Sporting streakers can appear at the most innocuous sporting events, as well as the blue ribbon matches. Will any grace the pitch during the Rugby World Cup?
Sporting streakers, those men and women who shed their clothes and leap on to the pitch, are a perrenial sporting fixture. As the Rugby World Cup plays itself out this year we take a look back at those sporting streakers who made their mark. The ones you might like to remember, and those you can try to forget. And if the desire to disrobe proves overwhelming, why not try a spot of wild swimming. Far more vigorously healthy than a beer fuelled pitch invasion.
Rupert Bates investigates the world of the sporting streakers.
Ask people for a sporting streakers anecdote and one name reappears time and time again: Erica Roe at Twickenham during a rugby international between England and Australia in 1982. “The busty bookseller from Petersfield,” as she was dubbed, prompted England scrum-half Steve Smith to turn to his captain, Bill Beaumont, as players choked on their oranges at half-time, and say, “Don’t look now, Skip, but there’s a bird running about with your arse on her chest.”
My past witnessing of sporting streakers was topped and tailed last year when a young woman, several cup sizes below the formidable Miss Roe, sped across the Twickenham Stoop at the Women’s Rugby World Cup final between England and New Zealand. Immediately, the cry went out from a supporter, “She’s no Erica is she?” Nearly 30 years later, the legend lives on.
The wonders of the internet prompted me to try and keep abreast of Erica’s movements since 1982 in the hope of chatting to her and embarking on a trip down mammary lane. The only clues I could find as to her whereabouts were rumours that she had moved to Portugal with her family to become a sweet potato farmer. Okay, so a melon farmer would have worked better to milk the puns, but never mind.
Actually, in the 1974 song The Streak by Ray Stevens, the streaker ran “through the pole beans, through the fruits and vegetables, naked as a jay-bird,” so perhaps the Algarve agricultural community could yet be in for a Roe reprise.
Of course, the art of streaking, be it coarse or cultured, is not just about running around naked. If that were the case, I could have just spent a weekend lashing with the rugby club, or frequented some of the more racy truth-or-dare dinner parties – usually in Hampshire or North Yorkshire.
Again, the web is a fickle research mistress. Some of the sporting streaking pictures I inadvertently unearthed were of naked men and women in close proximity to each other but more horizontal than upright.
“If there’s an audience to be found, he’ll be streakin’ around,” run The Streak lyrics. Indeed, exhibitionism, usu-ally fuelled by alcohol, is the prime motive for shedding clothes in public, and, of course, with their massive crowd numbers, sports events are the best places to strip. To qualify as a streaker, you have to be seen and you have to be breaking the law, so the dash from the shower to your bedroom at home does not count, unless there is an audience.
The motive is to evoke laughter, not fear. Sporting streaking is not remotely sexual, or certainly not meant to be, and there is no intention to shock or traumatise, unless you count 50,000 people in a stadium as victims. While men watching women streak offer a critique on their running style and the pendulum effect, women watching men usually giggle as the men laugh nervously about it being “bloody cold out there”.
The biggest fun from the crowd’s point of view is usually the thrill of the chase as policemen or stewards run after the offender – Keystone Kops style – with the spectators firmly on the side of the hare. Eventually, the police collar their man or woman and the helmet comes in handy to cover certain parts, to a cacophony of boos. The trick is to make sure the bet you struck with your friends as you swilled that last pint that tipped you into bravado-mode covers the fine.
If you do the maths, you understand the full cost of your folly when you add the pitch invasion penalty to the indecent exposure fine. Moreover, if your boss is a spoilsport, you might get sacked, too. However, if there are television cameras about, it might be worth getting sponsored, although the length of the company’s logo will decide whereabouts on your anatomy you paint it.
STREAKING THROUGH HISTORY
But when did those sporting streakers start? Being naked is nothing new, but Adam and Eve – pre-apple munch – were never bustled out of the Garden of Eden by bewildered men in high visibility jackets. Almost a thousand years ago, Lady Godiva rode through Coventry on horseback, which is one way to draw attention to draconian tax laws. Streaking really became part of popular rebellious culture in 1973, so the historians tell me, when American university students started streaking en masse on campus.
