Idiots on the Field: A Debriefing
A crew of pitch invaders is learning that their pranks come with the kind of collateral damage they can do nothing about.
Last week, Tottenham Hotspur played Partizan Belgrade in the Europa League. Like many Europa League matches, this one didn't generate too much excitement. The stadium was far from full, and Tottenham, playing at home, could only muster a tedious 1-0 win. The evening would not have been worth writing about here at all had it not been for a curious series of first-half pitch invasions.
First there was the guy with a gleeful smile who, as the crowd cheered, managed to take selfies with three different Spurs players. Then there was the dude with the beard, who had his shirt pulled off by Roberto Soldado. Then there was the lanky kid whom Tottenham midfielder Mousa Dembele took down with a textbook judo throw. All three were wearing replica jerseys with BassBuds-the name of a headphone manufacturer-written across the front. After the third invasion, the referee stopped the match for a full ten minutes. For a moment, it seemed he might call it off entirely.
The British press struggled to make sense of the scene. Only later did the prank crew Trollstation take credit.
"The whole Spurs thing wasn't actually premeditated," Gomes Garcia said by phone. A 22-year-old Portugal-born Londoner, Garcia is one of Trollstation's eight members, all of whom grew up around Camberwell. "It didn't have like a meaning behind it. It was so impulsive. I think that's probably one of the reasons it's done so well."
Trollstation's pitch-invasion video has close to 700,000 views, as of this writing. The group was there to do a pre-match prank for BassBuds but realized just before the game that their footage sucked. They had a set of free tickets, none of which were together. Before entering the stadium, they spitballed about running onto the field.
"Nathan said he might do it," explained Garcia, who went second, but Garcia didn't believe him. "I was like, no way. And next thing I know, he's running on the pitch."
"He lasted the longest, somehow. I thought I'd win, but he got that one."
The three invaders were arrested and held for 20 hours before being bailed. They're charged with "going onto the playing area," which carries a maximum £1,000 fine. But they'll probably get far less. Jordan Dunn, who famously shot on goal during a Tottenham match earlier this year, pled guilty to the same charge and received a £305 fine.
I asked Garcia if he thought the YouTube royalties would cover the fine. "I hope the video views will cover the fine!" he said with a laugh. "Or I might just start a Kickstarter campaign to pay the fines off: 'Help the guys out from the pitch invasion.'"
That may sound ridiculous, but it's exactly what Jordan Dunn did.
The Trollstation guys aren't the only ones looking at a fine. UEFA has charged Tottenham over the incident and will likely fine the club when the matter comes before the disciplinary committee on December 11. In the most recent pitch invasion case to come before UEFA, the organization charged a Bulgarian team €5,000.
The Tottenham fine, for failing to ensure the safety and security of the stadium, is what makes the prank controversial. €5,000 isn't going to bankrupt Tottenham, but symbolically it's the kind of collateral damage the crew tries to avoid. "We're not in the business of giving people too many fines," Garcia said.
Obviously, avoiding collateral damage isn't always possible. You could look at their business model as an attempt to monetize controversy, something that carries a tiny margin for error. Their videos all put people in awkward social situations. Some of them are hilarious. (According to Garcia, many of the members come from a comedy background, doing standup on the side.) But others are pretty fucked up. They had their first YouTube channel shut down for posting a few videos that "got flagged," as Garcia put it.
"With these you can't really premeditate," he explained. "You just have to live in the moment and work off the moment." He said they do their best to smooth over any pranks with the participants afterward, sometimes even giving them a couple Pounds.
Getting some shtick from Tottenham fans and "keyboard warriors" is something the crew can handle, in other words. But it'll be tough to smooth over whatever fine Tottenham receives.
The prankster in Garcia thinks the invasion was a hit: "If you watch the video back, the stewards on the pitch? Half of them are smiling. It's the most fun they've ever had. Look into the crowd, they're smiling. I think that was the most entertaining thing about the game."
But bring up that fine, and Garcia, an Arsenal fan, sounded a twinge remorseful. "We're not cunts," he said. "We know [Tottenham has] a business as well, so this will probably be the last [pitch invasion]."