As with most sports, football history is littered with stories of athletes overcoming insurmountable odds to achieve greatness. Diego Maradona, one of the greatest players ever, grew up in desperate poverty, sharing one bedroom with seven siblings in the shanty town of Villa Fiorito. He once fell in the family cesspit whilst still a toddler and was rescued from drowning in his relatives’ faecal waste by his uncle, who screamed at him “keep your head above the shit, Diegito!”

Ronaldo (the chubby Brazilian one) grew up in the favelas of Rio and was so poor he missed his first trial at Flamengo because he couldn't afford the bus fare.

One player who surely endured the harshest of tribulations on his journey to greatness was the Brazilian Garrincha, the ‘Little Bird’.  He was born into poverty in Rio in 1933, with an alcoholic father and several serious birth defects. He had a severely deformed spine, with a right leg that bent inwards that was two inches longer than his left, which was also turned outwards. He was certified a cripple by the local doctor. It was pretty fair to say that life had dealt little Garrincha a dud hand.

At fourteen, Garrincha started working nine hour days at a textile factory, where the other workers would refer to him as a ‘cripple boy’. He started drinking around the same age, and lost his a goat.

"Call me...?"
He was already married and a father by the time he became a professional footballer aged 19, and scored a hat trick on his debut for Botafoga. Garrincha went on to shine at the 1958 World Cup in Sweden when, three games into the tournament, he and Pele were called up to the starting line-up, transforming Brazil into a side that would go on to win the World Cup for the first time. The pinnacle of his career came four years later, at the World Cup in Chile: with Pele injured after two games, Garrincha became the team's heartbeat, inspiring Brazil to victory much as Maradona would do for Argentina many years later.

He played football the same way he lived his life, pleasing himself and disregarding team tactics or concerns. Perhaps the finest dribbler the world has ever seen, he regularly beat a man and then waited for him to recover position, simply to have the pleasure of beating him again. His style of play filled fans with joy, but there was something else about his appearance and irreverence that chimed with Brazilians. They loved him because he was a reflection of themselves, providing hope in the way he triumphed over his obvious handicaps. He turned a physical limitation into an advantage – his crooked legs leant to the left while his trademark move was a sharp swerve to the right. The national side never lost a game in which he and Pele were in the lineup.

For all his on-field genius however, Garrincha’s life off it was a mess, largely due to his chronic alcoholism. He donated some of his World Cup bonus to the community in Pau Grande, but kept most of it in cash under his mattress, as he didn’t believe in banks; only to find it again years later, rotted through due to his persistent drunken bed-wetting.

He ran over his own father whilst heavily intoxicated at the wheel in 1959, and ten years later inadvertently killed his mother-in-law when he crashed into a truck with her in the passenger seat. He was married three times and fathered a total of fourteen children to five different women.

He died in 1983 of cirrhosis of the liver aged just 49. At the Brazilian national stadium,  Estádio do Maracanã, the away team dressing room is known as ‘Pele’, and the home room is ‘Garrincha.’

By George Odling

Robbie Savage

Loved by some, hated by many, Savage remains reassuringly confident and outspoken. He has divided the masses throughout his career, through his uncompromisingly confrontational attitude both on and off the pitch.

He is synonymous with the term 'hard hitting midfielder' and has a reputation for running around 'kicking lumps' out of people rather than exhibiting any crowd-pleasing skill or flair. His aggressive and physical style of play has oft been criticised, but contrary to popular belief, Savage has only been sent off twice in his career, and his only Premiership red card was under very dubious circumstances.

Savage did once hold the record for the most Premier League yellow cards however, and in 2008 was dubbed 'the dirtiest player in Premier League history' by the Daily Mail. His yellow card tally has since been surpassed by Lee Bowyer.

Savage began his career as Manchester United, but after Alex Ferguson realised he didn't possess many of the characteristics needed for a striker - such as the ability to pass, dribble or shoot - he was duly sold to Crew Alexandra. From here, he went on to play for Leicester City, Birmingham City, Blackburn Rovers and Derby County. Savage earned 39 International caps for Wales, before retiring from international duty as he 'wished to concentrate on his club football'. Reports suggested that he had fallen out with the national manager, John Toshack. Apparently, Toshack had told Savage "it's my way or the highway," to which Savage replied, "I'm on the M56, John."

