took a whopping deflection off a stray beach ball which had blown onto the pitch, leaving stunned goalkeeper Pepe Reina stranded.
Referee Mike Jones allowed the goal to stand, but by the next day it emerged that, by Law Five of the game, the stray inflatable should have been considered an “outside agent”, and play should have restarted with a drop ball. Perhaps it was embarrassment that the beach ball belonged to a Liverpool supporter, but manager Benitez just philosophically shrugged: “These things happen”, while Sunderland boss Steve Bruce said: “If anyone knew that rule, then you are one saddo.”
Soudley vs Charfield, 2008
In the North Gloucestershire League, a pack of wild boars stopped play. No, not West Brom’s attack, boars not bores. The animals ran onto the pitch, causing the handful of spectators to flee. Soudley had to pay £1,000 to repay the pitch: a pittance for a Premier League outfit, but a fortune for a club who only paid their players £5 a week.
Chelsea v Charlton, 1937
If we study the lessons of history, Benitez was simply displaying the festive good-naturedness of Charlton Athletic’s goalkeeper of Christmas Day 1937, Sam Bartram. When his team’s Yuletide match at Chelsea was abandoned due to heavy fog which descended shortly after kick-off, Bartram didn’t know. He stayed focused.
Pacing around his goal in ultra-low visibility, he waited for the opposition to mount an attack. And waited. He was delighted his team mates were dominating down at the far end – he could only assume – but frustrated that they hadn’t scored.
Much, much later a shadowy figure loomed towards him. It was a police officer. “What on Earth are you doing here?” he asked the bewildered keeper.
Sam Bartram, however, had displayed stoicism and Zen patience. It seems that, when it comes to watching football, the President of Mauritania could use a little more of those qualities.
Loaded freelance reporter Chris Roberts has written extensively about music, film, literature and TV. He is also the author of around a dozen books.