So, it's 1974 again - a very productive year for me (note to all students: you can get far more done if you avoid going to lectures) - in between raising an army and invading the country next door (see Free Cornish Army) I invented Three-Legged Football (the success) and The Giant Wrigley's Spearmint Gum Relay (the never-try-this-at-home-under-any-circums
First the success: I was looking for a fun tournament for Rag Week and decided to merge two old favourites - football (aka soccer) and the three-legged race (aka the three-legged race)
The rules were simple: fifteen legs a-side and ten minutes each way. Legs were bound at the knee and ankle, and throw-ins had to be taken using one hand from each partner - it's amazing how difficult this proved to be, most couples could barely hold the ball above their heads let alone throw it.
Goalkeeping was another skill beyond most couples. One player would decide to dive and the other would invariably fall over in shock - usually on top of his/her partner. But, watching or playing, this was a very fun game. We had a practice match outside the Holiday Inn on Plymouth Hoe to hone the rules and then a tournament (I think there were about 8 teams) later in the week. Lots of fun.
I brought the game to the Home Office in 1978 and we had a match there - MI5 Payrolls versus Rape and Buggery Swab Stats. Strangely the BBC declined our invitation to film the event - I have this feeling they could hear the commentator having to say lines like 'it's Rape and Buggery in the penalty area,' and decided the complaints weren't worth it.
Note to all future promoters - vet the names of all teams before you allow them on the pitch. And a note to all prospective players. Choose a partner whose knees are the same height as yours - it makes running so much easier.
And now the disaster. In 1974 Wrigley's - one of the largest gum manufacturers in the world - had a famous advert where people wandered around Britain carrying an enormous pack of spearmint gum under their arm. The pack was about three feet long and one foot wide. As Wrigley's were based in Plymouth I wrote to them asking if they had any spares of these monster packs they could let us have. They sent us six. Now I had to find something to do with them. Naturally, I thought relay - they'd make excellent joke batons. Six batons, six teams. I then descended a slippery slope - all game designers, take note - in the pursuit of the ultimate fun spectacle I added one too many embellishments. Some, the police included, would say two too many.
I added a blindfold. I added a spin start. And ... a little something else.
I didn't have time to organise a dry run so six virgin teams assembled on Plymouth Hoe for the great Wrigley's Giant Spearmint Gum Relay Race. All team members were blindfolded. There were four in each team. Two were at the start and two were a hundred yards away. The second leg runner would shout to the first leg runner to let them know where they were. The third would then shout to the second etc. And the first leg runner would be spun around five times before starting.
Disaster. Six runners were spun and six runners shot off in six different directions. One found a park bench with his shins, another ran into the cheering crowd (whose noise drowned out the second leg runners) and three - this is the 'something else' mentioned earlier - ran straight for the cliff.
Yes, Plymouth Hoe, that grassy expanse famous for Sir Francis Drake playing bowls, just happened to be on top of a cliff. People shouted at the three to stop, people chased after them. Naturally, this being a disaster movie in the making, all the shouting and thundering pursuit spurred them on. They lengthened their stride, pumped their gum-laden arms. I'm sure I saw Shelley Winters and several guitar playing nuns appear on the horizon. Then, one by one, the three cliff runners began to fall. Luckily not over the cliff but over their own feet or rugby tackled from behind.
The event was abandoned. Not one runner managed to get within fifty yards of the first change over.
Note to Seb Coe and the London 2012 Olympic organisers: you can add a blindfold to the 4x100m relay, maybe a spin start, but the cliff ... no.