The 2001-02 season saw Savage sign for Birmingham City, and showed the world his uncanny skill for winding up opponents. Whilst at the Black Country side, Savage had a slight altercation with Dion Dublin. Savage took offence to a rash Dublin tackle which resulted in a mass confrontation. During said fracas, Dublin (quite gently, actually) head-butted Savage, and was sent for an early shower.

Savage’s stint at Birmingham City ended when he handed in a transfer request in 2005, citing his desire to move nearer his ailing parents in Wrexham. Savage moved to Blackburn Rovers for a fee of £3 million. Blackburn is around five miles further away from Wrexham than Birmingham is.

During the final minutes of a grudge match between local rivals Leicester City and Derby County, savage did the unspeakable and took a dive in the box. The penalty was given and subsequently converted. Two Derby players were booked after chasing Savage and to really rub salt in the wounds, he goaded the home fans, fist pumping his away round the stadium. From that point forward, Savage was subjected to a torrent of abuse whenever he played against Derby. Ironically, Savage signed for Derby in the later stages of his career, receiving a mixed bag of hostility and acceptance, much like a morris dancer at a blind football match.

One major part of Savages career, arguably his most influential contribution to football, was the amount of times he took an elbow, ball or headbutt to the face. Forever cemented in the annals of popular culture thanks to Soccer AM, there are frequent instances of Savage receiving hefty blows to the head. During a game against Newcastle in 2003, the referee Matt Messias swung his arm to signal a foul, unaware that Savage was lurking behind him and struck him in the face. Completely in character, Savage hit the deck. Alan Shearer sauntered over and after taking the referee’s red card, brandished it back at him, the funniest thing Alan Shearer has ever done and probably ever will.

Savages nose has also been on the receiving end of a Robert Pires pass and a Stiliyan Petrov clearance, both achieving a raucous uproar from opposing fans.

Another example of Savages eccentric behaviour and infinite capacity to cause trouble became known as ‘Poogate’. Before a game whilst at Leicester City, Savage had an upset stomach and most likely a dribbly bum, apparently caused by use of antibiotics. Instead of relieving himself in the changing room toilets, Savage decided to sample the delights of the referee’s lavatory. An expensive choice as he was fined £10,000 by the FA, the dearest fine for using a toilet since George Michael's error of judgement in 1998.

In recent months, you may have seen more of Savages enviable locks. This is because he is attempting to become a more prominent broadcast figure.  A recent appearance on Strictly Come Dancing shocked many, largely because he displayed footwork that was non-existent on the football pitch but also due to his outfits being tighter then Rik Waller in a phonebox. During one rather exuberant salsa, Savage performed a kneeslide towards a camera, planting a smacker on its lens. After closer inspection, Savage realised he had in fact broken is nose on the lens and required medical attention.

Savage is a regular pundit on multiple football programs and offers a refreshing and honest opinion on many controversial topics. He also regularly tears up the dictionary and the rulebook on ESPN, with such gems as:

‘Bolton started the game with an intendency’.

‘Outside the box, that’s a freekick but inside the box, I don’t think that’s a penalty’.

Not afraid to speak his mind, Savage continues to divide the public. Nevertheless, like him or loathe him, Robbie Savage will continue to entertain, anger and intrigue the masses for many years to come. And isn't his hair luxurious?

   A well-groomed pooch                          Robbie Savage    

 By Luke Wretham

Paul 'Gazza' Gascoigne

“If he were ordinary, he would play ordinary football. Paul Gascoigne is an extraordinary footballer – it is hardly surprising that he is an extraordinary man.” Simon Barnes, The Times, 1998.

“I don’t want to be rude, but I think that when God gave him this enormous footballing talent, he took his brain out at the same time.” Tony Banks, Minister for Sport, 1997.

That lad is as daft as a brush.” Sir Bobby Robson

Paul Gascoigne was a one-off, probably the most talented and loved British player of his generation. His childlike innocence, spontaneity and recklessness delighted as much as any other sportsmen in history. For every enthralling triumph though, there was a tragedy to match it. And more often than not, it was one brought about by Gazza himself, and his inescapable self-destructive nature. He enchanted fans across the world with his footballing skills and humorous antics, but behind the perpetual grin was a very troubled man. There is no doubt though, that Gazza remains one of the most captivating and magnetic sportsmen of all time.

