20. “Esteban’s an Italian name, honest”
The fake passport scandal that first broke during 2000 saw a number of red-faced South American players turned back at European airports. Italy was hit hardest, with 24 Serie A stars implicated. The country’s strict quota on non-EU players prompted clubs to find ways of circumnavigating the law.
Lazio midfielder Juan Sebastian Veron’s claims to Calabrian ancestry were debated in courtrooms for most of the last decade until finally, in 2009, he was officially absolved of any wrongdoing. Maria Elena Tedaldi, who helped Veron obtain an Italian passport, was given a 15-month prison sentence.
19. Enter Edinson, stage left
In August 2012, during the final hours of the summer transfer window, Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis called a press conference amid excited media chatter that striker Edinson Cavani could be leaving the club. “He wants to go to England, to be in the cold of Manchester, and he’s leaving tonight,” a solemn De Laurentiis revealed.
Suddenly Cavani appeared, stage left. “But I’m happy here, let’s sign a contract straight away!” the Uruguayan cried rather woodenly, before signing a new extended deal. Oh, how the assembled hacks laughed.
18. Introducing Agent 49
“I am not a football agent. I am, in fact, an 18-year-old and have been fooling all you gullible idiots with my fake stories for the past two months,” confessed Agent 49 in August 2012. Via his Twitter account, the teenage con artist had built up a following of over 38,000, which included employees of Sky, The Guardian and the FA.
One of his several “scoops” was that Manchester United were poised to take Kaka on loan from Real Madrid. Several newspapers penned pieces with Agent 49’s revelations at the centre.
17. Worst. Togo. Side. Ever
Although Bahrain were pleased to have cruised past Togo 3-0 in a September 2010 international friendly, they nonetheless raised concerns with the Togo FA about the poor quality of the opposition and the unfamiliar sounding names on the team sheet.
The Togo FA responded that they’d never sent a representative team to Bahrain and claimed that a fake agent had assembled the fake Togo team.
Bahrain coach Josef Hickersberger blasted: “The Togo side were not fit enough to last 90 minutes. The whole game was very boring, in fact.” Unsurprisingly, no one’s heard from the agent or his clients since.
16. False No.3
In the late 1990s, The Times announced that Liverpool boss Gerard Houllier was poised to sign highly rated France Under-21 international Didier Baptiste for around £3.5m. The News of The World gushed about the Gallic golden boy, claiming: “We think Didier Baptiste would be an ideal addition to Liverpool’s back four. He’s a really attractive player, and you’ll be seeing a lot more of him in the News of the World!”
There was just one tiny glitch in the story: it was a load of baloney. Baptiste was actually a fictional character from Sky One soap Dream Team.
15. “Bury the evidence, Gunter”
In the division’s early years, Bundesliga legislation forbade clubs from paying over 10,000 marks as a signing-on bonus. For Hertha Berlin this was a problem. Not many players wanted to live in a divided city, so they needed a financial incentive.
To get around the rule, treasurer Günter Herzog printed 55,000 extra tickets to Hertha’s games and sold them privately - meaning they never appeared in the books and Hertha never paid tax for them. Herzog was a mortician by trade and famously hid both the tickets and the ill-gotten gains in coffins in his store until an auditor uncovered the ploy.
14. “Who are ya?”
Having found his way onto The Times’ Top 50 Rising Star list in 2009 and with a big-money move to Arsenal in the offing, young Bulgarian Masal Bugduv appeared to have the world at his feet.
Yet Bugduv was merely the figment of an Irishman’s fevered imagination, with the fan in question having written false blog posts, posted stories on various forums and even created a Wikipedia page on the player. One of the false stories about Bugduv included a quote from a fake Moldovan newspaper titled “Diario Mo Thon,” which in Gaelic loosely translated, as ‘Diary, My Ass’.
13. Andy Cole, Roy Keane and er… Karl Power
A close friend of Manchester band The Happy Mondays, Drolysden prankster Karl Power snuck his way into Munich’s Olympic Stadium prior to Manchester United's Champions League clash with Bayern Munich in 2001. Then donning a full white away kit, he nonchalantly sidled up next to striker Andrew Cole to pose for the official pre match snap.
Gary Neville and Ryan Giggs shot him odd looks, while Roy Keane gave him a full demonic glare, but Power remained ramrod straight as the shutters clicked, remaining where he was. Afterwards, he strode away to take his place in the stand.
12. “We forgot you were here”
Miffed at having to watch his team play in a near-empty stadium, Unione Triestina president Stefano Fantinel took action. A whole stretch of terracing was covered in a photo of a packed crowd, the actual image taken from a 2007 game between Triestina and Juventus, when the latter spent a season in Serie B.
Plans were announced to cover another section of the Stadio Nereo Rocco and, in troubled times, it made sense to cut down on the costs of keeping empty sections of the ground open. Sadly, it was to no avail: within two years, Triestina were declared bankrupt.
11. Canned crowd noise
In May 2013, Swiss broadcaster SRF decided to spice up a distinctly tame Zurich derby clash between FC Zurich and Grasshoppers by adding fake noise. TV viewers were mystified by the apparent racket from the stands: the stadium was virtually deserted in the early stages of the match as both sets of fans agreed to enter the ground 10 minutes late in protest at tighter police controls outside Swiss grounds.
The TV station was instantly rumbled… and faced a deluge of complaints. “We were under pressure and it was wrong. We apologise,” grovelled an SRF spokesman.
10. Knee-nack arsonist
In 2011, a fire destroyed the home of Bayern Munich defender Breno in the leafy suburb of Grunwald. Luckily his wife and two kids weren’t in and no-one was hurt, but firemen started to suspect that it might not be an accident when they arrived on the scene and he had three lighters in his hands.
