By Thomas Godfrey
It’s October, which means Halloween is creeping up once again.
Football has never been immune from spooky, crazy and bizarre stories, from literal bullets to bolts from the blue, the sport has thrown up its fair share of weird and wacky.
Here is a top five of the beautiful game’s horror stories.
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Dead Fred Redemption
English seventh tier team Congleton Town FC suffered a mishap in 1993 when planning to hold a minute’s silence before a match to mourn the death of the club’s oldest fan, Fred Cope, who had supposedly died aged 85 in the week before the game.
But in a drastic turn of events, the club were forced to cancel the tribute, hastily changing it to honour World Cup-winning captain Bobby Moore – who had died days before – due to the fact that Cope strolled into the ground during his own memorial silence.
Cope even had time to comment on his own death – saying he ‘had a few funny looks’ then he arrived at Booth Street.
“It wasn’t until I saw the programme that I realised why. I’ve been bad over the last week – but not that bad,” Cope said later.
Chris Philips (then programme editor) had received a call to say that Cope had died. Philips then wrote a quick obituary and stapled it to the back of every programme.
Being a community, everyone ‘huddled in groups, paying homage to their greatest fan’. The fans didn’t talk about the three points, they instead reminisced about Cope – who, may we remind you, was not dead.
Congleton went on to win the match 6-1 with Cope winning a bottle of whisky and £10 in the half time draw after being gifted a free ticket.
When the former ambulance driver did actually die – the club observed a full minute’s silence that went without any unexpected interruption, but there were still a few nervous glances towards the turnstiles.
An Unreal Player
In November 1999, the News of the World reported that Liverpool were ready to spend £3.5m on French U-21 Didier Baptiste.
The Reds had supposedly beat off competition from Arsenal to sign the acclaimed defender who was ‘due an international call up’.
The next day The Times and The Guardian picked up the story and stated that Liverpool were ‘over-paying’, only valuing the Frenchman at £1m.
Even ClubCall, an information source which you could phone at a rate of 60p a minute to find out transfer rumours, said that Liverpool were ready to sign the youngster.
There was only one issue. He wasn’t real.
Baptiste was a fictional character in Sky One’s ‘Dream Team’ football soap drama that aired until 2007.
The story was reported after the News Of The World were tipped off by someone who, incredibly, believed the show was real.
A bulletproof shot-stopper
In 2013, 51-year old Duško Krtalica started a match in an over-50s football tournament but around an hour in, Kratlica began to suffer a stiff neck, achy arm and slurred speech.
He thought the symptoms were most likely from slight concussion, after all he had collided with the post earlier in the day.
With his symptoms persisting, Krtalica went to hospital where it was found that he had a 9mm bullet lodged in his cranium after falling victim to a freakish gunshot during the opening few minutes of the game.
The keeper was immediately treated by a neurosurgeon who removed the bullet and eventually made a full recovery.
It begs the question, who would shoot a goalkeeper in the head while he was playing a football match?
The answer? A local who was attending a wedding in the region, where a round of celebratory bullets had been fired into the air (which he thought would land well away from the game).
Incredibly, Krtalica made his football return just two months after the incident.
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A True Hat-trick
Many players have scored a hat-trick during their careers but West Ham defender Alvin Martin can claim his own unique twist on the feat.
In West Ham’s famous 8-1 home win against Newcastle United in April 1986, Martin scored three goals against as many goalkeepers.
The defender netted his first goal against Newcastle goalkeeper Martin Thomas, who was then replaced by substitute goalkeeper Chris Hedworth due to injury.
Martin scored his second past the deputy – who then also injured himself.
Peter Beardsley replaced Hedworth toward the end of the match, but Beardsley also promptly conceded to Martin, making the defender the first and only player to ever score a hat-trick where all three goals were against different keepers.
Referee gets taste of his own medicine
Referee Andy Wain is a man who stuck to the letter of the football law – so much so that when he lost his temper mid-match, he sent himself off.
After awarding a goal to Royal Mail in a Sunday league match, the opposition goalkeeper Richard McGaffin protested the decision by running up to the referee and telling Wain ‘It’s always the bl**dy same with you, ref – we never get anything!’
Wain reacted angrily by throwing his cards and whistle down before untucking his shirt and engaging in a stare-down with the goalkeeper.
Then, in stunning fashion, the 39-year-old sent himself off. Without an official, the game had to be abandoned just 63 minutes in.
Wain said after the match: “It was totally unprofessional. If a player did that I would send him off, so I had to go”.