Gazza started off at Newcastle United, a chubby 16 year old Geordie lad with an irrepressible comic-strip grin and a body like a bag of compost. As a trainee at the club, he once ‘borrowed’ Kevin Keegan’s boots to take to school to show his mates, but lost one on the way home, spending the night crying at the bus depot with his dad, terrified of angering his hero. It wasn’t long before he became an established figure at the club however, playing pranks on his team mates rather than fearing them. When new signing Mirandinha asked Gazza to help him learn English, he was promptly sent into a chip shop armed with the phrase “I’d like some hairy fanny, please.” Gazza also enjoyed winding up team-mate Tony Cunningham, booking him endless series of sunbed sessions while he was at the club. Cunningham is black, of course. Gazza once wound up hard man Vinnie Jones so much in a match against Wimbledon that Vinnie resorted to grabbing him by the bollocks.

Vinnie Jones: Footballer, actor and scrotum fiddler
Gazza’s performances on the pitch for Newcastle were exemplary, but it was also at this early stage of his career that signs that something wasn’t quite right with Paul began to emerge. He had first experienced a death close to home when a brother of one of his friends was run over right in front of him when he was a child; and when Gazza was seventeen another of his close friends was killed in an accident. He felt partly responsible for both deaths, and it was around his seventeenth year that Paul began to develop various nervous tics that he was unable to shake off for the rest of his life. He was constantly worried about his weight and the effect that carrying any extra pounds would have on his career, but ate junk food compulsively then made himself sick it back up. He hated being on his own, which led him to forging his friendship with Jimmy ‘Five Bellies’, a portly Geordie who has rarely left Gazza’s side since they met during his days as an apprentice at Newcastle.

Jimmy was a target for Gazza’s pranks as much as he was a companion. During the thirty-odd years they have known each other, Gazza has paid Jimmy to let him shoot his bare arse with an air rifle, conned him into eating some mince pies after he had scraped out the filling and replaced it with shit, and set him up with a ‘girl’ he knew to be a local transvestite, to name but a few.

"She was a man, Gazza you bastard! Got any more of those pies?"
Whilst Gazza’s star was rising, Newcastle appeared to be a club in decline. Bigger clubs began making inquiries about signing him, including Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United and Terry Venables’ Tottenham. Gazza verbally agreed to sign for United, and Ferguson went on holiday certain that he had acquired England’s hottest young player. While he was away however, the spontaneous Gazza had his head turned by Spurs, who agreed to buy a house for his parents, and he signed for them in the summer of 1988 for a £2m transfer fee.

Many have speculated that had Gazza been taken under Ferguson’s wing and benefitted from the kind of guidance that players likeBeckham, Giggs and Scholes received, he may have conquered the demons that haunted him throughout his life and made the most of his remarkable talent.  Alex Ferguson wrote in his 1999 autobiography “It is my belief that if he had signed for United he would not have had nearly as many problems as he had in London.  I know managing him would have been no joyride, but the hazards that went with the talent would never have put me off...To this day I regret being denied the chance to help him make better use than he did of his prodigious abilities.”

When he first moved to London with Tottenham, Gazza and his small entourage lived in the West Lodge Park Hotel. They were forced to leave only a few days after arriving however, when, after a long session on the champagne, Gazza persuaded Jimmy Five Bellies to have a skinny dip in the hotel fish pond, in full view of the other guests. Gazza was then moved to the Swallow Hotel, where he became so friendly with the staff that he used to sit in when they interviewed for new employees. Not every member of staff was fond of him though; Gazza spotted one young man round the back of the hotel in a compromising position with a young girl, his trousers round his ankles. Without wasting any time, Gazza fetched his trusty air rifle and shot the young man in the arse. The story found its way into the Sun.

It was at the 1990 World Cup that Gazza cemented his place as an international star, and endeared himself to the English public. He maintains that his time away with the England team was some of the happiest he’s ever had, but he was still unable to keep out of mischief with his international pals. He was invited aboard Doug Ellis’ yacht shortly after England’s victory over Cameroon, and following a few drinks, decided to leap on the back of Gary Lineker’s wife Michelle, as a ‘friendly gesture.’ Understandably startled, Michelle lost her footing and the two of them tumbled overboard. Luckily, once Gary had got over the shock of seeing a young Geordie maniac barrel his wife into the ocean, he took the incident in good humour.
In the semi-final against West Germany, Gazza’s lunge at Germany’s Thomas Berthold earned him a yellow card. He’d already been booked earlier in the tournament, so this one meant that should England get to the final, they’d have to win it without him.  Gazza began to cry uncontrollably on the pitch. This display of raw emotion and passion was beamed to an audience of millions back in England, and the nation immediately fell in love with the young midfielder.

