Sports

Lessons in the Art of Naked Pitch Invasions From the World's Most Prolific Streaker

Mark Roberts has strutted his stuff at the Olympics, the Super Bowl, the Champions League, Wimbledon, and countless other sporting events. But he's no athlete. Roberts is a prolific streaker who's bare arse has been viewed across the globe.
November 21, 2016, 6:35pm
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This article originally appeared on VICE Sports UK.

Unsurprisingly, given the subject matter, this article includes full-frontal nudity, as well as a video clip of a middle-aged bloke dancing a naked jig at the Super Bowl. That is to say: maybe don't read it at work, or with your granny.

Come the Christmas lunch lull – when the sprouts are repeating as long and hard as yer da's Brexit rant – break out this cracker question:

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Which Briton has appeared at the Olympics, the Super Bowl, the Grand National, a Champions League final, the Open, the Commonwealth Games, the Derby, a Wimbledon final, the French Open, the Ryder Cup, several Premier League games, and the Hong Kong sevens?

The answer is Mark Roberts. No? Well, little Mark must take a share of the glory as well.

That's because Roberts – a 52-year-old painter from Liverpool – is the undisputed world champion of the unclothed pitch invasion. He has streaked some 556 times, including more than 70 undressed appearances at high-profile sporting events.

And, contrary to reports that he has hung up his birthday suit, he is still going strong.

"I need the energy," he told VICE Sports. "I can't just walk around doing the 9-5. Everyone needs that outlet – you just have to find it. And this is mine. It is so intense, such a buzz; it is fantastic."

Tempted? This is how Roberts toured a one-punchline joke around the world for nearly a quarter of a century.

A clothed Roberts poses during his conversation with VICE Sports Photo by Mike Henson

Preparation is key

"People think you just turn up, take your clothes off and run – so much more goes into it," explains Roberts.

Having said that, his debut at the 1993 Hong Kong Sevens consisted of those bare necessities, plus a liverful of booze and the bravado to take on a barroom bet. When he came back home to tighter security and colder climates, he needed to raise his game. One of his first UK streaks was at Liverpool's League Cup meeting with Arsenal at Anfield in January 1995.

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"I was watching the game in the pub. It was rubbish. So, I said to my mates, 'Fuck it, I'll streak that.'

"I jumped in a cab for the 10 minutes to Anfield, but when I got there, there was security on the gate. There were some kids playing football just outside and I told them to boot a ball at the security guard. He set off after them and I ran in and through the turnstile.

"Before long I was knocking out press-ups in front of David Seaman on the penalty spot."

READ MORE: Pitch Invasions – Football's Forbidden Fruit

By the time of his raid on the Super Bowl in 2004, Roberts had become a naked-as-a-newborn Jason Bourne, spending a full year on reconnaissance and planning. A contact attended games at Houston's Reliant Stadium to take photographs of the security set-up; his mate Mick was primed as a decoy who would drop a phone over the wall and jump down on to the stadium floor in apparent pursuit to distract security; and, best of all, he had his disguise.

"I realised, with all of the space around the pitch, I couldn't jump over and get naked straight away. They would see me coming a mile off. But I thought that as a referee, I can blend in as there are loads of officials milling around all dressed the same.

"I bought two genuine NFL referee uniforms before I went and took one to a seamstress in Liverpool. She replaced the seams with velcro and I got it back home and tried it on. I took hold of it and whipped it off perfectly in one movement.

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"That feeling was amazing. I knew it was on."

Robert's Super Bowl invasion was perhaps his greatest achievement in the streaking game

Think on your feet – and like a fan

"On the day of the game, as soon as I wake up my stomach is churning and my heart is beating. I don't want to speak to a soul. I am going over in my head all the possibilities, all the details," adds Roberts.

Sometimes though – despite a list of plans running from A to Z – you just need a good, dishonest blag. Roberts was nearly rumbled on his way into the 2004 Super Bowl when a frisker discovered his velcro seams.

"I just said the first thing that came into my head. I told him I had a skin disorder and needed to get at my legs to apply the cream," he explains. "Then he lifted up my top and saw the zebra stripes. I told him it was my lucky uniform and that I wore it to every game."

READ MORE: Taking the Plunge at the World Winter Swimming Championships

When he hit Real Madrid's La Liga fixture at Mallorca, Roberts played on a steward's sentimental side, convincing him to open a gate and let him down to the front of the stand with a tale of a woman he was trying to impress.

Once you are finally in position in your seat, the better you blend in, the greater your chances of getting on.

"You have to adopt the persona of a fan," says Roberts. "I'm cheering or groaning like a normal punter following the action while, all the time, clocking the security, looking for that gap.

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"I have been stood right next to a security guy, but as long as you look the part you don't attract their attention. It has given me so much confidence, having to use my brain in so many different ways."

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Time and place

It's difficult to discern the etiquette at play when Roberts finds a hole in the perimeter security and canters on to the pitch, but it is there.

"You want it to be a little piece of entertainment separate from the rest of the game," he said. "Your timing has to be so specific – if you come on and interrupt an attack you are going to have one set of fans against you.

"I want the whole stadium behind me – even the police and players."

