Strange moments in sports IV

Updated: December 12, 2017

Odds are you have experienced it plenty of times when one set of fans are booing players in the other team. There have been moments when national anthems have been disgraced with pathetic whistles from the stands, club houses have been invaded by furious own fans demanding the resignation of a board they are fed up with and there have even riots on the streets where die hard supporters fight it out simply because they have a problem to act civilized. Top bookmakers have in some cases been forced to shut down betting on certain matches due to pitch invasions and abandoned games. All of these are examples of fanaticism and overly stupid behaviour, even though one could argue that some form of true passion lies underneath. But true passion can take other turns, non-violent and non-aggressive such which was best exemplified by Turkish Besiktas in the 2009 Champions League.

The club – with 15 league titles – had a terrible run in the domestic race for the Turkish title and were 10 points behind one of the main rivals Fenerbahce. Rock bottom in the Champion’s League group they were to play visiting Wolfsburg and had only managed one point in three games. Another defeat would seal their fate in the tournament and some of the fans were actually hoping for this, with the league in mind and a hope that focus would shift solely to the domestic struggle rather than the team being split between two burdens.

When the German side raced to an early lead with a goal from Misimovic, it tipped the fans over the edge. Leaders of the various ultra groups gathered for a quick meeting in the stands during half-time after which they began to organize chants directed at their chairman, with demands for him to leave. An entire stadium – some 40,000 – called for Yildirim Demiroren to resign. This lasted for a while but the atmosphere in the stadium was about to be transformed. When Gentner scored a second for the Germans late in the second half the Besiktas fans started to cheer for visitors Wolfsburg. Boos and whistles ceased, a silence swept amongst the crowd, suddenly the entire crowd were supporting Wolfsburg and did so for the remainder of the game. Every pass was cheered, every referee decision against Wolfsburg was contested by the Besiktas supporters and when Edin Dzeko scored Wolfsburg’s third goal of the evening the stands erupted in wild celebrations.

When the final whistle was blown a bemused gathering of Wolfsburg players went up to the crowd and threw their shirts to them.

There are several incidents when fans have started to root for the opposing team rather than their own and these usually involve what the own scored would mean to their biggest rivals. If one team is safe in the league at the end of the season and the final score doesn’t really matter much for the sake of position in the table, and their main rivals are playing somewhere else at the same time where a defeat for the own team could mean their rivals are relegated, it is not unheard of that the home crowd will start cheering for their opponents.

One such example happened a few years ago when West Bromwich needed a win against Portsmouth to avoid relegation while Portsmouth was already safe. Meanwhile, Portsmouth’s biggest rival Southampton were playing away against Manchester United and were only one point clear of relegation. When Manchester took the lead, Portsmouth fans – in a meaningless match for them – started to cheer for West Bromwich. Lo and behold, West Brom won, Southampton lost and Pompey’s biggest rivals were relegated.

There are also stories when the home crowd has cheered a single player during a game when he has played for their biggest rivals. Diego Maradona, while in Barcelona, received a standing ovation from the Real Madrid crowd after a particularly well played game, even though Real lost at home. Ronaldinho received the same treatment when he had a magnificent evening and was part of all three and only goals in a game at Santiago Bernabeu. Andres Iniesta was honoured by their city rivals Espanyol not once but twice during the same season due to a T-shirt he had revealed after scoring the winning goal for Spain in the world cup final, it read; Dani Jarque-always with us. Jarque having been the Espanyol captain who had suddenly died on the pitch a few months earlier. When Iniesta was to play with Barcelona on Estadi Cornella the following December against their big rivals Espanyol, huge banners were hanging from the stands thanking him, supporters had painted his number eight on their faces and Iniesta was given massive applause when he was substituted.

Not all strange stories in sports are bad or laughable.