On returning home, the England team were greeted by 100,000 fans at the airport. Gazza was handed a pair of fake plastic breasts by one fan, and of course immediately put them on. Soon Gascoigne was recording his own hit singles and hanging out with Rod Stewart. ‘Gazzamania’ had begun.

In 1991, Spurs found themselves in financial trouble and were forced to sell their best players, Gazza included. The club agreed on an £8.5 million pound transfer deal with Lazio in Italy, just ahead of Tottenham’s FA Cup Final game against Nottingham Forest. Gazza was determined to end his Spurs career on a high, and found himself even more wound up than usual before the game. After just 17 minutes of play, he scythed down Forest’s Craig Charles and managed to shatter the cruciate ligament in his own right knee. Tottenham won the cup, but their talismanic superstar wouldn’t play again for 16 months. Gazza had done as much as anyone to get Spurs to the final, including this sensational goal against Arsenal in the semis, but he received his winners medal in a hospital bed.

The move to Lazio still went ahead at a reduced transfer fee; and after months of intense physio work, Gascoigne was ready for Serie A football.  He immediately endeared himself to his new team mates, breaking the ice early on by sneaking a dead snake into Roberto Di Matteo’s jacket pocket. According to Gascoigne’s autobiography, Di Matteo “went apeshit.”

The Lazio fans also fell in love with Gazza, but it was a different story with the Italian press, whom he ran afoul of on numerous occasions. It began with an incident during a game against Juventus, for which Gazza was injured, and therefore watching from the stands. TV reporters were soon sticking cameras and microphones at him, and Gazza responded by burping loudly into one. He didn’t realise that he was being televised live to the nation. The belch made front pages all over the country and was even raised in parliament.

Gazza was rarely out of the Italian papers for his off-field antics. On New Year’s Eve he took his wife Sheryl to a restaurant in Rome, and showed the waiter which lobster he wanted in their huge tank. The staff took their time in fishing it from the tank, so Gazza, bored of waiting, dived in right in front of the other diners. He was in his best suit, but managed to wrestle the lobster out of the tank and take it to the kitchen. “There’s the fucker I want!” he told them, and ate it sitting in his dripping tuxedo.

In October 1992, Gazza was picked by England’s Graham Taylor for a World Cup qualifier against Norway at Wembley. Just before the game he was grabbed by a Norwegian TV crew and asked if he would say a few words to Norway. Gazza grinned and said, “Yeah, fuck off Norway!” He received hate mail from the Nordics for months.

In 1994, Gazza broke his leg in two places whilst training with Lazio and missed over a year of football. He began to feel depressed and homesick, so in 1995 he signed for Glasgow Rangers. As usual, he won over the fans with his dazzling displays on the pitch and outrageous antics. On one occasion, the referee dropped his yellow card on the pitch and Gazza snatched it up and pretended to book him. Once the card was returned, referee Dougie Smith promptly booked him for real. Gazza also hid three trout in team mate Gordon Drury’s car, which he was unable to find. The smell became so bad that the car had to be scrapped.

Rangers finished top of the table in Gazza’s first season and he won player of the Year in Scotland, but these triumphs were more than outweighed by tragedies in his personal life. He was accused of rape by a young girl following an incident months before, while he was separated from Sheryl. She was later found to be lying when her own friends testified against her, but the accusations more than took a toll on Gazza as he waited for the case to go to court. He fell into an agitated depression, drinking more and more, and began to experience blinding headaches that he attempted to counter with obscene amounts of painkillers.

Paul’s wife gave birth to their son, Regan, in February 1996, but Gazza had driven up to Newcastle in a drunken panic following a row with her. He had been drinking for three days when he read in the paper that he’d had a baby, finding out his son’s name and how much he weighed for the first time. After two weeks of hiding away, Gazza finally went back down to the South and met his son. The birth of Regan brought the family back together, and mother and son joined Gazza up in Scotland. For a while, everything was going well; he was with his family, injury free and enjoying his football. Most importantly, he was distracted enough to stay off the booze.
Gazza was selected for England’s Euro 96 squad, and joined the rest of the team for their warm-up matches in Hong Kong and China. Following their games, the teams went to a quiet bar to unwind. The night was rounded off with Gazza doing the “dentist’s chair” - lying down on a table while Dennis Wise and Teddy Sheringham chucked tequila and drambuie down his neck. One of the barmen had managed to take a few photos, which were splashed all over the papers the next day.