Just before the start of the second half – with the teams lined up and the crowd refreshed by a half-time drink – is best at a football match. The basic comedy of a jiggling beige lump puncturing top-level sport's pomposity would be enough for most, but Roberts milks his cameo for a little more.

"I always try and get to the centre of the pitch. I call that the G-spot because when you get there, everyone enjoys it.

READ MORE: I Met the Guy Who Sells Replica Champions League Trophies

"You have to keep your mind on what you want to do. At the Champions League final in 2002, I wanted to score a goal.

"I went to shake the referee's hand in the centre circle, knowing that he would shy away. That gave me the chance to take the ball and go through the Leverkusen defence to score. I thumped the ball in the bottom corner and went skidding on my knees in celebration.

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"The crowd were going crazy and it was only when I stood up that I could take it all in. Even the King of Spain was standing up in his box clapping me."

The beginning of the end

The sight of luminous-bibbed stewards taking on a naked man in an impromptu game of British Bulldog is the crowning glory of Roberts' act.

"You have got to be chased," he says. "That is the buzz for the crowd, seeing how many it will take to catch me. It's Benny Hill-style humour.

"After that goal at the Champions League final, I stood up and beckoned the security on to chase me. But they were all too busy just laughing their heads off. I had to just walk off myself before I outstayed my welcome."

The security at Old Trafford were less relaxed when he interrupted a Manchester United game. Roberts recalls being pounced on by six security staff and the relief of being handed over to the police.

Prepare your defence

The aftermath of a streak is often just as surreal as the act itself. After Roberts had gatecrashed David 'Goldenballs' Beckham's Bernabeu debut with a couple of illuminated disco-balls strapped around his groin, he found himself lobbed into a dark back room where the gag was wearing thin.

"I was going off like a Christmas tree – the whole place was swirling with lights," Roberts recalls.

"This policeman was yelling at me. I couldn't understand him, but knew perfectly well that he wanted me to turn them off – now. The problem was, there were loads of separate switches so it took me ages rummaging around my crotch to turn them off."

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If Roberts is in Britain, he often tries to make the police laugh at the absurdity of it all. Usually, he enjoys a fair degree of success.

"I just reel off all the things I have got up to, play a jester and get them laughing.

"What I am doing goes against authority and, while the top boys hate me, the guys on the beat love me."

READ MORE: Reflections on Sam Allardyce – Bowing Out With a Pint of Wine

Abroad, he is more apologetic.

After jigging on the 50-yard line with a deflated American football strapped around his manhood at the 2004 Super Bowl, he set off on a run before being flattened by a linebacker and hauled off with his arms tied behind his back.

"When they dropped me down behind the scenes they asked me what the hell I was doing. I said, 'I just wanted to make the great people of America laugh, sir'.

"By the time I was down the station, the police were running off copies of my mugshot and getting me to sign them to their mates and family."

In the courtroom, however, a more sophisticated defence is required.

For a big job like the Super Bowl, Roberts hides a lawyer's phone number in his shoe so that when his clothes are returned to him in custody, he can immediately start minimising the penal pain.

Faced with the unappealing prospect of time in a Texas jail, his top-of-the-game lawyers argued that the lack of a warning on the ticket, over the public address system, or at the edge of the pitch meant Roberts could not be held solely accountable.

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He escaped with a $1,000 fine.

Roberts' streak during a Real Madrid match was captured from the stands

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If your average Premier League pre-pubescent can get a corporate deal, a man commandeering the spotlight in front of 120 million global viewers certainly can. With more than £4,000 in fines on his charge sheet, it is pretty much a necessity.

"2002 was a big year for me. As well as the Champions League final, I did the Wimbledon men's final and the Commonwealth Games.

"That was when it started to capture people's attention worldwide. People got in contact and said, 'Pick any sporting event you want and we will fly you out there with expenses.' I had an open book of sporting events worldwide to go to.

Roberts had an advert for Golden Palace, an American online casino, stencilled on to his chest at the Super Bowl. They picked up the tab for his tickets, travel and legal fees and in exchange saw a 400% rise in online traffic on the back of the stunt.

His streak at Mallorca's game against Real Madrid was similarly backed by a local bar. When he returned after being thrown out of the ground, all the televisions screens were frozen on his moment of glory, and he was presented with a £500 bottle of Ace of Spades champagne.

Roberts was a one-man cottage industry in viral marketing before it had even been invented.

Most of all, make people laugh

"I got on the bus once and an old lady recognised me and told my daughter that she should be proud of her dad as he gave so much pleasure and fun to so many people.

"I minimise to an atom the offence that anyone could take. At the end of the day, it is just harmless visual humour.

"Around the world, I have people come up to talk to me about it. In twenty-odd years I think I have had three people who have had a go at me for it, and after 20 minutes chatting with one of those we were buying each other drinks and hugging it out."

It is hard to argue. A Guardian columnist constructed a hypothetical case that Roberts' streaks were an "atavistic display of male aggression", but conceded that the backdrop of grinning faces in the crowd makes this theory difficult to sustain.

In combining sport and a tradition of seaside-postcard silliness, Roberts tickles a funny bone that is peculiarly British, but also universal. As the stories tumble out, well polished through regular airings, it is difficult to deny him his fun. And, for that matter, everyone else's.

@MikeHensonBBC