Can I kick it?
The stage was set. Belting out a tune at the opening ceremony of the 1994 World Cup in her native United States, singer Diana Ross was supposed to a convert a penalty – with the target moved forward a good eight yards, no less – and send the goalposts crashing down around her. The latter part of the deal stood up, but the Motown star inexplicably dragged her spot-kick well wide of the mark. That’ll teach her for trying to fool the goalkeeper with a stuttered run-up…
Mercifully, not all celebrities are quite as bad as poor Ross. In fact, many could easily have made their living from the game had things worked out a little differently.
Here are 13 famous faces who are surprisingly good at football.
13. Gordon Ramsay
The potty-mouthed celebrity chef was a budding footballer in his youth, playing at county level for Warwickshire and being invited for a trial by Rangers in 1984. Fitness problems proved his downfall, however, with the Scot tearing a cruciate ligament and damaging the cartilage in his knee in two separate incidents.
“Perhaps I was doomed when it came to football,” Ramsay lamented in his autobiography, Humble Pie. True to form, he picked up an injury in the run-up to ITV charity match Soccer Aid in 2006 and was only able to play one half.
12. Julio Iglesias
The global musical lothario got his first feel of crowd appreciation on the football pitch: rising through the ranks of the junior league, he became a keeper for Real Madrid’s B team in the '60s. Julio certainly seemed to enjoy the attention: "You feel 50,000 people in the stadium and you go on the grass and the magic starts.”
Picking up a guitar at the age of 19 – while recuperating from a near-fatal car crash which left him temporarily paralysed – changed the course of his career, as over 300 million record sales testify. The old crooner can still see the romance of the sport, though, once saying of Cristiano Ronaldo: "It’s not easy to be handsome and a good footballer." That’s what they told him, anyway…
11. Luciano Pavarotti
Aside from Gazza’s tears, the other abiding memory of Italia ‘90 was Luciano Pavarotti singing Nessun Dorma married to the visual image of Marco Tardelli wheeling away in celebration on the BBC credits.
A lifelong Juventus fan and the only boy of the family, Pavarotti had serious aspirations to be a professional footballer, playing in goal for his local junior side in Modena. He was given a trial by the seniors, who apparently thought it was a good idea to stick him out on the wing.
Singing won out in the end, but when the tenor died in 2007, Juve sent a representative to his funeral. Gianluigi Buffon paid tribute by declaring “Italy has lost a No.1”.
10. Sergio Pizzorno
As you might have guessed from his surname, Pizzorno - the guitarist and lead songwriter of rock band Kasabian - has Italian heritage. His grandfather moved from the peninsula to England but 'Serge' never lost touch with his roots, visiting Genoa's Stadio Luigi Ferraris with his uncle as a child.
As well as a fondness for il Grifone, Pizzorno is a huge fan of Leicester, the club he dreamed of playing for in his younger days. He's certainly got talent, as evidenced by a tremendous flick-and-volley on Soccer AM and an even better curled finish during the 2012 edition of Soccer Aid at Old Trafford.
9. Sir David Frost
Frost was a keen goalkeeper but could have been a centre-forward for Nottingham Forest, with a club scout watching on when he scored eight goals from eight shots at a school match. Opta would have been impressed and, unsurprisingly, Forest offered him a deal.
Frost chose instead to go to Cambridge – University, not United –where he honed the debating skills he subsequently brought out when interviewing Brian Clough two months after Old Big ‘Ead was sacked by Leeds in 1974. Both Clough and Frost were later portrayed on screen by Michael Sheen, who was once offered a place in Arsenal’s youth team at the age of 12.
8. Olly Murs
Toni Kroos' best mate is pretty handy with a ball at his feet, but a professional career was always likely to be out of reach for the The X Factor singer. Still, Murs did spend two years on the books of Witham Town in the Isthmian Division One North, before injury intervened and forced him to call a premature end to his career.
