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Nov 19, 2011

Irish ball bag blag, Korea conquer world

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, an Ireland fan blags his way onto the Estonia bench for their Euro play-off, North Korea are crowned champions of the world, an angry Newcastle fan digs up his father's commemorative stone at the 'Sports Direct Arena', Mario Balotelli has another wardrobe malfunction and Hamit Altintop performs the worst dive ever.

Irish fan uses ball bag to sneak onto Estonia bench

Once upon a time, a ticketless Off the Ball managed to sneak into England's World Cup 2006 match against Sweden and ended up standing behind chain-smoking Italian duo Paolo Rossi and Gianluca Vialli up in the eaves, but that doesn't even come close to the achievements of Ireland fan Conor Cunningham, who amazingly blagged his way onto the Estonia bench for his nation's Euro 2012 playoff.

Cunningham travelled to Tallinn for the first leg of the make-or-break two-legged tie without a ticket and, after refusing to pay the £500 Estonian touts were demanding, decided to chance his arm when he noticed an open door at the Le Coq Arena. We'll let the schemer extraordinaire explain...

"It was a corridor and a dead end. But I did see a bag of footballs and, when I picked them up, spotted an Estonian tracksuit underneath them," said the 27-year-old, who put the tracksuit on over his jeans and Ireland shirt. "I didn't know what to do, to be honest, so I thought I'd better go into the Estonian dugout. No one said anything to me and then I realised I was sitting beside their manager (Tarmo Ruutli). It was about 10 or 15 minutes into the match when a UEFA official got suspicious of me. He came over and, after talking to me, told me I had to move."

Cunningham, who watched the rest of the match from the stands, raced onto the pitch to celebrate with players at the final whistle and was only rumbled when an Estonian official questioned why someone in one of their tracksuits was celebrating with Ireland. "She came over to me and started talking to me and I just said I had to bring the bag of footballs back," he said. "I still can't believe what happened, it's one of the most amazing experiences of my life."

Jog-on England!

When Scotland beat newly-crowned World Cup winners England at Wembley in 1967 the victorious neighbours from the north mockingly claimed to be the 'unofficial world champions' and using the same twisted logic the Three Lions could boast the same following their surprise 1-0 defeat of 2010 World Cup winners Spain this week... at least they could if North Korea hadn't already scooped the Unofficial Football World Championships (UFWC) crown.

Confused? We'll let me explain. The UFWC, which was inspired into existence by Scotland's original claim, is a way of calculating the world's best football team, using a knock-out title system similar to that used in boxing and is calculated from the very first international in world football - Scotland versus England in 1872. The title has been handed to whoever vanquishes the reigning UFWC title holder ever since and Japan nabbed it off Lionel Messi's Argentina with a 1-0 win in October 2010.

It was Japan's first ever UFWC win and they retained the title through a series of friendlies and tournaments, seeing off challenges from South Korea, Jordan, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Australia, Peru, Czech Republic, Uzbekistan, Vietnam and Tajikistan before losing 1-0 to North Korea in a 2014 World Cup qualifier in Pyongyang on Tuesday.

The North Korean's first scheduled defence is a World Cup qualifier in Tajikistan on February 29, 2012. So jog-on England, and get yourselves a friendly booked on the Asian Football Confederation circuit.

Angry fan digs up dad's heritage stone at Sports Direct Arena

When "Cockney Mafia" don Mike Ashley stripped away the final piece of Newcastle United's soul and officially renamed St James' Park the Sports Direct Arena (after his own company) it proved too much for one Toon fan, who this week dug up his father's commemorative brick at the ground in disgust.

Graeme Cansdale, who is a member of the Mike Ashley Out campaign, bought the £50 brick as a present for his dad's 72nd birthday, but no longer wants it to be associated with the club and removed it from St James' Way, which leads to the newly-named stadium.

"Eleven years ago I bought what was called a heritage stone that was sold by the club, Newcastle United, to, you know, be part of the fabric of St James' Park," Cansdale told the BBC. "Now, almost a week after Mike Ashley decided to annul the name of St James' Park, and ignore 119 years of history, I decided to safeguard my part of St James' Park by chiselling my brick up.

"I've actually reclaimed my own property. It has a certificate of ownership. Now that St James' Park no longer exists I think I've every right to protect my property." Cansdale insisted he would not return the brick until owner Ashley left his beloved club.

Balotelli wears the wrong Italy strip

It wasn't a bib this time , but Mario Balotelli (welcome back Mario! You've been absent from these pages for far too long ) suffered another wardrobe malfunction this week when he took to the pitch in the wrong Italy strip for their friendly against Uruguay at the Olimpico Stadium.

Substitute Balotelli, who scored his first goal for Italy a few days earlier, even managed to pole-axe Uruguay midfielder Diego Perez before anybody noticed the blunder and hastily beckoned the striker to the sidelines to change his top .

The Azzurri and Uruguay both wear Puma kit so the sports manufacturer thought it the perfect opportunity to showcase the latest strip for each team, but the message obvious didn't filter down to Balotelli, who was presumably too busy playing with his iPhone again.

Unfortunately Balotelli's bad luck didn't stop there, the Manchester City striker was guilty of spurning some of Italy's best opportunities to score and took out his frustration with a karate kick on an innocent goalpost.


Video of the week

Turkey and Real Madrid midfielder Hamit Altintop should hang his head in shame for ever more after embarrassing himself with one of the worst dives ever seen during his nation's Euro 2012 play-off against Croatia in Istanbul. With no player anywhere near him, the Turk tumbled to the ground in the penalty box in a desperate bid to fool the referee. To watch Hamit Altintop's 'worst dive ever', click here .


More than words...


Forget the Santiago Bernabeu, San Siro and Old Trafford's Theatre of Dreams, this is where real football happens: Maidenhead United versus Aldershot Town under flood lights in the First Round of the FA Cup at York Road. ©PA


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