England had a fairly successful campaign in the tournament, and Gazza crafted one of the most memorable goals and celebrations ever seen against Scotland. He received the ball on the edge of the Scotland box, artfully flicked it over Colin Hendry with his left, then smashed it past Rangers team mate Andy Goram with his right. Gazza then skidded past the goal line on his back, while Alan Shearer and the rest of his team mates squirted Lucozade into his mouth, mimicking the now notorious dentist’s chair. It was a ten second showcase of both sublime talent and playful idiocy that summed Gazza up perfectly.

As with most events in Gazza’s life, these triumphs had to be matched with disaster, the catalyst being his own behaviour. In October 1996, he took his family to Gleneagles for a short break and had a blazing row with Sheryl. Gazza ended up headbutting his wife and throwing her to the floor. The next day she left with the children, insisting that she wouldn’t come back.

Gazza’s mental state began to decline quickly following this horrific incident. He started stealing painkillers from the Rangers medical room, and was labelled a “wife-beater” by fans, who taunted him relentlessly during matches. His drinking became worse and he became dependent on sleeping pills.

Gazza left Rangers in 1998 and signed for Middlesborough for £3.45million. He helped them to promotion to the Premiership, and then travelled to La Manga with Glenn Hoddle’s provisional England World Cup Squad. Hoddle decided against including Gazza in his final squad for France ’98, and Gazza responded to the news by smashing up his apartment, having to be restrained by team mates Paul Ince and David Seaman. Gazza never played for England again.

Shortly after the beginning of the next season, another of Gazza’s close friends, David Cheek, died in his sleep. Following his death, Gascoigne began having blackouts, drinking copious amounts and taking outrageous amounts of painkillers, sleeping pills and anti-depression tablets. Following a desperate call to Sheryl, she phoned his manager and close friend Bryan Robson. Robson immediately drove from Middlesborough to Hertfordshire, picked up Gazza and took him to the Priory.

Gazza signed for Everton, and later Burnley. He had a brief stint with Gansu Tianma, in the Chinese B-League, but the move quickly turned sour. He joined Conference North side Kettering as manager, but left after just six games and accusations of constant drunkenness.

In July 2010, Gazza unwittingly turned tragedy into farce, in what was perhaps the most bizarre moment in an already extraordinary life. Following a stand-off between police and Newcastle bouncer Raoul Moat, wanted for the shooting of three people, Gazza showed up with "can of lager, some chicken, and a fishing rod.” He claimed that he was good friends with ‘Moaty’ and would be able to help him.

Gazza clearly wasn’t a well man. He finally sought help and ended up at the Providence rehab centre in Bournemouth, where he is well looked after.

I don’t know if any of us have a right to pity Gascoigne, but one thing we should certainly do is celebrate him. He was both a footballing genius, and an extraordinary character. Gazza is what happens when you bless a man with both wonderful sporting talent and the playful naivety of a child. His displays on the pitch dazzled, but his career was blighted by injuries that allowed his demons to overcome him. His self-destructive nature harmed those around him and damaged Gazza beyond repair, but it is still impossible to forget those glimpses of magic he exhibited throughout his career. We can only hope that he manages to regain his strength and banish the personal demons that have haunted him all his life, while we honour one of England’s all time footballing greats.
By George Odling

'Prince' Naseem Hamed

If you’re after the brassiest and most entertaining British boxer of all time, look no further than the Prince. With his trademark leopard skin trunks and flamboyantly acrobatic ring entrances, ‘Prince’ Naseem Hamed was the ultimate crowd pleaser, dominating the Bantamweight and Featherweight divisions for a decade from 1992-2002. At a time when Amir Khan had only just begun to lace up his gloves, Prince Naz was reeling in the viewers; in 2000 at the height of his career, over 10 million Brits tuned in to watch his bout against Vuyani Bungu.

