On me beak, son! When animals turned to football

With a dog in Japan setting the record catching football with her paws, Adam Hurrey scoured the animal kingdom for other furry ball-playing beasts...

No sting in this tale

Ahead of the 2014 World Cup Final, Dr Felicity Muth of the University of Nevada made that PhD worth the effort by pitting two bumblebees against each other in the colours of Germany and Argentina. With lifeless fans in the stands and dead bee-keepers between the sticks – all natural causes, Muth assures us – it was a far-from-buzzing spectacle. With two nudges of the pollen ball over the line, Argentina claimed a famous-ish win. And Dr Muth’s conclusion? Bees rather like pollen. Maybe post-match TV analysis isn’t so bad after all.

Big cat-enaccio

Kevin Richardson (sadly not he of Aston Villa and single England cap fame) is a South African animal behaviourist known as the Lion Whisperer. Last year he took on a three-strong pride of ravenous big cats wearing a suit during this highly inadvisable kickabout to promote the Dutch FA’s official tailor. It turns out a 23-stone lioness doesn’t take kindly to being nutmegged and the ball met a swiftly deflated demise.

“He’s p-p-p-picked up a booking”

The Everland amusement park in Yongin, South Korea decided to embrace World Cup fever in 2010 by dressing up a group of penguins in the national team’s kit. Sadly, these Arctic footballers’ uncertain ball skills and laissez-faire approach to tactics – you’ve got to do more than waddle around midfield, and don’t get us started on the flapping goalkeeper – meant the experiment was a dud. Three years later, perhaps as some sort of punishment, the same birds were dressed as Santa Claus for some further humiliation in the name of entertaining paying zoo customers. Flippin’ heck.

Brazil’s electric duo up top

In 2013, Brazilian fishmonger Jose Laurindo boasted of a pair of goalscoring Amazonian knifefish. Nearly blind and having to communicate and navigate by generating a weak electrical field, these scaly strikers could also use their strong fins to whip a ball out of their tank and into a goal. If that all sounds a bit like cheating, the Rene Higuita-like scorpion technique remains beyond question. And after 110 goals between them, their proud owner named them Neymar and Fred. Clearly, one of them drew the short straw.

“Coco pops off a shot”

A footballing tribute to both diversity and performance-enhancing drugs. With Coco United 10-0 down to the Amazon Forest in the final of the 1994 Jungle World Cup – a corporate vehicle for a popular chocolate-based breakfast cereal – a half-time miracle was needed. Boosted no doubt by the sight of the “milk turning chocolatey”, Coco United stormed back to equalise through a towering header from a giraffe, before securing a dramatic win thanks to a suspiciously offside-looking hippo. Cheeky scamp player-manager Coco the Monkey lifted the trophy in a triumph for both teamwork and brand management.

A cinematic dog's dinner

Hollywood’s barking mad turn-of-the-millennium obsession with football-playing dogs led to three crimes against cinema and sport in five years. Wedged between Soccer Dog and Soccer Dog: European Cup was straight-to-video ‘classic’ Air Bud 3: World Pup, in which a (male) golden retriever becomes the substitute keeper for the US women’s team in a World Cup final penalty shootout against Norway. He saves the decisive spot-kick, obviously. OBVIOUSLY. What a world we live in. Give us the Japanese dog any day.

Want to read the tale about the elephant who was a dab hand at penalty shootouts? Right this way. Find it in the December 2015 issue of FourFourTwo magazine, available in print, on iPad and iPhone from Wednesday, November 4. The latest edition features an exclusive interview with Bayern Munich goal machine Robert Lewandowski, who tells us about his rise from the Polish third tier to the top of the European game. FFT also delves into the stories behind other iconic No.9s in football history, from Dixie Dean and Alfredo Di Stefano to Gabriel Batistuta and Ronaldo, and sits down for a One-on-One chat with former Bolton striker Kevin Davies. Plus, Watford strike pair Troy Deeney and Odion Ighalo tell us about their peculiar paths to the Premier League, we pay tribute to the weird and wonderful world of programmes and hear from overseas journalists on what it's like to cover English football focusing only on the player from your own country. Subscribe!