The Rundown

The strangest sport stories of 2011

The Rundown

Sport always throws up more than its fair share of crazy stories, and this year has been no different. Here's our pick of the best.

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Player sent off for dangerous haircut

An Australian Rules Football player was sent off for having a haircut deemed too dangerous by the referee.

Nathan van Someren of the Simpson Tigers was given his marching orders by an umpire in the match against Otway Districts, who claimed that his Mohawk haircut could have poked another player in the eye.

Team coach Leigh Walsh confirmed that match officials had dismissed Van Someren "because his hair was too dangerous".

The player himself - who has played with his Mohawk for three years - was left stunned by the incident.

"Before the game the umpire said that I could not play with my hair like that. He told me it was dangerous," he said.

"We all thought that he was taking the mickey out of me. A few umpires have made jokes about my hair before, so I didn't think any more of it."

When Van Someren was substituted on, however - there are no red cards in the sport, with enforced substitutions used instead - it emerged that the umpire had been deadly serious.

"I was just standing there and he came across to me and goes, 'I thought I told you you couldn't come on the ground'," Van Someren added.

"I sort of just looked at him like 'what?' and he's like, 'no, I told you you couldn't come on the ground with that hairstyle, you have to go off'."

The Victorian league has since asserted that the umpire had overstepped the mark, admitting that he had been a little too zealous in applying a rule meant to protect players from opponents wearing jewellery or other items that could cause injury.

"In this case it's probably been interpreted a little bit too broadly," said umpires' chief Gerard Ryan.

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Balotelli's house set on fire after firework let off indoors

This entire round-up could have been compiled around the antics of Manchester City's Mario Balotelli - but we've limited ourselves to just one: the time that the striker managed to set fire to his own house with a firework in the early hours of a Saturday morning.

The Italian striker, who has a history of self-inflicted problems, was letting off fireworks in his bathroom with friends which then led to "a substantial fire" according to a report in the Guardian.

Balotelli is alleged to have told the club that he was letting off the fireworks out of a window, when one of them caused a towel to catch fire which then quickly spread. The striker was said to have run back inside the burning house to recover a quantity of money and a suitcase.

The player blamed the entire incident on his friend, claiming that he "didn't know anything about it until I heard the shouting" and then going on to become the public face of a firework safety campaign to prove his contrition.

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Dutch to build £270bn fake mountain

The Netherlands is to spend 30 years and as much as £270 billion building a fake mountain to help the famously flat country become a winter sport superpower.

The idea came from a Dutch sports journalist called Thijs Zonneveld, who suggested in a tongue-in-cheek article that a man-made mountain should be built to help overcome the lack of decent hills in his homeland.

But his cheeky suggestion was taken seriously by Dutch architects' firm Hoffers and Kruger, who drew up plans for a 7,000ft mountain - that's twice the height of Snowdon, and far bigger than 4,409ft Ben Nevis.

The plans caught the imagination of the Dutch, and quickly received backing from the Dutch Ski Association, Dutch Climbing and Mountaineering Association and Royal Dutch Cycling Union.

Now, local authorities and several major corporations are getting involved in the idea, with sponsorship deals on the horizon that could help start the far-fetched plan on the road to fruition - and the man who had the original idea is delighted.

"This plan is serious," insisted Zoneeveld. "All kinds of big companies have now stepped in, various municipalities and investors are interested."

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Arsenal force owner of Spanish hat shop to change its name

Arsenal started their season appallingly, but finally earned a victory in early Septmeber as they won a court case in Spain forcing the owner of a hat shop to change the name of her premises.

The Gunners have won their case against Seville resident Alicia Simon, who has now been told by the Spanish Patent and Trademark Office to change the name of her hat shop 'Arsenale'.

Simon registered the name of her shop before she even opened it in 2007 despite protestations from the club, but Arsenal's lawyers have been petitioning the Spanish authorities ever since, trying to convince them that she has infringed their trademark.

Simon has no intention of backing down, however: despite admitting that she feels in a 'David v Goliath' situation, she will not change the name of her shop and has already appealed the decision - thanks to a pair of friends who are lawyers - to a Madrid tribunal which will have the final say. "I will fight this to the end," she insisted.

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Coach strips on pitch, watches team get beaten 6-0, immediately gets sacked

A manager in Austria was sacked after an extraordinary pre-match striptease.

FC Pasching coach Adi Pinter went to astonishing lengths to show where his loyalties lay before a third division match against Grazer AK. The 63-year-old Pinter, who played for and managed Grazer AK earlier in his career, removed his shirt before the match to reveal the letters 'GAK' emblazoned on his back.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Pinter's relegation-threatened Pasching side lost 6-0 and he was dismissed immediately after the game.

Pasching president Helmut Nussbauer said: "It makes no sense. We are fighting against relegation, so your own club should take priority, not GAK."

However, an unrepentant Pinter hit back: "FC Pasching should be renamed FC Carnival ('Fasching' in German).  "The club is extremely parochial and only has five or six quality players. There is not a single good reason to watch a Pasching match."

