10 times footballers went AWOL (featuring paintballing, weddings and grandmas)

Jon Spurling

1. Frenchy misses bus

“Where’s Frenchy?” asked perplexed Luton Town players as the Hatters’ team coach departed without their mercurial winger for an away game in 1970. Cult hero Graham French had scarpered after discovering that police wanted a chat in connection with an incident involving a gun in a pub. Finally apprehended in nearby Bedford, ‘Frenchy’ enjoyed two years at Her Majesty’s Pleasure.

He briefly reappeared in a Luton shirt upon his release, before disappearing again. Actually, he’d signed for NASL side the Boston Minutemen, which some would say amounts to the same thing.

2. Jorge goes to the dogs

After signing for Celtic in April 1996, maverick Portuguese striker Jorge Cadete hit 30 goals in 37 games, making himself a Parkhead darling. But after his Lisbon-based missus insisted that the health of their dogs was suffering the following summer, Cadete failed to show for pre-season training and disappeared back to Portugal sharpish. “I think he was even more bonkers than me,” said ex-Celtic wildman Paolo Di Canio. Quite the endorsement.

Jorge Cadete

 

3. Hassan gets cold feet

After jilting his would-be model bride Norlida with a last-minute text in 2004, and leaving her to face 1,000 guests at their wedding reception alone, Hasmawi Hassan – a forward with Malaysian outfit Kedah State – refused to turn up to training to face the wrath of his team-mates.

With the state’s FA claiming that “Hasmawi has tarnished the image of the game in this country”, the love rat slunk back into training after a week in the shadows and was eventually forgiven – but not by his ex, who didn’t buy Hassan’s claim he’d been possessed by black magic and tried to sue him.

4. “Has anyone seen my inner beauty?”

After retiring from football in 1981, Argentine midfielder Omar Larrosa fell out of sight for almost a decade. The 1978 World Cup winner was even rumoured to have been murdered by gangsters. Yet in the late ’80s, he reappeared. “I’ve been wandering the mountains for 10 years, trying to discover my soul and my inner beauty,” he hurrahed. Deep and meaningless.

Omar Larrosa

 

5. Coping without Eder

Axed from Tele Santana’s 1986 World Cup squad because of his love for partying, Brazil winger Eder – who admitted to being “utterly depressed at my exclusion” – disappeared, prompting fears that he’d committed suicide. After the local press lambasted Santana for Eder’s omission, he reappeared after a week underground.

“I hid because I wanted the world to see that Brazil couldn’t cope without Eder,” squealed the pompous Barry Manilow lookalike. Judging by their quarter-final exit, maybe he was right.

6. “Duckadam? He’s ’armless”

When Steaua Bucharest’s Helmuth Duckadam saved all four of Barcelona’s penalties to win the 1986 European Cup shootout, he expected more than the car he received as a bonus and had a moan at a post-game banquet.

Duckadam soon disappeared, amid rumours that Steaua benefactor and notoriously unhinged Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu had ordered his arms to be lopped off as punishment for his whinging and increasing fame. Three years later, Duckadam reappeared, citing a blood disorder for his absence – but never played for them again. Hmm. 

7. Here’s looking at you, George

The king of disappearing acts excelled himself in 1969 when, after refusing to travel with the Manchester United team to London for a match against Chelsea, George Best took himself to the capital and spent the weekend with actress Sinead Cusack in her flat. Best watched photographers camped outside on television pictures from inside the flat. “Even by my standards that was a weird day,” said El Beatle with a wink.

8. “Erm, I think we’ve lost a football team”

“It’s something that happens in international events,” sighed Homeless World Cup spokeswoman Kat Byles in 2008, after it emerged that players from Zimbabwe, Afghanistan and Kenya had fled their team camps at the end of the Melbourne tournament, and the entire Liberian women’s team had vanished into thin air.

“Currently, no players are in breach of their visa conditions, but the clock is ticking,” insisted an increasingly fraught Byles.

Homeless World Cup

9. Adriano goes ‘paintballing’

Refused leave by Inter to stay on in his homeland after a 2009 friendly against Peru, wayward Brazil striker Adriano stayed on anyway. Eventually he resurfaced, but only after pictures emerged of him flashing gang signs and posing with a gun. “He uses it for paintball,” insisted the striker’s spokesman. Sure.

10. Granny shenanigans

Stephen Ireland finally admitted to missing Ireland’s 2007 defeat in the Czech Republic because he was visiting his “lonely girlfriend” in Cork – but only after both his grans had to read of their deaths, thanks to the then-Manchester City midfielder’s bewildering fibs.

Six months earlier, ex-West Ham defender Anton Ferdinand missed a friendly because, apparently, he had to visit his sick gran on the Isle of Wight. In fact, he was en route to the Knock Knock nightclub in South Carolina. The truth will always out, eh boys?

This feature originally appeared in the June 2014 issue of FourFourTwo. Subscribe!

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