Brief encounters of a Lineker kind and other wagers

3 May

The Premier League’s traditional big clubs are not the only losers after Leicester City completed their shock title win. Television viewers in the United Kingdom now face the prospect of seeing Gary Lineker stripped down in his pants.

Emboldened by the success of home-town club Leicester (his dad ran a fruit and veg stall in the city’s market), the former England forward vowed in December that he would present the first edition of next season’s Match of the Day – the UK’s Saturday-night football round-up show – in only his underwear …

While the 55-year-old decides whether to honour that pledge following Leicester’s championship coronation, celebrates some other bold sporting promises.

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Hair-raising antics
Montpellier’s 2012 Ligue 1 title triumph was a surprise of almost Leicester-like proportions, and club president Louis Nicollin raised the ante manfully as the championship race came to the crunch. “If we win the league I’ll get the same haircut as Jérémy Menez,” the then 69-year-old said, referring to the mohawk sported by the Paris Saint-Germain winger at that time. He did, too, then went one step further by dying it in Montpellier colours.

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24 non-blonds
The picture of 11 Romanian players lined up for their match against Tunisia all wearing newly-peroxided hair – Village of the Damned-style – was one of the 1998 FIFA World Cup’s defining images. It resulted from an oath that if the side beat Colombia and England to seal a place in the knockouts with a game to spare, the players would celebrate by going blond and coach Anghel Iordănescu would have to shave his head. They did not win again, exiting in the last 16.

Latvia’s tactical masterclass

Starkovs’ choice
Aleksandrs Starkovs’ conservatism is well-known in Latvia, so when he pledged to dye his hair if his team upset all expectations to oust Turkey in the UEFA EURO 2004 play-offs, a nation became doubly hopeful. Whether it was the prospect of a first major finals or the opportunity to see Starkovs’ fun side, the players were inspired and duly did their bit. So, then, did Starkovs.

Paying lip-service
That Latvia squad actually had a third incentive, as their popular physio Dags Čuda had got the ball rolling by promising to shave off his moustache for the first time in 30 years if Latvia qualified. Perhaps he was inspired by Guus Hiddink, who lost his own upper-lip foliage when his Real Madrid side won the European/South American Cup in January 1999 after a bet with a Spanish journalist. It soon grew back.

On your bike
HIFK Helsinki were facing relegation in Finland last September after three successive losses. Desperate times calling for desperate measures, coach Jani Honkavaara made a vow: if his players won their next fixture away to Lahti he would make the 100km journey home by bike. HIFK hammered their opponents 5-0. Top-flight status was all but saved and Honkavaara got peddling.

Deportivo come back from the dead

Double jeopardy
Some people never learn. Back in 1993,  former Finnish international Pasi Rautiainen endured a 160km cycle ride after his wager that Marseille would lose to AC Milan in the UEFA Champions League final proved ill-founded. Eleven years on, with Milan leading Deportivo La Coruña 4-1 after the first leg of their quarter-final, Rautiainen told television viewers he would walk the 50km home from the studio if the Spaniards turned it around. Following one of the great comebacks, his long walk of shame commenced.

Clean sweep
We finish in Kazhakhstan, where in 2010 TV commentator Roman Lopatenko pledged in a newspaper column to sweep the entire Central Stadium in Kostanay if Tobol claimed their first league title. They did. So, true to his word and armed with a broom, Lopatenko embarked on the 700km trip to make good on his bet. It was not just for show either. He spent several hours there, doing a proper job, then made the 700km journey home.

Good luck, Gary, as you take the plunge …

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