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Record-breaking OAP marathon runner took 10-mile short cut

Anthony Gaskell finished this year's London Marathon in the fastest time ever recorded by anyone over 65, but it has since been revealed that he took a 10-mile short cut.

Gaskell, a 69-year-old from the Wirral in Merseyside, completed the marathon in a mere three hours and five minutes to find himself in the record books.

The OAP was due to receive a plaque marking his achievement but, six weeks after the event, it was uncovered that he took 10 miles off the course.

Observers questioned how a previously unknown veteran could have performed with such distinction, and an enquiry revealed he completed the second half in under an hour - a time which would have obliterated that of the world record holder, Haile Gebrselassie.

Gaskell was shown to have cut the course just after Tower Bridge, where he subsequently claimed he was injured after falling over a runner ahead of him who had tripped on a safety barrier.

He has insisted he never claimed to have run the last part of the course and that he did not try to pass off the winning time as his own.

"I simply walked through a short cut to the end of the course where my belongings were waiting for me. I had no idea that anyone thought I'd won," Gaskell told the Daily Mail.

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Drunk ref starts sending off players at random

Footballers were stunned when a referee turned up drunk to officiate a match - and then started sending players off at random.

Referee Tomas Fidra took charge of a Czech league match between local rivals Jestrabi Lhota and Tynec-nad-Labem, but the players were suspicious even before kick-off as Fidra smelt strongly of alcohol and was talking about a birthday celebration he had just attended.

Fidra then confirmed those suspicions by stumbling around the pitch and falling over several times. When some of the Jestrabi players politely asked if he was alright shortly after half an hour into the game, Fidra promptly sent three of them off.

With the game in disarray thanks to the boozed-up ref, Jestrabi's opponents sportingly agreed not to attack against their eight-man opponents and the match finished in a 1-1 draw.

"His breath smelt like a brewery and he didn't hide the fact that he had been celebrating a birthday," Karel Dusek, an official from the Jestrabi Lhota club, told Czech newspaper Lidove Noviny.

Dusek added that the side had no choice but to keep on playing, despite the referee clearly being plastered.

"There's no rule which bans a drunk referee from taking charge of a match," he explained. "If we had refused to continue to play, we could have been sanctioned."

Police were called to the scene and breathalysed Fidra, whose blood alcohol content was 0.194 per cent - more than nine times over the Czech drink-driving limit of 0.02. He faces a 12-month ban from refereeing for his actions.

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Dutch top flight club sign one-year-old

A Dutch club have signed an 18-month-old toddler to a 10-year contract after seeing his amazing football skills on You Tube.

Dutch club VVV-Venlo snapped up young Baerke van der Meij after seeing him kick footballs with amazing accuracy into his toy box.

The club even held a press conference where the toddler signed a contract (with a little help from his dad) and dressed up in the shirt of the top flight Dutch club.

"The toddler's favourite position has not yet been determined. However, we can speak of a right-footed player with a very good kicking technique, perseverance and, importantly, football genes via his grandfather," read the club's tongue-in-cheek press release.

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Picture: Lt. Darin D. Dowe/Broward Sheriff's Office
Olympic swimmer buries himself alive

An Austrian swimmer came close to a bizarre death when he was saved by local heroes after accidentally burying himself alive at a beach in Florida.

Nineteen-year-old Jakub Maly was in Pompano Beach with the Austrian Olympic swimming team, who were enjoying a fun-filled Sunday off after three gruelling weeks of winter training at the resort 30 miles north of Miami.

Maly - for reasons which are not yet clear - decided to dig a large hole on the beach using a bucket, eventually making a crater 7ft deep and 6ft across. With his work finished he decided to jump in playfully, but the vibrations caused the sides of the hole to collapse around him.

At first Maly was buried only up to his hips, to the amusement of the swimmer and his team-mates. But their laughter turned to horrified panic as more sand fell in on him, and he was quickly buried up to his neck - with sand covering his entire head at one stage according to the Florida Sun Sentinel.

The swimmer's team-mates frantically tried to dig him out, and managed to get his head clear to help him breathe. But their efforts also caused more sand to start collapsing in on the hole, and the Pompano Beach Fire and Rescue service were called to the scene to help. He was eventually saved after a two-hour operation involving 60 people, and made a full recovery.

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Dozy council workers erect fence through goalposts

Dozy workers near York have become a laughing stock after putting up a fence straight through the middle of a football goal.

The six-foot metal fence in Heworth was erected as part of a £37,000 initiative by the local parish council to improve the play areas.

But when the workers turned up to erect the £6,000 fence they managed to ruin the pitch completely by running the fence straight through one of the goalmouths.

"It's the funniest thing I've seen in a long time," said local man Steve Barber, whose team use the pitch. "Common sense would have gone a long way. It's one way to defend the goals, I suppose!"

Council chiefs have already owned up to the blunder, with the goalposts set to be moved and the pitch repositioned.

"We recognise that failure to relocate the goalposts is a real own goal," said Dave Meigh, City of York Council's head of parks and open spaces. "We have asked the contractors to resolve the issue as a matter of urgency. We can only apologise for the error."

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