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Greatest April Fools’ Day Tricks in Football History

Radio broadcasters from an honest age.

April Fools’ Day is one of my favorite holidays, probably because it’s the one day of the year when I don’t have to apologize for deviousness and petty cruelty. In football, the first day of April is traditionally a time for pranks and hoaxes (see: La Liga and the 39th game), and over the years there have been some pretty elaborate stunts. Some of my favorites include…

Roberto Baggio attacks Marcelo Lippi (1999) — No one remembers this now, but ten years ago Roberto Baggio was languishing at Inter, where his coach, Marcelo Lippi, consistently left him off the team despite his generally impressive form. Some enterprising fabulist stepped in, invented a story about a drunken Baggio slugging Lippi on the training pitch, and managed to land the hoax on the fledgling Yahoo! Sports site before the truth was discovered.

Maradona impregnates Madonna (1989) — I’m not sure whether anyone really believed this one, but then again, in 1989, was there anything you wouldn’t believe about these two? A TV station in Naples had a bit of fun inventing a secret romance between the two superstars, even going so far as to allege that they were expecting a baby. However, the broadcasters were forced to issue an on-air apology the next day, reportedly after their hoax failed to impress Maradona’s friends in the Camorra.

Pele and the Orphanage (1988) — It’s almost too awful to imagine, but in 1988 a deeply evil individual arranged an April 1 visit for Pele at the Orphanage of the Sacred Redeemer in São Paulo, home to nearly 400 children. The only problem was that he didn’t tell Pele, who was in Japan filming a commercial for a line of luxury wristwatches at the time. 400 sorrowful orphans lined up under a “Welcome, Pele” banner later, you had what must be the least funny April Fools’ Day prank of all time.

Paul Newman buys Forest Green Rovers (1981) — On April 2, 1981, local papers around the Cotswolds reported that Paul Newman was in talks to buy the tiny Nailsworth-based Forest Green Rovers, then playing in the Hellenic League. The actor and salad dressing king, described as a massive soccer fan, reportedly planned to use his large personal fortune to move the club up the table. Sadly for Rovers fans, it was all a lie—one that apparently originated with rival fans from Harrow Hill AFC.

Johnny Rep dies in a helicopter crash (1977) — I’m not sure I understand the Dutch sense of humor. Johnny Rep was supposedly so delighted when he saw his own death reported on an Amsterdam news show that he immediately called the station with a comment. It soon emerged that Rep’s international teammates van Hanegem and Robbie Rensenbrink were behind the hoax, and Rep famously got his revenge by arranging a helicopter tour for the entire team when they trained in Sardinia later that year.


Greatest April Fools’ Day Tricks in Football History

by Brian Phillips · April 1, 2008

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