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April Fools! Ten of the best pranks in sport

Ben Blackmore March 30, 2012
Cristiano Ronaldo almost took one for his country © Getty Images
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Have you ever had your dad burst through the front door, clutching a hand covered in red stuff (later to be revealed as tomato ketchup), claiming he's just had an accident with the hedge trimmer, only to yell "April Fools" as you go to dial 999?

Sunday brings the potential for mischief-making in the world of sports, with individual stars, clubs and the media all attempting to prove they possess the humour gene. Below are ten of the best sporting hoaxes from over the years...

Marathon Man
We've all heard of some ludicrous feats in the London Marathon over the years: there was the man who ran the entire race, touched the finishing line and then repeated the feat in the opposite direction; there was also the man who did the race in slow motion, "running" one step every five to six seconds in an effort that took an entire week.

In 1981 - the year of the inaugural London Marathon - the Daily Mail decided to formulate such a story of their own, producing a report about a Japanese runner who had been given misleading information about the length of the marathon. According to the paper, an inexperienced translator had told the runner the race lasted 26 days rather than 26 miles, and as a result he was still running three days after the race had finished.

Pascal Cygan's brother
Remember Pascal Cygan? He was one of those players who slipped into the blind spot that Arsene Wenger possesses when it comes to signing central defenders. Blessed with decent height, strength and a look not too dissimilar to Martin Skrtel at Liverpool, Cygan was not to be messed with... or at least that was the impression he gave when you judged the book by its cover.

More accurately he was a man simply not cut out for the Premier League, lacking co-ordination and always capable of a blunder. So imagine the disbelief among Arsenal fans when it was reported in 2004 that they would be signing Cygan's brother?

Still, they weren't the only ones duped that Easter period, with Eric Cantona supposedly signing for Yeovil while Jurgen Klinsmann moved to Swansea.

Spanish inquisition for Ronaldo
"Cristiano Ronaldo has agreed to 'act like a patriot' and be sold to neighbouring Spain for €160 million," reported the Independent. "While Ronaldo's fee ... barely dents the €12 billion Portugal owes, it is believed that the international bond markets will take it as a symbol of Portugal's determination to tackle the crisis, and respond accordingly."

In essence, the report was claiming that Portugal's financial crisis had got so bad that they had sold the international services of their best player to Spain. The paper even printed a picture of Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero shaking hands with Portugal's Prime Minister Jose Socrates.

And just to really go the whole nine yards, the report finished with: "Late last night, reports suggested that David Cameron was preparing a counter offer of £200m to persuade Ronaldo to play for England."

Fortunately we've got Stewart Downing.

Superhuman pitcher
One of the most notorious April Fools' creations in sporting history proved to be one of the most ridiculous stories ever believed.

In 1985 Sports Illustrated thought it would be funny to report that the New York Mets had signed a baseball pitcher called Sidd Finch. What was special about Sidd? He could throw a fastball at 168mph.

For those of you who do not know the scale of such of a claim, that would be around 60mph faster than any other player in history at that time. Not that such details stopped readers writing in to find out more on the new "superstar".

Maradona shocks the world... again
Imagine if Sunday's papers claimed Lionel Messi had signed for Spartak Moscow. Where would your paper end up? Promptly in the bin we would suspect.

However, such a story truly took off in 1988 when Diego Maradona - who had led Argentina to the World Cup two years previously, was said to have agreed a move to Russia. Soon picked up by one of the leading news agencies the story went global, largely due to the fact that the source, Soviet newspaper Izvestia, had never previously been linked to light-hearted banter.

Diego Maradona was the main man in the late 80s © Getty Images
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Hahnemann flies team to Newcastle
United States goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann is one of football's more interesting characters, if for no other reason that he harbours a superstition of wearing the same under-garment until his team loses.

So it was perhaps believable when a video emerged suggesting Hahnemann - the Wolves goalkeeper - would be piloting the flight that took Wanderers to their match at Newcastle. Team-mate Kevin Doyle was deadpan serious, others backed up the story, but it all came crashing down - literally - when the video finished with Hahnemann crashing a toy plane into a field.

Years later Wolves fans thought the club were playing a similar trick when they announced Terry Connor as manager.

I'll-judged prank
Everybody loves a film where the plot takes a late twist, and then for good measure twists again just to really keep the viewer guessing. This Orlando Magic prank did just that.

Half-time brought the chance for a lucky fan to net $100,000 if he could sink a shot from the halfway line, blindfolded. One chap stepped up and missed, but the crowd were instructed to roar - convincing him he had won the money.

Naturally, the man in the middle celebrated but then he revealed he had just been laid off from work - making everybody feel rather more uneasy about the joke they had played on him. He was then told it was an April Fools' Day prank, which he took gracefully despite obvious pain at the glory that had just been swept away from him.

However, then came that second twist as it was revealed the man was an actor all along, and that the real joke had been played on the crowd. Great scenes!

Rangers' mystery signing
Of all the wonderful title races ever witnessed in the SPL, the 2002-03 season must go down as one of the best. Rangers, locked on the same points as Celtic going into the final day, eventually claimed the SPL crown by a single goal in thrilling circumstances.

It was a memorable campaign for manager Alex McLeish, not only for the success but for an April Fools' prank played by the club on their official website. Rangers fans got excited when it was claimed £10 million had been spent on Greek striker Yardis Alpolfo of Galatasaray. Fans of word game Countdown will have already worked out Alpolfo was merely an anagram of April Fools Day.

Nowadays of course the joke is on Rangers, who would dearly love to be able to sign Alpolfo but cannot afford his wages.

World's Longest Anthem
In 2009 England fans across the country raced to get tickets for an international clash against Ukraine, believing the worst they would suffer was 90 minutes of watching Andriy Voronin attempt to play football.

The Sun had other ideas though, claiming on the morning of the match that Ukraine had requested to sing their full national anthem, lasting an "unparalleled" six-and-a-half minutes. Moreover, the report came with a warning that any fan who booed or sat down during the anthem would be ejected from the stadium.

Of course, the hoax largely misfired because we all know that the Greece national anthem has the most verses... don't we?

Martinez Martinez
For those who didn't see Roberto Martinez play football, he was a graceful player to watch. Much like his managerial style he always looked for the pass and, sitting at the base of a midfield, he attempted to control a game like a Pep Guardiola (although he wasn't as good).

Therefore, when Swansea reported that a mystery virus had struck down the squad ahead of their showdown with rivals Cardiff, it was suggested by the website that manager Martinez may have to rescue his boots from the attic. Aimed as a comical joke with the fans, it then backfired somewhat when Swansea's supporters genuinely began looking forward to seeing the old maestro in action.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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Ben Blackmore is deputy editor of ESPN.co.uk