Fool’s gold: 7 times footballers tricked the world on April Fools’ Day

Amit Katwala

Neil Ruddock

The Predator boots were introduced by Adidas in the mid-1990s, and featured a unique series of blocks on the front of the boot designed to provide added grip and swerve. They were worn by the likes of David Beckham and Paul Gascoigne, but were no good for the more industrial players who lumbered around the pitch in the early days of the Premier League.

Ahead of the League Cup final in 1995, a tabloid newspaper ran a picture of Liverpool’s Neil ‘Razor’ Ruddock wearing the ‘Adidas Predator Headband’, which would enable him to head the ball incredible distances. Most saw the funny side – but not Predator creator Craig Johnston, who had actually developed a real product along similar lines called the ‘Headator’.

“The common sense of the product was undeniable,” he said in an interview with Soccerphile. “It was a headband covered in the type of material on the Predator boot, which was designed to give the player protection and greater control. If you collide head on ball or skull on skull with another layer, you are doing so without protection…

"Having something like the Headator could give you a physiological advantage going into a challenge as you are less worried about getting injured. And the protection that the rubber gives you can also reduce the seriousness of head-to-head, or elbow-to-head injuries.

“Before a League Cup final one year, The Sun ran an April Fools’ Day feature with Neil Ruddock wearing the Headator and saying he was going to use it in the final. I couldn't believe that my serious market proposition had slipped through a PR company somewhere in Europe to be ridiculed.”

Ian Rush

Another dose of nostalgia and a classic prank pulled off by Shoot magazine. Welsh striker Ian Rush was the spearhead of Liverpool’s mighty team in the late 1980s, so to see him in Everton kit on the front of the football magazine in 1989 would have had many a Merseyside schoolboy dropping their jaws in disbelief.

Nowadays, the ease of head-swapping on Photoshop means that this kind of story is all too simple – just see the 2016 claim that Lionel Messi was moving to Real Madrid in a £500m deal. But back then, Shoot actually had to convince Rush to don the shirt of his club’s fiercest rivals, and get him to approve the copy they planned to run alongside it, including a quote from his partner saying that the blue of the Toffees’ kit matched Rush’s eyes. Brilliant. 

Rickie Lambert

Football’s most famous former beetroot factory worker had New Zealand fans tickled pink when he revealed his desire to play for the Kiwis in April 2013. The then-Southampton player filmed an interview proudly displaying a New Zealand shirt, in which he stated his desire to lead the line for the All Whites, who were in with a chance of qualifying for the 2014 World Cup.

At the time, Lambert was the leading English scorer in the Premier League, but had yet to be called upon by national team manager Roy Hodgson. “New Zealand has always had a special place in my heart given that my grandfather was born there,” said the forward.

Southampton are as good at pranks as they are at hiring managers: a few years later they made headlines with a redesigned badge featuring an emoji smiley face. The club revealed the Lambert deception in another video later that day – and Lambert would go on to earn his first England call-up in August of that year, going on to be part of the Three Lions squad for the World Cup. New Zealand did not qualify.

Gianluca Vialli

The in-no-way-suspiciously-named journalist Paolo Fril brought readers the scoop of the century in April 2013, when he revealed that Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich was going to take charge of the club for the following season. A convincing video – if you’re quite far away from the screen – said Abramovich had received special one-on-one tuition from Gareth Southgate as part of a special VIP FA training course.

Former Chelsea player manager Gianluca Vialli was also in on the act. He said Abramovich had come to him for advice, and that the Russian had initially wanted to buy his coaching badges. “I think he’ll do well,” said the Italian. A host of Chelsea fans agreed. “He owns it,” said one supporter, in what we’re pretty sure was a real interview. “He can do what he wants.”

Santi Cazorla, Mesut Ozil, Nacho Monreal, Hector Bellerin

We have a feeling 2017 might be the year that branded April Fools’ #content jumps the shark, but don’t let that ruin your enjoyment of this genre classic. In 2015, Arsenal’s official YouTube account unveiled a promotional video for a ground-breaking new product from Puma, featuring some of the Gunners’ big-name stars.

The left-footed football supposedly featured reinforced foam on one side of the ball, with the ‘grain’ on it rotated by 180 degrees to make it easier for Arsenal’s multitude of talented left-footed players to strike it with power and accuracy.

There’s footage of the players trying out the new ball, including a right-footer shanking a penalty high and wide. A series of interviews with Arsenal players press home the point – stilted yes, but exactly as awkward as any real promotion video starring a footballer, so it kind of works. We can’t wait to see what Arsenal have in store for us this April Fools’ Day. Arsene Wenger to renew his contract, perhaps.

Fabian Delph

With a running time of four minutes and seven seconds, Fabian Delph’s April Fools’ Day prank on a Manchester City TV presenter is just about the longest appearance he’s made on the club’s behalf. In the video, released last year, Delph pretends to storm out of an interview with City presenter Nicola McCarthy after a question he doesn’t like. She’s mortified and Delph seems vaguely traumatised at having been put up to it, so it’s debatable how much joy there is here.

Of course, in real life footballers don’t really storm out of interviews – instead they tend to adopt the time-honoured tactic of giving dull answers until the interviewer loses the will to go on. It’s one of a number of pranks on YouTube featuring City players: the squad getting a scare before Halloween, Micah Richards pranking City staff, Joe Hart’s car getting wrapped in paper.

The big reveal on Pep Guardiola’s long-running Claudio Bravo prank should be a cracker.

Rio Ferdinand

The former Manchester United and England centre-back had already cemented his status as one of history’s greatest pranksters for his starring role in Rio’s World Cup Wind-Ups. For those not familiar with the premise, it was a hidden camera show in which the United great “merk’d” his England team-mates, including Wayne Rooney, Gary Neville, Ashley Cole and Shaun Wright-Phillips.

There’s a full list on Wikipedia under the curious heading ‘English People who have been “Merk’d"' which suggests there was a secret extra series involving foreigners which couldn’t be shown for legal reasons. In April last year, with Louis van Gaal on the way out, Ferdinand tweeted a picture of himself standing on the touchline at Old Trafford, with the words: “New Chapter.. Contract signed.. Looking forward to going into management in June. Big summer ahead!”

Of course, Rio was not set for the dugout at Old Trafford, with Jose Mourinho arriving in the summer. Turns out we’d all been merk’d.

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