Tracking down Erica Roe proved fruitless but I did get hold of the greatest serial sporting streaker of all – and no, he does not run about with just a cornflake protecting his modesty. Salute Mark Roberts from Liverpool; you can find him at www.thestreaker.org.uk. Not even the FIFA football authorities can deny England this triumph. “I have been performing for 18 years and have streaked at major sporting events all over the world,” says Roberts, who is listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s most prolific streaker. Note the word “performing”. For Roberts, it is indeed an art; he always seems to bring a sense of theatre with him on to the pitch, often using suitable props placed in strategic places, rather than simply sprinting naked across the world’s playing fields. It all started with a drink, several drinks, actually, at the Hong Kong Rugby Sevens in 1993. Too many beers, a foolish bet and the rest is streaking history.
For Roberts, it is only ever a bit of fun, allied to the joy of making people laugh. He scoffs at the psychologists who claim streakers are exhibitionists or worse. The only thing Roberts ever raises is a smile. He explains, “It was before New Zealand against South Africa. I even picked up the ball and scored a try. The 65,000 [person] crowd went wild with applause. It was a life-changing moment. I’m just a cheeky Scouser who likes a laugh. I make sure I never actually disrupt the event, so will streak before a game or at half-time and the day I get booed rather than cheered I will stop.”
The sporting streaker’s defence, so often heard in court, is, “It seemed like a good idea at the time.” A painter in overalls by trade, Roberts is nearing a remarkable 500 “good ideas at the time” worldwide. Indeed, by the time you read this, he might have made that 500th dash into history. Rather brilliantly, to mark the occasion he was planning to be joined by 499 others. And no, he was not telling me where and when.
Our serial sporting streakers needs to keep painting to pay the fines, not to mention travel costs and match tickets. One of his greatest triumphs was streaking at the Super Bowl in Houston, Texas in the same year that Janet Jackson displayed too much flesh with her famous wardrobe malfunction.
Roberts managed to get on to the pitch dressed in the black and white uniform of an American Football referee – but his clothes were fastened by Velcro for easy removal. He describes how he seized the ball, ripped off his clothes and started dancing. “The players thought the referee had lost it.” He was eventually tackled by a New England Patriot.
Despite the darkening view of streakers by buttoned-up authorities, Roberts says he is usually treated well by the police or stewards. His worst experience was at Crufts Dog Show after streaking with a cat mask covering his groin.
While there is no Society of British Streakers or secret meetings in the buff to discuss potential future targets, Roberts did meet Erica Roe once on a television show and reported that she was “a lovely lady” who apparently never regretted what she did, but could not believe the publicity it got and still gets. “Nobody regrets streaking. It gives you an incredible sense of freedom, but there are very few serial streakers like me,” he claims. He’s certainly one of a kind. He has streaked at an Ashes cricket test match, at the curling in the Winter Olympics, the World Snooker final and the Wimbledon Men’s final.
Another Wimbledon streaker was Melissa Johnson who got on to Centre Court just before Richard Krajicek and MaliVai Washington started the 1996 final. Washington, the eventual runner-up, said, “I saw these things wobbling around and she smiled at me. Then I got flustered and three sets later I was gone.”
Roberts finished “second” in the London Marathon in 1996 and even ran the 100 metres before the Commonwealth Games sprint final in Manchester. He also scored a “goal” in the Champions League final at Hampden Park in Glasgow between Real Madrid and Bayer Leverkusen. More recently, he crossed the 18th green at last year’s Ryder Cup.
“These days the television cameras pan away and ignore the streak. But in Spain they like to do close-ups,” Roberts says. Spanish football team, Athletico Bilbao, actually paid him to advertise their new kit, with the teams dashing around naked and the streaker remaining clothed for once.
Roberts has three children. He comments, “They used to be embarrassed but now just say, ‘Are you off to streak, Dad?’ when I leave the house.” There are even film companies talking about a movie and recording studios asking Roberts to help with streaker music. “When I hang up whatever it is a streaker hangs up, I should become a steward – poacher turned gamekeeper.”
Talking of game, I suggest to Roberts that he might like to target the Game Fair at Blenheim. “Won’t I get shot?” he asks. On the contrary, I’d say the Game Fair is just the place to find 499 people willing to take their clothes off, especially after The Field’s cocktail party.