Throughout his relatively short ten year career, Prince earned a staggering £30million. In 2000 alone, he raked in £7.5m, doubling that of David Beckham – not bad considering he only fought twice. His lucrative sponsorship deals with Adidas and HBO made him one of the richest sportsmen in the world, so I suppose we can forgive him some showboating… His priority in the ring seemed to be to show his opponent up, weaving and ducking punches with a smug grin on his face like a dad playfighting with a toddler. Except this dad knocks his children out.

Naz was a show-off, 5ft 4 ½ inches of ferocious arrogance. He choreographed every exuberant entrance he made, each one more spectacular than the last. Highlights included fans being treated to the Prince entering the ring in a Chevrolet Impala, being carried in on a palanquin (poncy word for Ancient Egyptian throne) and recreating the Thriller video in a Scream mask. The entrance before his bout with Bungu has to be seen to be believed. He was suspended over the London audience on a magic carpet, like an angry Aladdin with a gumshield (except I’m pretty sure Aladdin never wore a seatbelt on his carpet), and floated over to the ring.

"I also do Lumiere from Beauty and the Beast"

And if that wasn’t flashy enough, the Sheffield pugilist was greeted at ringside by none other than pop mogul Sean ‘Puff P Diddy Daddy’ Combs. But it was Naseem who was the daddy on that evening when in similarly classy style, he slapped the poor South African all over the ring, ending the fight by knockout in the fourth round, retaining his Lineal and WBO Featherweight titles.

Putting his brazen behaviour aside, there was no doubt that Naz was a fantastically talented boxer. Despite being slated for not training hard enough, he still held a record of 36-1 from 37 fights (31 wins by way of knockout) so it would be fair to say that he was as hard as Phil Mitchell on Viagra.

Turning pro in 1992, he was European Bantamweight and WBC International Super-Bantamweight champion within two years and clinched the WBO Featherweight title in 1995. Naz went on to win the IBF Featherweight title against American Kevin Kelley in 1997 – a fight which won Ring Magazine’s “Fight of the Year” - and added the WBC title to his collection in 1999. Hamed was to defend his WBO title fifteen times before relinquishing it in order for him to take on long-time nemesis Marco Antonio Barrera.

This fight was to be the most important of his career and one of the most poignant for a lot of boxing fans. Hamed recorded his first career loss against Barrera by unanimous decision and not only did it mean losing his Lineal featherweight championship to his arch rival, it also caused a chain reaction that saw television networks lose interest in him, sponsors give up on him and contract offers dry up. He was to fight only once more the following year beating Spaniard Manuel Calvo, but he announced his retirement shortly after.

Many retain that he had the potential to be remembered as a legend but his attitude towards training and his early retirement at the age of 28 led to his downfall. It would be interesting to see where he’d be now had this not been the case.
Naz Vs Richard Pryor? How did that slip through the net?!

Naz was also involved in legal battles for driving offenses that ended in him doing time at Her Majesty’s pleasure, but for us at Sporting Mavericks, we are satisfied in remembering him as one of the most entertaining exports this country has ever produced.

By Jack Briden

Eric "The Eel" Moussambani

It was a humid and sticky April morning in 2000 when a 22-year old Eric Moussambani was listening to the radio at home in his native Malabo, the ramshackle capital city of Equatorial Guinea. His ears pricked up as an announcement crackled out over the airwaves: would members of the public who wanted to try for a place in the national Olympic swimming squad please make themselves known. Eric smiled to himself and shrugged his shoulders; he had barely swam before in his life, but in the naively gung-ho style that would soon have the world infatuated with the young Guinean, he decided to give it a go.

Of the country’s 676,000 population, Eric was the only one who bothered to show up for the trial, and so was selected for the Sydney Games by default. Equatorial Guinea were allowed to send Eric to the Olympics without meeting the minimum qualification requirements due to a wildcard draw that encouraged developing countries without the resources for expensive training facilities to compete. And so Eric the Eel was born…

The man above doesn’t look like an Equatorial Guinean novice. He looks like a genetically engineered human torpedo. That man is Pieter van den Hoogenband. He has three Olympic golds, and was the 100m and 200m champion at the 2000 games. But you’ve most likely never heard his name before, because he was outshone by a West-African who couldn’t swim.

Eric was obviously an Olympic swimming virgin. He’d never even seen a 50 metre pool before, but now he was in his Speedos and had access to one, nothing was going to stop him diving in and flailing about like a drowning cat in goggles until the job was done. Eric had started swimming only eight months before the Olympics, training at weekends in the river or the sea, without any coaching. His first time in a pool was in May of that year, when he splashed about in a 20m one at a hotel in Malabo.