A Manchester United fan who hails from Essex, Murs counts Real Madrid midfielder Kroos among his fans. "Amazing!!! As always @OllyOfficial," the World Cup winner tweeted after the pop star shared a link to a BBC performance. Each to their own...
7. Ricky Tomlinson
The patriarch of The Royle Family, Tomlinson’s football 'highlight' for the mainstream was his role as the star of Mike Bassett: England Manager, a mockumentary of an antiquated gaffer from the lower divisions who suddenly becomes boss of the national team.
Tomlinson described Bassett as a mix of Bill Shankly, Lawrie McMenemy, Big Ron and Barry Fry. Once upon a time, the Liverpudlian showed talent himself and was offered a trial by Scunthorpe, but chose playing the banjo in the city’s pubs instead.
6. Leonard Rossiter
One of the biggest comedy actors of the 1970s as Reginald Perrin and Rising Damp's Rupert Rigsby, Rossiter was an exceptional football talent. He scored all 11 goals in a schoolboy match and was extremely competitive: "I like to win. Fooling around in sport is very tedious," he once said.
A staunch Evertonian, he was apparently tracked by the Toffees as a youngster but unable to sign a deal due to rules regarding grammar school boys. After the 1966 World Cup final, Rossiter had a Mr Rigsby moment when his enthusiastic celebrations brought down the ceiling light in the flat below.
5. Jon Stewart
The American comedian and television personality played football for College of William & Mary during his time as a student, with Stewart described as a player with "high energy" by his coach. Had MLS been around in the early 1980s, he may even have earned a big move in the SuperDraft.
He later embarked on a coaching career of his own in Virginia, one of many jobs he held before getting his big break in comedy, peaking with 16 years as the lauded host of the satirical Daily Show. Other roles included caterer, bartender and contingency planner for the New Jersey Department of Human Services.
4. Sean Connery
The best 007 of them all could have been a Red Devil. Matt Busby spotted the part-time actor playing football when the young Scot was on a tour with his South Pacific cast members, and the Manchester United manager offered him a £25 a week contract immediately after the match.
"I really wanted to accept because I loved football," recalled Connery. "But I realised that a top-class footballer could be over the hill by the age of 30, and I was already 23." Bonnyrigg Juniors in Midlothian was as good as it got for cinema’s smoothest British agent.
3. Mark Wright
Not the former Liverpool and England defender (although he was good too), but the former cast member of The Only Way Is Essex (ask your kids). Unlike most of the names on this list, Wright actually played the game professionally: after spending time at the academies of West Ham, Arsenal and Tottenham, the left-back signed terms with Southend in 2005.
Spells with sides such as Lewes, Grays Athletic, Crawley and Bishop’s Stortford followed, with Wright dropping to semi-professional level. The 2011 I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here! runner-up played in Soccer Aid in 2016, scoring a direct free-kick and earning the Man of the Match award.
2. Matt Smith
The 11th Doctor Who played for Nottingham Forest’s youth team alongside future internationals Jermaine Jenas, Michael Dawson and Andy Reid; he was also approached for a trial by Leicester, before a back injury intervened at 15. Lord Matt of Smithington, as his jealous schoolmates nicknamed him, was devastated at having to shift to drama.
Smith was later prevented from playing in a Tuesday night pub league by the BBC during filming of the sci-fi series. “I guess it’s the insurance companies and, realistically, if I turn my ankle over and we can’t shoot, then we’re s****ed, aren’t we?” he conceded. Fair point.
1. Johnny Marr
The Smiths’ legendary guitarist was spotted with Noel Gallagher celebrating Manchester City’s league triumph in 2015 and even played a few riffs of How Soon Is Now during their Premier League opening party a year previously, when he was introduced on stage by Dennis Tueart.
It could have been a different story if a trial with his beloved Sky Blues had worked out. “I didn't take football seriously enough to push it to the next level,” Marr explained. “I'd go for a trial and take to the pitch wearing eyeliner. Half the opposition team were looking at the mascara and thinking, 'We'd better stay away from him'. The other half just wanted to kick lumps out of me.”
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