The UK football press and their April Fool jokes. Sometimes they are clever, sometimes they are obvious and sometimes you just don’t know. After all, every day seems to be April Fools Day in Martin Samuel’s Daily Mail column. The Sun predictably kept it obvious, but with a hint of cleverness. The gag was that Ferguson was to become Life President of the Referees Association, a story written by the previously unheard of Doug Outban. 

While under “related stories” was the equally ludicrous – but, of course, true – story that Ferguson was complaining about United getting “terrible” decisions from referees, with the priceless line: “You have to be careful you don’t have paranoia about it.” The Sun clearly went wrong, though, as a disturbing proportion of the comments the story had attracted – i.e. ANY of them – suggested the gag wasn’t obvious enough for some. Clearly, spelling “Doug” correctly was sufficient to fool the paper’s web warriors. “What a complet (sic) and utter disgrace this is the worst decision in the history of english football,” noted a very vicious ‘Sid Vicious,’ echoing the thoughts of many others. Unless there’s was a display of collective irony which left the joke on me…

The Express, being another paper with an April Fool joke on its front page almost daily, had to be glaring, with an article about Arsene Wenger wanting to reduce the size of the Emirates pitch to that of Highbury, as they won trophies in those far-off halcyon days. Mention of a Robin Van Persie fitness test added authenticity (the players were to mark out the new pitch after training, requiring the wonky Dutchman to “pick up a roller.)”  A Fifa official called Olaf Orpil was on-hand to tell Wenger he could do what he liked, the paper cleverly not attributing such a comment to anyone at Uefa, even an anagram. And before anyone could think, “hey, that’s an idea,” or perhaps ponder the prospect of a return to Plumstead, where Woolwich Arsenal used to win promotion by coming sixth without recourse to play-offs, the paper added a ‘Jo King’ by-line. Mind you, the paper did carry the by-line ‘Harry Harris’ for years…

The Mirror knew their target audience and weren’t about to over-estimate them. The story was…well…an ‘exclusive’ for a start, which would have alerted an initial batch of readers to its dubious authenticity, as the paper hasn’t had a genuine exclusive outside of Alan Nixon’s scatter-gun Blackburn rantings for a long time. Fernando Torres was to perform an “ancient Iberian curse-breaking rite” called ‘Dia de los Inocentes,’ which involved running a goat around the Stamford Bridge pitch and through Chelsea Village and all sorts of other specific goat-related acts (no, not THAT act…). They laid it on thick, you might say, with the suggestion that the goat would defecate in each goalmouth (cue joke comparisons with Tommy Langley, Paul Furlong, Tony Cascarino… Ken Bates). But they also claimed that Torres “has appealed to the Chelsea fan-base for help”  as the ritual “demands that at least 12 people take part in the ‘running of the goat.’ And, better yet, they tailed the article with: “If you’re lucky enough to be picked as one of the goat-runners, please let us know how you got on by e-mailing the usual address.” Somebody will have noted the address down before setting out.

 The Mail’s main April 1st story centred on Fulham players being ordered to “celebrate any goals in Sunday’s clash (with Blackpool) by performing the Moonwalk,” the late ‘King of Pop’ Michael Jackson’s famous dance, as club owner Mohamed Fayed will be unveiling his “controversial Michael Jackson statue” at Craven Cottage before the game. Again, this cleverly juxtaposed two almost equally ludicrous stories, one of which happened to be true. And the tale’s plausibility was enhanced by the fact that Fulham are playing Blackpool, so they’re BOUND to score. All it needs now is for Fulham’s players to actually carry out this ‘order.’ The buffoon-ish Fayed will think is a sign of respect for him.

The Independent, meanwhile, ran with a story from just within the bounds of both football and economic plausibility in implausible times. Wisely assigning the story to its under-used football editor Glenn Moore rather than bouffant-haired has-been James Lawton, to maintain credibility beyond line one, the paper suggested that Portugal were to “sell (Cristiano) Ronaldo to Spain in a 160 million euro deal on national debt.” The only problem with this story was the quote: “There’s nothing now to stop Qatar buying a World XI. It’ll destroy the World Cup.” You could criticise that as simply giving the Qataris ideas, except you fear that they’ve already had the idea and are still working through it.

And that has been the problem in recent years with April Fool stories. The ‘reality’ in adjacent column inches or web pages has been so similar that people only read the stories at all to check which one is the joke. This year, for example, April 1st has come at a time when Cornish businessman Kevin Heaney is denying involvement in a bid for “cash-strapped” and “stricken” Plymouth Argyle, a bid which he has simultaneously withdrawn. Liverpool’s sponsors believe “the real power they could do for us is if there was a way they could nurture foreign players from Asia.”

Aston Villa manager Gerard Houllier, delusional to Gaddafi proportions, still reckons he’s popular ANYwhere at Villa Park. And Birmingham City’s acting chair Peter Pannu says that the club’s financial problems are “journalistic-induced scaremongering” rather than “you’ve just lost another £5.2m in six months-mongering.” So the papers have to resort to the outlandish. For instance, buried deep in Charles Sale’s Sports Agenda column was this gem, couched in a 100% plausible story about the “image problems” of former Leeds United chairman Peter Ridsdale:  “Ridsdale also claimed that Leeds would still be in the Premier League if he had remained in charge.” And no-one believes Ridsdale would be gormless enough to say, or even think, that.