Liverpool fan received death threats and "couldn’t eat" after beachball saga

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Deep within the confines of the National Football Museum in Manchester; protected and encompassed by thick glass, is a beach ball emblazoned with the Liverpool crest.

While visitors can be mesmerised by the many different trophies, mesmerising photographs, and historic memorabilia, the beach ball could be one of the most memorable.

On this day 12 years ago, the beach ball was responsible for one of the most bizarre and hilarious moments in Premier League history.

With the match between Sunderland and Liverpool on a knife-edge, Darren Bent’s first time effort collided with a beach-ball thrown onto the pitch by a Liverpool supporter, and flew past a bamboozled Pepe Reina.

Daily Star Sport looks at the memorable incident exactly ten years on, and considers the impact of the goal, not just on Liverpool, but on the unfortunate supporter who had thrown the ball into the area.

What happened?

The setting is a packed-out Stadium of Light, and a match between Sunderland and Liverpool is on a knife-edge.

Black Cats striker Darren Bent, who had joined the side for a then club record £16.5m, came into the contest in stellar form with seven goals in eight matches.

And in what has been the greatest example of why you should not knock anything onto the football pitch, Bent opened the scoring in unforgettable fashion.

"Andy Reid got down the line on the right. He had a wand of a left foot – but as it was on his right foot, I knew he'd cut it back and get it into a good area," Bent told Sky Sports.

“I remember it coming across the box and as it bounced up and was on its way to me, I was thinking to myself, 'hit the target. Hit the target'.

"I didn't connect with it that well but I knew it was going on target… Then it hit the beach ball and went in!”

Who struck the beach ball?

What other bizarre Premier League goals can you think of? Comment below

Barely 24 hours after the match, unfortunate Liverpool supporter Callum Campbell admitted to the Daily Mirror he was the one who batted the ball onto the pitch.

“It was me,” he said the night after the incident.

“I’m the one who did it. I’m the one caught on camera. I’m so, so sorry.

“This is my worst, worst nightmare.”

Campbell’s trip to the Stadium of Light got off to the worst possible start when he realised he had left the red rosary beads, belonging to his late grandmother, he always wore for good luck at home.

While the rest of the world was laughing until their stomachs hurt, Campbell’s pains were of another level.

“When I got home I went into the garden and threw up. I was physically sick – and that’s before the death threats started appearing on the internet the next day.

“How was I supposed to know what would happen?

“It was just a bit of fun, and if I could turn back the clock and do it differently, throw the ball into the crowd instead of on to the pitch, then I would.

“Television made it look like I lobbed the beach ball on to the pitch and straight away it hit the match ball,” Callum said.

“But the truth is, the game hadn’t started. The teams were just coming out, and the beach ball wasn’t even mine.

“I’d never seen one before. The crowd were bouncing it around above their heads, then it came my way, and I just took a big swing and knocked it towards the pitch. After that the wind carried it into the net.

“I can’t believe it stayed there. It would have taken someone a couple of seconds to move it away, or put a foot on it and flatten it, but nobody bothered.

“And then it started to roll about. Just at the wrong moment.”

How did the incident affect Campbell?

While it would be somewhat understandable for some Liverpool fans to be slightly bemused, the ramifications of Campbell were unnecessarily frightening.

The then 16-year-old was targeted by horrific death threats from trolls claiming to be Liverpool supporters.

“Leave town kid – stay home or you’re dead!” one wrote.

“Another advised “Get a coffin ready.”

And yet another warned: “I’m not only going to stab you but mince you up and make curry out of it.”

Campbell said: “When I looked closer these people were from America and Australia and all over the world – so-called fans who never come to Liverpool. So after that, I just ignored them.

“I knew the true fans wouldn’t threaten me like that – they would know I was more cut up about what happened than anyone else. Even so, it’s a pretty unpleasant place to find yourself.”

Campbell’s mum Liz also recalled her son’s horrified reactions to the ball he batted onto the pitch.

“Callum walked in after the match white as a sheet,” Liz says. “He couldn’t eat. He normally has a pizza delivered when he gets back from a match, but he couldn’t face anything.

“He just sat at the table with his head in his hands and he kept going over and over what had happened.

“He said, ‘Do you think I was to blame Mum?’ As a mother, and a Liverpool fan, I told him no, he wasn’t.

“Liverpool FC is the love of his life. Not girls, or music, or clothes – Liverpool. He shouldn’t have to go through the rest of his life being known as the fan who lost them a match.”

What difference did the beach ball make?

Aside from securing the three points for Sunderland, not an awful lot.

In what is perhaps the only occasion in Campbell’s life where he was relieved Liverpool had a poor season, Beach Ball Gate had little to no difference on the Reds’ season.

Rafa Benitez’s side endured a poor campaign and went on to finish in seventh place – a massive 23 points behind eventual Premier League winners Chelsea.

“Let’s say Liverpool are just three points short of winning the league at the end of the season – he’ll be beside himself, thinking they were the points that he cost them,” said Campbell’s uncle Tony Moore.

Fortunately for Campbell this did not ever look to be the case for Liverpool.

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Even straight after the match in his post-match press conference, then manager Rafa Benitez did not even draw upon the goal, stating his side’s performance had been poor before that.

"It was bad luck with the goal – but the team were not doing well," said Benitez after the incident.

While any mention of the incident is more often than not conversed about through giggles, then Reds’ goalkeeper Reina is still bitter by the incident.

In a tweet posted in 2018, Reina re-tweeted the video of the goal and said “Who the hell put the ball in there?”

Aside from Campbell’s horrifying death threats, one individual who also suffered serious consequences was then referee Mike Jones.

Jones and his assistant referees awarded the goal as they believed the ball had deflected off a defender, rather than the beach ball.

"I remember the referee's face at half-time when he came to see me," said Bent.

"He said 'did it hit the ball?'. When I said, 'Yeah', there was panic in his face.

“He realised he'd made a bit of a mistake!"

Jones was demoted to the Championship the following week, as he should have stopped play and awarded a drop ball.

The legacy of Beach Ball Gate

The bright red beach ball emblazoned with the Liverpool crest occupies a proud place in the National Football Museum in Manchester.

It is perhaps the most famous and protected beach ball on the planet, as tourists from all over the world look at the inflatable which is still revered about to this day.

The ball also holds a lovely place in the heart of Bent himself, who still looks back on the incident and laughs.

"It was a freak accident but it was a nice goal to score," said Bent.

"I finished with 106 Premier League goals – although some people say 105!

But it's a weird bit of history that I'm proud to be a part of."

  • Liverpool FC
  • Premier League

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