For most 100m swimmers, turning for the return leg is a well rehearsed and vital manoeuvre. For Eric it was a genuine surprise. Someone had managed to royally screw up translating the numbers, and Equatorial Guinea’s contender arrived in Sydney without even a proper understanding of the event he was in, thinking the 100m freestyle was a 50m race.

"Hello, I'm here for dressage."
Eric lined up to begin the race with two other swimmers, whose sleek amphibian spandex could not have contrasted more with his own ordinary Speedos ...but they were both disqualified for false starts. So this left Eric standing on his starting block, about to compete in a race twice as long as one he knew he wasn’t ready for, in front of the world, on his own. This is a man who would struggle to get a Puffin Badge, about to swim in the Olympics.

Faced with this impossible challenge and the prospect of more public humiliation than the whole of Youtube combined, Eric did the only thing he could. He jumped in face first.

Eric doggy-paddled stubbornly through his first length, legs askew and arms slapping clumsily through the water. He reached the side after 40 seconds, then did what was possibly the first tumble-turn he had ever attempted in his life. This awkward twist underwater led immediately to a change in tact from Eric. He converted his stroke from “almost useless” to “almost drowning” for the return leg. The scene couldn’t have been further removed from a typical Olympian demonstration of skill; even the BBC commentator seemed certain Eric would require a rescue from the lifeguards - “Now I am convinced this guy is going to have to get hold of the lane rope...he doesn’t look like he’s going to make it.”

Needless to say, Eric didn’t qualify. He didn’t nearly qualify. He barely even survived the race and made it out of the pool. In a sport defined by tenths of a second, Eric came in at over double the world record. But he did finish the race, managing a time of 1minute 52.72 seconds, and exhibited a degree of bravery not seen since Graeme Souness planted a Galatasary flag in the middle of the Fenerbahce pitch in 1996. His performance remains a powerful reminder, in this hyper-professionalised world of sport, of the power of the novice to inspire hope in the lives of the ordinary.

Eric has since vastly improved, cutting his own 100m freestyle record down to 57 seconds. Now aged 34, he is an IT engineer and coaches the Equatorial Guinea national swimming team in their new Olympic sized swimming pool.

By George Odling

Robbie Fowler

Robert Bernard Fowler is one of the most fondly remembered players in the history of Liverpool FC. He remains the fourth-highest goalscorer in Premier League history and holds the record for the League’s fastest ever hat-trick, scored in a sensational four minutes and thirty-three seconds for Liverpool against Arsenal in 1995. He notched 183 goals in total for Liverpool, and is still referred to by the Kop faithful simply as “God”.

Throughout the mid-to-late 90s, Robbie was considered the best natural finisher in England. Even famously crusty Graeme Souness had this to say about the prodigal young striker – “He had…a unique eye for goal. He could conjure them from nothing. I would put him right up there with Ian Rush as one of the greatest poachers.”

Robbie was one of the “Spice Boys”, the generation of Liverpool players characterised by their playboy lifestyles, hard drinking and antics off the pitch. Robbie and his comedy sidekick Steve McManaman loved playing silly pranks on their team mates, and even went so far as to cut up football boots belonging to team hard man Neil ‘Razor’ Ruddock. The duo also bought a pair of racehorses and named them “Some Horse” and “Another Horse”, apparently to make the race commentator “sound daft.”

Robbie’s playful nature often got him in hot water with his manager and the press however. There was a time where Robbie faced a huge amount of taunting from Everton fans that claimed he was a drug abuser – it even got to the point where the word “Smackhead” was daubed in ten foot letters over his mother’s house. Robbie reacted to the false accusations by furiously smashing home a penalty against the Toffees then sprinting over to the touchline and pretending to snort it like it was the world’s biggest line of Bolivian marching powder. After the game, manager Gerard Houllier quickly pulled an excuse out of his bum and told the press that Robbie was simply “doing a Cameroonian grass-eating celebration he learnt from Rigobert Song.” Robbie came clean however, and was handed a four match ban along with a £60,000 fine.

