x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Football pitch invader plans to leave today

Dubai Police had arrested Mario Ferri after he ran across the field during the Inter Milan and Mazembe match on December 18, a stunt he has pulled all over the world.

Mario Ferri has invaded football pitches on three continents this year, including at the FIFA Club World Cup in Abu Dhabi.
Mario Ferri has invaded football pitches on three continents this year, including at the FIFA Club World Cup in Abu Dhabi.

ABU DHABI // The serial pitch invader Mario Ferri - who tore across a Club World Cup ground this month in his trademark, customised Superman shirt - has his passport back from police, and planned to leave the UAE today.

The 23-year-old food and beverage sales executive from Italy was arrested after interrupting the final between Inter Milan and Mazembe on December 18.

He had disguised himself in a khandoura, ripping it off before hitting the pitch to reveal a T-shirt underneath with a slogan about his favourite AC Milan player, Antonio Cassano.

"When the security were not looking," he said, "I ran across the field from one side to the other while the players were playing.

"I've done this many times all around the world. I have experience now sneaking in through security. I sometimes disguise in a guard's costume or one of the organisers."

He also appeared in the middle of Sampdoria's game with Napoli last May, his T-shirt bearing the slogan "Cassano in Nazionale".

"Cassano is my friend, and he is a very good player, so I was telling the coach to include him in the national team for the World Cup.

"Then Cassano himself protected me from the guards."

Mr Ferri also turned up at a World Cup semi-final in South Africa, between Spain and Germany, carrying a vuvuzela and a statement that read: "Lippi I told you so", a reference to Italy's defeat.

His hijinks have earned him the nickname of Falco, for falcon, his own sponsor, and a page on Facebook with about 2,700 fans.

He spent six months playing for Stado Nyon in Switzerland in 2007, and now plays for Verlengia as a hobby.

He said claims in Italian newspapers and in The Guardian that he tried to smuggle himself out of the country on a cruise ship were not true.

"I posted it as a joke for my friends on my Facebook profile as an idea," he said. "Maybe that's where the Italian newspaper got it from, and then everyone took it from them.

"I would've never done such a thing. The UAE authorities and our embassy officials helped me and were settling things for me to travel back."

Following his arrest, Mr Ferri spent the night and the following day in custody, and was forced to leave his passport with police pending a trial. Officials and the Italian embassy, however, stepped in, and brokered a settlement with police and the public prosecutor.

Mr Ferri only had good things to say about his short incarceration.

"The police were very nice to me," he said. "The night I was arrested, I stayed with the officers in their office and they got me sandwiches. The following day, I had to stay in the cell, but it was fine because there were other people from the match who were arrested for lighting up things."

Despite the light-hearted nature of his hobby, Mr Ferri has also recently made serious political statements.

During the Real Madrid and Milan match in October, he donned a T-shirt that read "Sakineh Free".

Sakineh Ashtiani is an Iranian woman convicted of adultery and murder, and sentenced to death by stoning. She has been held since 2007 by the Iranian government.

Mr Ferri got the idea for his first pitch invasion in 2007 while watching a local match in his hometown of Pescara with some friends.

"It started as a joke, we were challenging each other to crash the match, so I did it and that was the beginning."