Old-fashioned, Crazy Gang-era Wimbledon used to force their opponents to take cold showers and subject them to obnoxious music.
At the Boston Celtics Red Auerbach – coach between 1950 and 1966 and so successful the NBA’s coach of the year award wasn’t just given to him, it was named after him – liked to make sure at least one of the away team’s toilets was blocked and overflowing. Last year St Mirren painted the visitors’ dressing room black in an effort to make them feel depressed before matches.
At Cambridge United John Beck used to lace his opponents’ half-time tea with salt. In 2013, the Portuguese team preparing for a vital World Cup play-off in Sweden were treated to a pre-dawn concert by the multi-platinum Scandinavian rapper and author of the official Swedish Euro 2008 song, Markoolio, staged in their hotel car park. These are all examples of the deliberate sabotage of a rival team’s preparations. And now, it seems, we can add another crime to the list: the mildly inconvenient bag search.
The victim was Eddie Jones, head coach of England’s rugby union team, whose arrival in his native Australia on Thursday for the start of his side’s tour of the country was, he insisted, deliberately delayed by customs officials, leaving him with just the nine full days to prepare his charges for their first game. “Everything’s going to be coordinated to help Australia win,” he sniffed afterwards. “That’s what I’m expecting.”
Even if Jones is right to spot a plot we must hope this is not the start of a new trend: there are plenty of unsettling customs in sport already, and the use of customs to unsettle would be an unwelcome – if pleasingly literal – addition.
Sportspeople cannot expect to simply be waved through border control, at least not unless they are particularly well connected – diplomats did intervene to ensure that Princess Anne’s arrival in Montreal for the 1976 Olympics would be stoppage-free – but they certainly seem very quick to cry conspiracy when they are halted.
“It says I’m head coach in my passport and I was wearing a jacket with a Galatasaray emblem on it, but the first question was: ‘Why are you here?’,” raged Fatih Terim, the Galatasaray head coach (evidently), when delayed at Heathrow before a game against Chelsea in 1999. “Unnecessary questions were asked to every member of the coaching staff. We had hours and hours of waiting at the airport. In Turkey all these questions will be asked in Turkish to Chelsea officials. Whatever we have seen here will be returned with interest.” Sadly, his team proved significantly less adept at asking difficult questions, and lost the two games by an aggregate score of 6-0.
Surely Australian officials can be excused their choice of target: Jones’s suitcase might not, in the end, have contained anything worth looking for, but other sporting searches have been more fruitful. Sometimes – as with the case of the briefly famous long-distance walker Barbara Moore in August 1960 – vegetableful too, after she was caught attempting to bring into America a bag containing oranges, bananas, avocados, passion fruit, tomatoes and a cucumber. “Don’t take that,” she shouted at one official, “it’s the biggest orange I’ve ever seen.”
Perhaps the most productive, and least difficult, search happened on the plane that carried the victorious Brazil team home from the 1994 World Cup, which was found to contain 12 tonnes of undeclared American booty ranging from televisions to horse saddles. Some 800,000 fans gathered outside for a victory parade were forced to wait for five hours as officials presented the squad with a tax bill amounting to £650,000 and the players refused to pay – “no luggage, no party” was Romário’s line – before the finance minister intervened in the footballers’ favour.
“Here, why not confiscate the World Cup as well!” shouted the defender Branco (who was personally importing a fridge, a washing machine, a dishwasher, a television, a microwave and two exercise machines) at one point, waving the trophy at customs officials.
That particular punishment was never on the cards, though America had a go when their victorious team returned home with the Davis Cup in 1913. (“The officials argue,” the Guardian reported, “that notwithstanding that the cup originally belonged to the United States, it became foreign property when an Englishman won it, hence it is subject to duty.”)
Branco’s fury was perhaps fuelled by the knowledge that plenty of other Brazilians had come home from major competitions with more than just silverware. “In 1970 people bought what they wanted and there were no problems,” boasted Tostão.
Pelé would, of course, have been on that flight with Tostão. Three years later he was stopped at Heathrow as he tried to leave Britain and found to have a large amount of money in his hand luggage. After nearly two hours he and his cash were waved on to a plane, having proved it was not just on the field of play that he was good at retaining possession. “We thought it was possible the football player may have been taking an excessive amount of money out of the country,” said a customs spokesman. “After questioning him, there were no currency irregularities whatsoever.”
As it happens Pelé has just been back in England, promoting a massive sell-off of his hoard of medals and memorabilia, which will be auctioned over three days next week and is expected to raise as much as £5m. “Everybody needs money, everybody has to have some money to live,” he explained, quite possibly the same line he used on representatives of Her Majesty’s Customs & Excise back in 1973. In the circumstances he – like Jones, really – can have little complaint if someone takes a rummage in his luggage next time he’s at an airport.
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