Andrew Symonds is worried.
The former Test cricketer believes it is only a matter of time before a player flattens one of the idiots who are running onto the field during NRL matches and ends up either hurt or in court.
He’s not alone. Trevor Gillmeister, rugby league hardman of the 1980s, is with him 100 percent.
To some people, the five field invasions at NRL games so far this season are a bit of fun, a slight annoyance at worst, but from personal experience, Symonds and Gillmeister take a more serious view.
They might have played difference games, but they have one thing in common – they were at the centre of two of the most infamous ground invasions in Australian sporting history.
In March 2008, Symonds earned headlines around the world when he flattened a streaker during the final of the international one-day series against India at the Gabba.
Newspapers around the world ran photos of Andrew Symonds smashing a streaker at the Gabba in 2008. Now the ex-cricketer is worried an NRL player will smash a pitch invader with an elbow or a knee in order to protect themselves
A security guard tackles a woman who came within a few metres of Parramatta Eels star Mitchell Moses as he played the Gold Coast on April 9. Symonds believes athletes are right to worry about whether pitch invaders are armed and dangerous
Five years later, Gillmeister was metres away from the naked man who ran onto Sydney’s ANZ Stadium at a crucial time in the State of Origin decider.
‘I saw him out of the corner of my eye,’ said the former Maroons captain who was on the field as team trainer at the time.
‘For a split second my instinct was to clock him, but then I saw the security guards chasing him and I decided against it. Our front rower Matt Scott scored a try, but it was disallowed because that idiot had disrupted the play.
‘When the ref made his ruling, Matt was calling to me, “Gilly, why didn’t you hit that bloke? Why didn’t you hit him?”‘
Back in 2013, Gillmeister probably would have received universal praise if he had knocked out the ground invader, a New Zealander named Wati Holmwood. These days he’s not so sure.
‘It’s different times now,’ he says. ‘You’re likely to have some do-gooder saying, “What did you do that for?” You’re likely to end up getting sued for assault.
‘Back in the day, streaking was seen as a bit of fun. These days it’s more aggressive. Like that bloke with the flare at the Sharks game a couple of weeks back making some political statement.
‘Plus, you don’t know what they’re on. I’ve got mates who work in security. They say they can handle drunks easy any day of the week, but when they’re on drugs it’s a different story.
Trevor ‘The Axe’ Gillmeister was known for hammering the opposition in defence as a player. He wanted to tackle a notorious State of Origin streaker – and reckons he’d get sued for assault if he did so now
Wati Holmwood (centre) ran across the field for 90 metres wearing nothing but a pair of sneakers during the 2013 Origin series
‘You just don’t know, do you? All I know is that unless the police or the sports themselves work out a way to stop these idiots running on the field, something bad is going to happen’
Symonds, a staunch North Queensland Cowboys fan who shares a private box at their stadium with a group of mates and never misses a home game, agrees.
‘The world’s gone mad,’ he says. ‘I really worry about who’s going to take ownership of this.
‘It’s pretty obvious that the person who runs onto the field is at fault. They are the ones who are in the wrong place, but that’s not always the way things work, and I’d hate to see a player get sued.
‘It’s just a matter of time before some player lashes out with an elbow or a knee when some goose runs past.
‘It could be a tight game. Emotions are high, frustration takes over and anything could happen.’
A protester with a flare ran straight into a group of Wests Tigers as they played Cronulla just a day after the Gold Coast pitch invasion. Three other men also made it onto the field and one of them tackled a security guard
He is speaking from first-hand experience. That scenario is exactly what he described to me a few years ago when we discussed the 2008 incident at the Gabba.
‘It was frustration more than anything,’ he recalled. ‘I wasn’t trying to hurt him, but it was a final and a tight part of the game. I’d just run Matty Hayden out and we’d just started getting back on track, but we were still under the pump.
‘He was an Aussie and he ran out and I’m thinking, “Mate, are you watching the game? You didn’t have to run out now; you could have saved it for later or done it when they were batting.”
‘There was a copper chasing him who was a big man and his two-way had fallen off his belt and was bouncing on the ground and they were getting further and further apart and then the bloke looked at me and smiled and we locked eyes and he came over towards me. The umpire sort of ran backwards and I wasn’t going to do that. I suppose I took things into my own hands.’
Symonds dropped his shoulder, and the naked man went flying, the pictures filling the front pages of newspapers around the world.
The security guard who tackled Javon Johanson (pictured being led away wearing a bra) during the Titans vs Eels game was investigated by the Gold Coast club – so what would happen if a player stopped a pitch invader in their tracks?
‘All these meetings we did in pre-season; safety and drugs and racism and all these things and then that happens,’ he said. ‘They talked to us about safety and then this bloke runs out on the middle of the Gabba. He ran 120 metres and no one got hold of him.
‘What if he did have something sharp and he did want to poke a hole in someone? He was just having a bit of fun, but these are the questions we ask ourselves.’
They are the questions that are still being asked, and there are still no answers.
Over the years Australian sport has had its fair share of pitch invaders.
‘What if he did have something sharp and he did want to poke a hole in someone? These are the questions we ask ourselves,’ Symonds said of his famous 2008 run-in with the streaker
Among the most memorable are Greg Chappell spanking a naked streaker on the backside with his bat during a Test at Eden Park, Auckland in 1977, and enraged Parramatta Eels supporter Mary Lach jumping the fence at Leichhardt Oval in 1981 to give referee Greg Hartley a piece of her mind.
But while those two incidents could raise a nostalgic smile, others are remembered less fondly.
Serial pest Peter Hore made a habit of disrupting major events, running onto the track at the 1997 Melbourne Cup and entering the court during a match at the 2000 Australian Open tennis, but it was his stunt during the FIFA World Cup qualifying match between Australia and Iran in 1997 that was the most devastating.
With Australia leading 2-0 in the second half, it seemed the Socceroos were finally headed to the World Cup after 23 years of heartbreak. Then Hore ran onto the MCG and pulled down the Iranian net. In the time it took to repair, the Australians lost momentum and the Iranians regrouped.
The two-all final score saw the Socceroos eliminated and the hopes of millions of Australian football fans shattered.
But it is another cricket incident that Andrew Symonds and Trevor Gillmeister both refer to when voicing their concerns about what is happening in the NRL right now.
The NRL had its fifth pitch invader of the year when a woman (pictured) ran across the field during the Titans vs Panthers game on April 29
In 1980 England supporter Gary Donnison ran onto the WACA during the first Test of the Ashes series and hit Australian fast bowler Terry Alderman on the back of the head. Alderman chased and tackled the unemployed 19-year-old, dislocating his shoulder in the process. He was unable to bowl for 12 months.
‘That’s one of things that worries me,’ Gillmeister said. ‘A player could try to tackle one of these blokes and get badly injured.’
Symonds says if he was in the same situation now that he was in 2008, he would act differently.
‘I wouldn’t do now what I did then,’ he says. ‘It’s a different world.’
So what is the answer?
‘It’s a hard one,’ Symonds says. ‘I’d hate to see it get to the stage where they have to put up wire all around the field, making it hard for people to see and wrecking the spectator experience, but that’s what it could come to.
‘One goose could wreck it for everyone, and right now we need sport more than ever.’
Gillmeister has a more direct approach in mind.
‘Lock ’em up,’ he says. ‘They should announce before every game of sport in Australia that anyone going on to the field will get three months in jail. That’ll make them think twice.
‘That’s what they gave that idiot Kiwi from Origin, three months jail time. I’ll bet he didn’t do it again.’