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Apr 1, 2011

Coffin dodgers and Russian henchmen

Off The Ball never rests in its mission to scratch around the underbelly of professional football to find the most bizarre, humorous and inexplicable stories.

This week, Colombian fans smuggle a dead man into their stadium, the unfathomable mind of Mario Balotelli, a Russian club pays £156k compensation for beating up their own player, Shakira is banned at the Bernabeu and Sao Paulo goalkeeper Rogerio Ceni scores his 100th goal.

Colombian fans smuggle dead man into stadium

Some of the items that crop up amongst the crowd in football stadiums around the world can be jaw-droppingly bizarre - a motor scooter and a fridge have both previously made appearances on the top tier of Italian grounds - but in Colombia this weekend they really pulled out the stops when a coffin, complete with cadaver, was smuggled into the General Santander Stadium.

According to reports, the coffin contained the body of 17-year-old Christopher Jacome, who was tragically gunned down in a local park while playing football. Members of the Cucuta Barra del Indio fans group arrived at the funeral service to pay their respects and then decided to give Jacome one final match-day experience.

Cucuta's medic Julio Rivera said: "They don't let in the barras [the ultras] but, yes, a cadaver. This is the only part of the world where this has happened."

When the coffin and crew arrived at the ground, with only 30 minutes left to play, Cucuta Deportivo were losing 1-0 to Envigado but minutes after their arrival the team equalised. However, with the whole incident under investigation by both the police and the club, the casket is unlikely to become a lucky charm.

Shakira music banned at Real Madrid

Even such a high-brow column as this will occasionally plumb the depths of footballers' WAGs and this week Gerard Pique's dalliance with booty-shaking songstress Shakira had repercussions at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Since the Barcelona defender went public about his relationship with the Colombian pop star, arch-rivals Real Madrid have axed her music, including the World Cup hit Waka Waka, from the playlist at the stadium.

According to Spanish newspapers Marca and AS, Shakira's catchy tunes were routinely played at half-time, as well as pre- and post-match, but Real have decided to remove her from their repertoire.

There has been no official reason put forward but Marca points to her relationship with Pique as the driving force behind the move. If only Carles Puyol would shack up with Fergie from the Black Eyed Peas and pint-sized twosome Lionel Messi and Kylie Minogue got together, the music at the Bernabeu would be greatly improved.

Russian club pay out £156k to 'beaten' footballer

Russia. A worried foreigner sits at a desk. A spread of official documents adorn the table top, but he doesn't want to sign. Two henchmen enter the room. One removes his jacket to reveal two pistols, the other lands a heavy punch to the liver...

Nope, that's not the opening to what I think you'll agree would be an excellent spy film (I'll complete the rest and send it off to the British Film Institute) but what Montenegrin forward Nikola Nikezic claimed happened to him after refusing to sign away the final year of his two-year contract with Russian Premier League side Kuban Krasnodar.

After 20 minutes of this 'special treatment', Nikezic obviously signed the document, but last month he sent a letter of appeal and photographic documentation of the injuries he received to both FIFA and UEFA, alleging that he had been punched, throttled and threatened with a gun before he relented.

And this week the story's villain, Kuban Krasnodar, has agreed, some might say been forced, to pay out £156,000 in damages to Nikezic. "I think they have realised it was the right thing to do and settle this case without any further complications," Nikolai Grammatikov, secretary general for the Russian players' union, said. "We could say common sense has prevailed."

Goalkeeper Rogerio scores 100th goal in Sao Paulo derby

Sao Paulo goalkeeper Rogerio Ceni is a man who likes to leave his mark on things. Just standing between two shiny white sticks and making the occasional save is not for him. Hell no! Rogerio has a penchant for scoring goals and this week the 38-year-old notched the 100th of his career.

And typically, it wasn't just a run-of-the-mill strike in a humdrum match. It was 20-yard curling freekick to seal a 2-1 victory over arch-rivals Corinthians in a pulsating Paulista championship derby match that also had three red cards.

"When a goalkeeper goes onto the pitch he doesn't think about scoring a goal but it turned out the way I wanted," Rogerio said after ending Sao Paulo's 11-game streak without a win against Corinthians. "I don't care who our opponents are, but it certainly is important to our fans."

Rogerio, who holds the world record for goals scored by a goalkeeper, not only took his total to a ton but secured the win by also doing his main job properly with several good saves, including one with his foot from striker Liedson's bicycle kick in added time.

Off The Ball-otelli

Mario Balotelli's antics have featured so often in this column that it's high time the Manchester City crackpot had his own regular slot and, provided he keeps doing things like throwing darts out of windows, it should be the easiest segment to fill.

So for his inaugural week we take a peek into the unfathomable mind of the Italian striker and discover that he does, as suspected, operate on different mental plane to the rest of us.

This is highlighted by the ease with which Balotelli dismissed his many indiscretions - he was fined two weeks' wages for his dismissal in the Europa League, had a training ground bust-up with Jerome Boateng, threw strops after being subbed against West Ham and Notts County, drove into a women's prison whilst out injured, was fined again for the darts incident and has been booked nine times and sent off twice so far this season - in our spacetime continuum to proclaim: "I try every day to repay the trust the manager and the club showed in me by signing me."

So is he just a misunderstood and dedicated student of the game who cares for nothing else? Well, not exactly. Asked who the best defender he'd come up against that he hadn't heard of before he arrived in England last year, Balotelli said: "[Nemanja] Vidic."

Well, Vidic has only won the Premier League title three times, the FIFA Club World Cup and the UEFA Champions League with one of the biggest clubs in the world, so why should a striker have heard of one of his most fearsome opponents in the game? "I like to play with my hair," Balotelli added. Enough said.


Video of the week

Robin van Persie watches helplessly as his four-year-old son Shaqueel beats him with a half-volley into the top corner during a Dutch training session. To see Van Persie Jnr's stunning strike click here .


More than words...


Crystal Palace fans have blamed their cheerleaders for the club's slump in form. One supporter fumed: "You see the players eyeing them up when they should be focusing on the game." ... Sorry, did you say something? ©PA Photos


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