A few days later he was arrested on suspicion of arson. At first he denied it, before revealing that he was depressed and had drunk a huge cocktail of beer, wine and whisky that evening. Breno was convicted and received a three-year prison sentence.
9. The match that never was
“It was a great game at Station Park on Saturday,” claimed the Forfar Dispatch. “Three seagulls and a dead sparrow occupied the enclosure.”
The tongue-in-cheek report of the ‘match’ between Forfar Athletic and Stirling Albion during the big freeze of 1962/63 should have alerted readers that the article was a spoof, but not everyone got the joke: the club was immediately besieged by irate fans demanding to know why they hadn’t advertised the match.
8. Cloughie’s con
June 1967, and Derby boss Brian Clough is indulging in a spot of haggling with Tranmere manager Dave Russell over the fee for young centre-back Roy McFarland. Russell demands £50,000. Clough offers a paltry five grand. When Russell insists his chairman won’t sell for less than £30,000, Clough picks up the phone to speak to Rams’ chairman Sam Longson, who tells him he won’t go a penny over £25,000.
Except he didn’t, because Clough had actually dialled an empty office and was holding a one-way conversation with himself. “I could have gone higher, but I fancied a spot of penny pinching,” he explained years later.
7. Skills include: passing, shooting, make-believe
Rodrigo Souza was only 26, but according to a press release sent to Brazilian media in February 2013, he had an impressive CV: victory in the U17 World Cup with Brazil, winning the Brazilian cup with Vasco, plus playing time with Palmeiras, Gremio, Atletico Paranaense, Flamengo and Feyenoord.
Questioned by reporters, the PR who sent out the release had a closer look at his client’s documentation. Souza had no records at the CBF and had never played for any of the clubs mentioned. Perhaps most remarkable was that the lie got as far is it did despite Souza using a picture of Flamengo striker Deivid, to whom he bears a slight resemblance, on his documentation.
6. Come to Kolo’s cars
When Kolo Toure claimed he was a local car salesman, it was almost certainly a first among player fakery. The centre-back – who is married with two children – first took on this unlikely role in September 2010 after starting an affair with 22-year-old student Kessel Kasuisyo.
Wanting to keep his real identity from his secret beau, the defender claimed his name was Francois, one of Manchester’s top car salesmen. The jig was up when Kasuisyo shared a picture of Kolo/Francois in the shower with a close friend, who recognised the then-Manchester City defender.
5. “Gin and tonic, hold the gin”
When Bolton demanded a whopping £13,000 in 1928 for striker David Jack, Arsenal boss Herbert Chapman deployed some devilish cunning to try to reduce the fee.
At the hotel where the deal was to be struck, Chapman instructed the barman to supply the Trotters directors with doubles of everything, but reminded him that “my gin and tonic will contain no gin, and Mr Wall’s (his assistant) whisky and ginger will contain no whisky”.
A few hours later, the befuddled Bolton contingent stumbled out, having sold their star player to a stone cold sober Chapman for a considerably reduced £10,890.
4. I luv u + send 15k
For almost two years, a 23-year-old law student from the southern city of Florianopolis believed she was dating Neymar. The girl maintained a virtual relationship with the player via MSN and Skype, Neymar apparently claiming that he didn’t want to meet up as he wanted to preserve his public image.
Falling for the story, she shared some saucy pictures of herself. She later realised her long-term admirer wasn’t Brazil’s most famous face but a 28-year-old pharmacy assistant when he attempted to blackmail her, asking for £15,000 not to make the pictures public.
3. Fireworks and razors
Chile knew that if they lost to Brazil in late 1989, their 1990 World Cup dream was essentially over. After 70 minutes and 1-0 down, a firework was thrown from the crowd, landing a foot away from Chile keeper Roberto Rojas.
Rojas promptly slumped to the deck. With blood streaming down his face, he was carried off the pitch in apparent agony. The Chile team refused to continue, citing fears for their safety.
Then the truth emerged: Rojas had actually cut his own face open with a razor concealed in his glove. The goalkeeper was banned for life (it was lifted years later) and Chile were suspended from the 1994 tournament.
2. "Justice for Oggy"
“Here’s our petition to Tony Blair and the Kazakhstani government demanding the release of footballing legend Steve Ogrizovic,” announced the Free Steve Ogrizovic Group in 2003 after the Coventry legend had allegedly been kidnapped while working abroad for charity Over The Bar.
Apparently the former keeper had been raising money by travelling around the world on public transport, but was forced to walk on his arrival to Kazakhstan due to a lack of buses, where he strayed into military land and was arrested on suspicion of spying. But ‘Oggy’ later confirmed the story was a hoax.
1. The real cock-and-bull story
By the late 1990s, Diego Maradona was snorting so much coke it was almost impossible for him to be ready for the weekend drug-testers. So Napoli, as well as turning a blind eye to his habits, helped devise a way of beating the system.
When summoned for a sample, Maradona was given a small pump containing someone else’s urine, which he slipped into his tracksuit. Once in the testing room, he filled a specimen jar from the concealed pump. The rubber penis ruse eventually failed in 1991, when Maradona tested positive for the Class A drug and was banned for 15 months.
Greg Lea is a freelance football journalist who's filled in wherever FourFourTwo needs him since 2014. He became a Crystal Palace fan after watching a 1-0 loss to Port Vale in 1998, and once got on the scoresheet in a primary school game against Wilfried Zaha's Whitehorse Manor (an own goal in an 8-0 defeat).