Barking instructions | Soccer dogs feature in ‘dog culture’ magazine

Link to Bark magazine, issue no. 37
The three-legged Border collie mix Clover smiles on the cover of Bark 37 (July/August 2006). Clover lost one of her legs when hit by a car at six months of age, but was later adopted from a San Francisco pet-rescue group.

Berkeley, California | We could not include everything in our article on dogs and soccer in the current issue of Bark, the “modern dog culture magazine” founded in the Bay Area in 1997. In April we reached Jim McNichol, former right back for Torquay United, in his current job as proprietor of the Exeter Inn pub in Ashburton, Devon. Shortly after picking up the phone, he knew exactly why we were calling.

“I remember everything,” he said of the match in May 1987, at home to Crewe, that became a turning point in club history. Police dog Bryn, now known as the “dog that saved Torquay,” bit McNichol on the leg close to the end of the game with Torquay trailing 1–2. The time that it took for McNichol to get treatment—McNichol later needed 17 stitches and still has a scab—was added to the regulation 90 minutes, during which Torquay scored to avoid a drop from the Football League. McNichol recalls:

I’ve never seen [a replay], because the game wasn’t on TV or anything. I was keeping the ball in play, and the dog I guess thought I was running toward the policeman, his handler. … There was a big crowd and the supporters were getting a bit fractious. So they started to bring in police around the ground. I don’t know if you know the ground at Torquay, but it’s quite small. … So it was not a customary occasion to have the police.

Bryn, a German shepherd, is now stuffed and mounted in the Torquay United board room. McNichol is justifiably troubled that people only remember the dog incident but not that he scored Torquay’s first goal on that day.

Of course we could not mention every animal-on-pitch incident. On another Global Game page, we refer to the dogs meandering across the field during the 2002 “other final” between Bhutan and Montserrat (see our interview with the director of the documentary film The Other Final). The antics of the Highbury squirrel, nicknamed Squirrel Regis, during Arsenal’s Champions League semifinal against Villareal last season already have earned a place in animal and sports lore.

A black dog evades Garrincha and others before England legend Jimmy Greaves kneels to collect at a 1962 World Cup quarterfinal in Chile. (Copyright © FIFA)

In the Bark article we also concentrate on the exploits of Pickles, praised for his uncovering of the previously stolen Jules Rimet trophy before the 1966 World Cup finals. But we do not mention the sad end, that in the following year Pickles strangled on his own lead while chasing a cat, according to owner David Corbett. We had thought little of Pickles’s brief film career—he appeared in The Spy with a Cold Nose, in a supporting role—but his (or his handler’s) choice of vehicles appears to have been well-made. The film, catching the Cold War spirit, features a Soviet minister accepting an English bulldog as a diplomatic offering. The bulldog carries a microphone implant, however, hence the humorous film title. It was nominated for a Golden Globe in 1966 as best English-language foreign film.

We have many personal associations between dogs and soccer. I still remember the interval of a 2001 Women’s United Soccer Association semifinal in Atlanta. The halftime show featured Frisbee-catching dogs. With Atlanta trailing Philadelphia 0–2, Beat coach Tom Stone made a substitution, bringing Chinese international Sun Wen off the bench to play as striker. She scored on a spot kick to help lead Atlanta back to a 3–2 extra-time victory, and I have always thought that watching these dogs during her warm-up helped calm her for the task at hand.


  • Former Belgian international goalkeeper Jean-Marie Pfaff, 54, will appear in net in a four-on-four Belgium-Netherlands match featuring boxers. A Romanian artist has trained the dogs for the Antwerp Winter Circus (see 7 Dec 07).
  • We thank—an excellent site containing a database of pickup games in the United States, as well as in Australia, Canada, Singapore, Trinidad and Tobago, and the UK—for the link to this post, as well as for leading us to the mother lode of soccer-dog photos and videos. Who knew there were so many talented snouts about?

    Perhaps the dog lover’s favorite footballer should be Belgian striker Gilles de Bilde. In September 2006, the animal-rights activist sat out a match for Belgian side Willebroek in order to mourn his dog’s death.

About the Author

John Turnbull founded The Global Game in 2003. He was lead editor for The Global Game: Writers on Soccer (University of Nebraska Press, 2008) and has also written on soccer for Afriche e Orienti (Bologna, Italy), the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the New York Times Goal blog, Soccer and Society, So Foot (Paris) and When Saturday Comes. His essay "Alone in the Woods: The Literary Landscape of Soccer's 'Last Defender' " in World Literature Today was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Also for World Literature Today he edited a special section on women's soccer, "World Cup/World Lit 2011," before the Women's World Cup in Germany. The section appeared in the May-June issue. His next project is a book on soccer and faith.

Comments (2)

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  1. Aaron Corman says:

    And if they ever need another story, there’s the one about my dearly departed Chocolate Lab named Nutty. I used to bring her with me to games all the time … as a player and as a ref.

    One day when I was reffing a game, I looked over at her and noticed that she wasn’t at her usual location by my bag. And as play went back the other direction, I soon realized that Nutty was ambling across the field. The match was still scoreless as the attacking team moved in for a shot, but as Nutty was making her way across the penalty area, she blocked the ball near the penalty spot.

    The regular ’keeper, interestingly, didn’t do quite as well that day as his team would go on to lose the match 8–nil.

    That is among my favorite memories of Nutty, who made many friends along the touchline and elsewhere.

  2. [...] an update to our earlier report on dogs and football (20 Jul 06), Pfaff will be tending the nets during a four-on-four exhibition—Belgium vs. [...]

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