Richard Bath: Forget bad boy Balotelli – here’s ten sportspeople who truly deserved a daily slap
ROBERTO Mancini’s revelation that he told unfeasibly irritating and divisive striker Mario Balotelli that “if you played with me, ten years ago, I give to you every day one punch in your head!” got us thinking.
Which sportsmen or women have been so annoying that their team-mates would earn a round of applause for dispensing a daily slap? So, having scoured sport’s underbelly, here’s our worldwide top ten of team-mates from hell:
John Hapoate: The rugby league legend and former Aussie heavyweight boxing champion was sacked by Wests Tigers for sticking a rigid digit up four opponents’ rectums during NRL games, a tactic that he was rumoured to employ in training on his own team-mates. Subsequently with Manly, Hoppa abused match officials and ballboys before being sacked for almost decapitating an opponent. He was banned in 2005 when as coach of his son’s under-13 team the Tongan invited match officials outside for a “square go”.
Marge Schott: The German-born owner of the Cincinnati Reds baseball team was a Nazi memorabilia-collecting racist who in 1984 told the New York Times that “Hitler did some good things before he went nuts”. She openly mocked Asians and gays, and called Martin Luther Day “Nigger Day”. She refused to give black player Eric Davies a plane ticket home after he was hospitalised following a diving catch in the 1990 World Series, and whined “why is this happening to me?” when veteran umpire Dan Sherry had a heart-attack mid-game. After an outcry she sent him flowers which turned out to be recycled.
Lars Elstrup: The cross-dressing 34-cap Denmark striker famously fell out onfield with his goalie Peter Schmeichel at Odense and constantly embarrassed team-mates. Arrested for indecent exposure after slapping a schoolboy with his penis in a mall while wearing a dress and roller skates, he said: “I like to provoke people and experience their reactions. Some might take my message to be ‘sod off’ and others an offer of sex, but I love that people recognise me as Lars Elstrup.” His last game was a guest appearance for music magazine NME against Loaded magazine, during which he wore only skimpy paisley pants, telling puzzled team-mates that “yellow piss is for losers”.
Ty Cobb: Famously good-natured team-mate Babe Ruth described the Georgia Peach as “a total sh*t”. Cobb was so hated that he (rightly) believed his team-mates wanted to kill him and insisted on his own room at away games, sleeping with a pistol under his pillow. A psychopathic racist and misogynist, the Detroit Tigers baseball legend stabbed a black groundsman, throttled his wife in public and in 1912 leapt into the stand to batter a black handicapped fan he accused of barracking him. He beat up umpires, journalists, fans and team-mates, and was twice cleared of daylight murder, once pistol-whipping a would-be pickpocket before fatally stabbing him. His motto: “I only fight one way: to kill”. Not one former team-mate attended his funeral.
Darryl Dawkins: One of the most gifted basketball players of all time, the frequently-disciplined 6ft 11in Philadelphia 76ers forward was an eccentric who for most of his 14 years in the NBA would only answer to team-mates and journalists if they referred to him as “Chocolate Thunder” (“that’s Mr Chocolate to you” he would tell reporters). A self-confessed free-spirit, team-mates were baffled when he listed his occupation as “the Professor of Interplanetary Funkmanship and the Imperial Ambassador from the Planet Lovetron”. He left the NBA in 1989 to join the Harlem Globetrotters.
Carlos Roa: The Argentine goalie was a vegetarian, tee-total, Seventh Day Adventist who lectured team-mates interminably on the imminent Second Coming and the subsequent end of the world. Roa insisted on wearing the No.13 shirt (“the one is for God the creator and the three for Christ who rose on the third day”) and refused to play on Saturdays after dusk. In 1999, Roa walked out on Real Mallorca and took his family to live in a remote village in the Argentine hinterland to await the end of the world. “I was a footballer because God had a plan for me,” he explained, “but I never liked it and it didn’t interest me.”
Rodney O’Connell: The 1970s Ireland rugby player’s superstitions amused and tormented team-mates. He refused to tread on any lines, including those on the pitch, and insisted on being last on to the bus and last out of the dressing-room. He feared the number 13 and wouldn’t enter a room whose digits added up to 13 and refused to leave his room on Friday the 13th. He also hated the number seven and wore ridiculously tight size-32 shorts rather than his real size of 34. O’Connell’s pre-match ritual included throwing the ball backwards through his posts to create a forcefield, and his hour-long pre-bedtime routine included the need to jump into bed touching the top and bottom sheets at exactly the same time, which routinely took 25 attempts and drove room-mates spare.
Latrell Sprewell: After fighting with team-mate Byron Houston, the Golden State Warriors basketball player, left, then attacked another Warrior, Jerome Kersey, punching him, then attacking him with a 2x4 plank before reappearing with a gun. When in 1997 head coach PJ Carlesimo gave him grief in practice, Sprewell throttled him until he lost consciousness, then came back 20 minutes later and punched his recently-revived coach in the face (he was suspended for 68 games, fined $6 million (£3.78m) and lost sponsors Converse). At least Sprewell spreads the love: when one of his four pitbulls ripped his four-year-old daughter’s ear off, his reaction was “stuff happens”.
Vladimir Tumaev: The most annoying team-mate of all time was surely this oil oligarch and owner of top Siberian side Gazovik Gazprom. Having devoted his prime years to wealth creation, from the age of 41 he would sit on the bench and come on at centre forward for the last ten minutes of every game (he also came on every time a penalty was awarded and would take it), playing his 100th game for Gaz-Gaz within four years. Tumaev finally hung up his boots aged 59 after becoming the oldest top-flight goalscorer in world football aged 56 in 2003.
Albert Belle: One of the most gifted players of all time was so loathed by his peers that they consistently voted for him not to be inducted into baseball’s Hall of Fame. An alcoholic cheat who was suspended for seven weeks in 1994 for corking his bat, he started onfield brawls, gambled on games he was playing in, abused respected backroom men and went AWOL in the big games. Nor was he good with fans: he hospitalised a noisy fan with a potentially lethal fastball, threw his bat into a ten-year-old girl’s face, was prosecuted for stalking women and forced to undergo anger management classes after trying to run down a bunch of young trick-or-treaters.
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