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On This Day In History - 1978 The RAF Police Dog Display Pitch Invasion
Wednesday, 11th Nov 2020 12:57

On 11th November 1978 Saints took on Norwich City at the Dell, for those present, the main talking point wasn't the game, but the pitch invasion during the half time interval during the RAF's dog display.

Newly promoted Saints had made a slow start to the 1978/79 season, with 13 games gone we were in 18th place in the then 22 club division and hovering only 2 points off the relegation zone.

Back then it was only 2 points for a win so not as close as it would be now and a win would take us into the mid table, therefore a decent crowd of 21,183 assembled in the hope that would see only the 3rd win of the season in the League, the last one being two months earlier.

Before the game there was the annual visit of the RAF Police Dog display team and before anyone asks I do have the correct title these were the dogs of the RAF Police.

Ahead of kick off the routine back then was fairly consistent each year, the dogs would perform a series of tricks, obstacle courses and jumping through hoops of fire, back in the 1970's the thought then was that any criminal who was carrying a hoop with him doused with petrol, if rumbled only had to light it and the dog would back off, these displays were intended to put off the criminal element in the crowd thinking they could rob houses or banks armed only with a shotgun and a hula hoop ( the plastic ring thing not the tasty potato snack)

Those that had not stayed in the pub till 2.24pm therefore gasped in amazement at the dogs not only didn't run away when said hoola hoop was set ablaze but charged at it and jumped through it, this was what passed as entertainment at the time and then the crowd got to watch the ground staff clear up dog pooh and try to repair scorched pieces of the pitch.

I always imagine that local vets were inundated for weeks afterwards with poochs whose owners had tried to get them to do the same.

Anyway I digress, the display team would return at half time to show the real work that RAF Police Dogs did, it wasn't all obstacle courses and free rides in Harrier Jump jets, it was chasing and catching those who tried to break in to RAF bases, presumably spies, international espionage agents and those that just wanted a closer look at the planes .

The plot was this, a man would walk across the pitch clutching a briefcase, when he would be accosted by a man wearing a hooped shirt ( I imagine this was a dig at the French ) a mask ( still the French a la Phantom of the opera) and with a strangely deformed massive forearm ( a dig at Quasimodo so still French)

The villain, lts call him Pierre would then snatch the briefcase somewhere around the Milton Road penalty spot and hot foot it towards the Archers Road, in fairness this was a good idea, a fair number of our bad boys were stood there and they wouldn't have dobbed him in if he made him.

But he had never made it so far, the police dog would be let off the lead, it would hare after him, catch him barely before he made the half way line and haul him down by the arm, I am assuming that this is why the arm is so deformed, if you are doing a few dozen of these displays each year then you are going to get some damage and swelling.

But in 1978 it was all going to be different.

It started well but the two men acting out the scenario on the pitch must have decided they would give it a little more context, the snatching of the bag was a little more theatrical, it wasn't handed over so easily and a little fight was acted out, all this to the commentary of some Wing Commander on the microphone.

Cue a real Policeman who was patrolling the perimeter of the pitch as they used to do, lost in though probably, he looked up and he didn't see the waiting Police dog and handler in the goal mouth, only two hooligans fighting just outside the penalty area, in fairness to him he didn't flinch, he started sprinting towards the melee, I can't remember whether he drew his whistle and truncheon, but he was doing his duty.

About half way across he suddenly became aware of either A. The Wing commander shouting "This is an RAF Police Dog display team drill stop" or perhaps the crowd laughing.

Either way he stopped 10 yards short of the fight and did what only what was left, walk off the pitch, continue his patrol around the pitch to the amusement of the crowd.

It must have been a long walk from the East Stand half way line around to the Dell tunnel, but he did it with grace raising his helmet to the cheers of the crowd.

I can't recall whether the dog did get his man, no one was interested by then everyone was just laughing and telling those returning from the toilets what they had just missed.

I spoke to a Policemen I knew about 10 years after the event and he recalled it well, he said that the officer in question took a lot of stick for years afterwards.

As for the game, It was 1-1 at half time courtesy of a Nick Holmes shot for us, on the hour mark Chris Nicholl gave us the lead with a thumping header and it stayed that way till the 86th minute when like the RAF Police Dog display team it all went wrong right at the end and the visitors equalised.

That was our 5th draw in the last 6 games, it moved us up a place, little did we know that things were about to get very exciting at Southampton Football Club in the 2nd half of the season.

Photo: Action Images



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Chesham_Saint added 13:30 - Nov 11
Yes I was there and remember it well. The officer must have though he was a shoe-in for a George Medal as he brought the ‘criminal’ down. It was very funny, and poor old PC Plod had to walk the length of the ground to howls of derision. In reality though, he genuinely thought it was a gunman so we’d actually just witnessed an act of true bravery.
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PaleRider added 13:39 - Nov 11
Love these trips down memory lane! I know we're on a high at the moment but it's been so much fun supporting Saints over the years - the highs, the lows and the quirky moments. I actually had a tear in my eye watching the Choose Southampton video - it didn't even have Danny Wallace GOTY and made me wonder if any other team has scored so many great goals over the years.
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dwayne_dibley added 16:49 - Nov 11
I was at that game and remember it well, really funny. If it happened today he would have used his Taser on the culprits on the pitch and probably the dog as well.
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ThereIn76 added 16:58 - Nov 11
Thanks for the memory Nick - it was hilarious 🤣
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saintmark1976 added 09:49 - Nov 12
Thanks Nick. A well written humorous trip down memory lane. I was sat in the West stand and remember it as if it were yesterday. Somehow the fact that the policeman was wearing a long coat and one of those pointed helmets made the situation even funnier.
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SouthSeaSaint added 12:04 - Nov 12
Good job this didnt happen in the US.
Someone would have got shot!!
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Number_58 added 12:19 - Nov 12
I remember it well. The other half time entertainment at The Dell i vaguely recall was when a member of the crowd had a race around the pitch against one of our local Team GB 400m runners (I think it was either Roger Black or Todd Bennett). As I remember, the proper athlete had to complete two laps while the rather unfit-looking fan had to do just one. From what i remember, the pro coasted his first lap thinking he would win easily, and then realised the fan was running quite fast and started to sprint. I think the fan actually won to great cheers from the crowd, but I can't be 100% sure. Anyone else remember it? Oh, and who can forget the Valley Slags singer walking towards the Leeds fans? They nearly needed the RAF dogs that night.
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