Looks more like a Mongolian poo-sniffing celebration to me...
Robbie is also remembered for one of the most refreshing displays of honesty ever seen in a sport plagued with melodramatic divers and embarrassing histrionics. During a game against Arsenal in 1996, Robbie appeared to have been tripped in the box by Arsenal keeper David Seaman and was awarded a penalty. Robbie immediately protested to the ref, admitting that he hadn’t been fouled and the penalty shouldn’t stand. The referee, obviously incapable of processing the notion of a footballer not trying to cheat, awarded the penalty anyway. Robbie stroked it tamely at Seaman, who unfortunately wasn’t able to hold on to it before Liverpool’s Jason McAteer rifled it into the net. Still...the thought was there. Fowler won a UEFA Fair Play award for this display of sportsmanship.

Robbie had an unfortunate falling out with hapless Liverpool manager Gerard Houllier, who bullied writers at the Liverpool Echo into criticising him in an attempt to turn fans against their hero. Robbie left the club where he’d become a legend, and went to play for both Leeds United and Man City, before returning to Liverpool to a hero’s welcome in 2006. He also managed some successful seasons in the twilight of his career at Australian clubs North Queensland Fury and Perth Glory.

Robbie is also a shrewd businessman, and was listed in the Sunday Times Rich List as being worth around £30 million, with a property portfolio of around eighty houses. 
Certainly not just a pretty face then , eh?
By George Odling

Andrew Flintoff

Andrew ''Freddie'' Flintoff is the first entry from the world of Cricket into the Sporting Maverick Hall of Fame. Not only is Fred one of the best 'all rounders' England has ever produced but he also had the unique ability to inspire every young cricketer and their dad at the same time. Whilst every boy and girl wanted to 'bowl and hit the ball as hard as Freddie' he inspired fathers up and down the land who wanted to 'hit the booze as hard as Freddie'...a feat that not many would be able to match.

From his debut in 1998 up until his injury forced retirement in July 2009, Flintoff was an integral part of the England team in both Test and One Day Cricket and became one of the all time greats. Fred both captained and Vice captained the team in this period and was also a vital member of the team that regained the Ashes from Australia in 2005. He played 79 test for England and 141 ODI's. Flintoff is the second highest English Wicket Taker in ODI's with 159 wickets and 10th highest in Tests with 218 wickets. Flintoff also holds the record for the most sixes scored for England. His record is fantastic and he drew many comparisons to England's best ever, Beefy Botham, however, it is also his personality and love of boozing that accelerated Freddie into being one of the most adored sportsman of the modern era.

Whilst there were many highs in his career these were matched by just as many lows, and it was the way he overcame these lows that makes him the maverick he is. He wasn't an instant hit with the British Press, who criticised him for being overweight during the early stages of his England career. Freddie soon silenced his doubters with back to back man of the match performances. He instantly remarked to the press 'that wasn't bad for a fat lad' and celebrated with a shirt off celebration - a first for the gentleman's game of Cricket! His career flourished and hit its peak at the 2005 Ashes in which he was named 'man of the series' by the Aussie Coach. Two images following England's euphoric win reflected the inspirational nature of Fred. Firstly his sporting (and gentleman-like) nature on the pitch in consoling Australia's Brett Lee after England beat Australia by 1 run at Edgbaston; the second, the state of Flintoff as he stumbled on the team bus for an open top tour of London! Whilst most of the team turned in at 4am in preparation to greet the crowds of London, Fred carried on boozing in the bar with members of the public until his wife had to dress him in his suit! One too many was usual for Fred and this cost him his captaincy after being caught out at 3am boozed to his eyeballs stranded in the sea on a pedalo in the West Indies during the World Cup. The incident became known as the 'Fredalo' incident. Flintoff is a Cricketer much missed by the English public and if it wasn't for injury or copious amounts of alcohol, he may well still be playing today.

Instead, Fred can now be seen strutting his stuff on Morrisons adverts, is a team captain on Sky1's Sports show 'A League of their own' and also holds 15 Guinness World Records in aid of Sport Relief.  He has started the 'Flintoff Foundation' in aid of charity - some may think his outlandish days are behind him but these efforts just reflect the nature of the man.

The closest to the 'old boozing Fred' in the public eye is that he can often be seen hosting groups of VIPs in private bars at England test matches holding a pie and a beer....

That was the closest until a month ago when he had one sharpener too many once again at a Sky party and openly remarked to a journalist that his Sky colleague and former Test Cricketer, Michael Atherton was a 'C*nt, he's a f*cking c*nt, there's no love lost there'.

That's the Fred we love.

By Chris Davis