Grin and bare it
By Wayne Drehs
The letter arrives in Mark Roberts' mailbox each time any English soccer club plays abroad. Sent by the football banning order authority, its directives are clear: On a designated date, surrender your passport at a local police station. On game day, sign in at the station as proof that you're in the country and not at the game. When the team returns, you may pick up your passport and resume normal life.
You'd think he were a stalker. A terrorist. Someone who poses a serious threat to one of England's most cherished traditions. But he's a streaker. The world's best. Someone who has become such a nuisance to the English parliament that these childish groundings are the only way to keep him from taking his clothes off. And even that doesn't work.
Over the course of the past 10 years, Mark Roberts has dropped his drawers and revealed every inch of his curvaceous, unflattering self 273 times. His antics have brought an instant stop to soccer, tennis and rugby matches, golf tournaments, casinos and television shows. Even local weathermen, political figures and the Mr. Universe and Miss World pageant aren't immune.
"At first it was a bit embarrassing," Roberts said. "But now it's like taking a bath."
We live in a time when streaking has become mainstream enough that Nike built an advertising campaign around a streaker at a European soccer match, and then rival Reebok created an ad in which office linebacker Terry Tate flattens Nike's hero. However, Roberts is the original Sir Streak.
And little does NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue know that if not for a snag in obtaining game tickets, Roberts was in San Diego with every intention of making Super Bowl XXXVII the U.S. debut for his "chicken mcnugget."
Roberts is 38, unemployed, has three kids and lists streaking as his full-time unpaid job. Unable to pay a recent backlog of fines, he spent a recent night in jail as a last warning to pay up or pay the price -- a lengthy lockup.
Still, in England, the Liverpool native is a full-blown celebrity, barely able to walk into a pub without being mobbed. More often than not, the police arresting him ask for an autograph before slapping on the handcuffs.
It isn't because of his looks. With his pedestrian face, chubby gut and lack of any upper body definition, Roberts is about the furthest thing from a Playgirl centerfold. But that's what makes it so entertaining.
"I don't have much going for me down there, so when I run out on the field, people think I'm a woman with small breasts," Roberts said. "But I'm not even conscious of it. We are what we are. I just want to make people laugh."
It started in 1993, thanks to one too many beers and a boastful promise in a Hong Kong bar. After watching a female streaker at a rugby match a day earlier, he drunkenly shrugged it off and told his friends that anybody could streak. "OK," they said, "you do it tomorrow."
Roberts did. Twice. And he has been hooked by the rush ever since. Last year, he pulled off the three biggest streaks of his career -- the men's final at Wimbledon, the Commonwealth Games (essentially the European Olympics) and the Champions League soccer final.
In the Champions League final, Roberts ripped off his ready-made Velcro suit, ran on the field, stole the ball, slashed between a pair of defenders and booted a goal past the keeper. He still brags about the feat, telling anyone who will listen the true score that day was not Real Madrid 2, Bayer Leverkusen 1.
It was Liverpool 1, Germany 0.
"They usually look confused," Roberts said, "and tell me that Liverpool didn't play that day. And I'm like, 'Oh sure they did. And they won.' "
Judge Roberts' antics on entertainment value alone and they're pretty good. He once streaked the 18th green of the British Open with the words "19th hole" painted across his back and an arrow pointing down. He's convinced the letters "adidas" stand for All Day I Dream About Streaking. But for all the laughs, there are repercussions -- physical, financial and legal.
His body has weathered numerous cuts, scrapes and bruises, 50 stitches, a broken toe, two broken ribs, a broken ankle and a broken wrist.
Financially, there's the cost of transportation, hotel and, of course, game tickets. The bigger the game, the more expensive. He thought he had two field level tickets for this year's Super Bowl until arriving in San Diego and realizing the broker had raised prices from an agreed upon $500 a piece to $3,500.
"I came all the way over here and had nothing to show for it," he said. "I've never been more disappointed."
Then there are the fines and court costs, which range anywhere from 50 to 70 pounds ($80 to $120). "It's the only job where I have to pay to go to work," Roberts said. "But every time you plan on doing something like this, you're going to get caught."
He has worked various jobs over the years from bartender to waiter, but struggles to hold any of them down. One night, working as a bartender in Liverpool, he told his boss he was headed for a cigarette break ... then went straight to Liverpool Stadium to streak a football match. He streaked, got arrested, was charged and was back in a half hour.
"Then I walk into the place, and he tells me I'm sacked," Roberts said. "And I'm like, 'What the hell for?' He goes, 'I just saw you on TV. You're out of here.' "
Roberts supports himself on corporate donations and a Spanish television commercial similar to the Nike one, except for the fact that everyone in the stadium is naked and Roberts "streaks" fully clothed. And he's also hoping for royalties from "The Streak," a remake of the Ray Stevens classic novelty record that is due out this summer.
Over the last 10 years, Roberts and his lawyer estimate Roberts has paid roughly 3,000 pounds ($4,700) in fines. That doesn't include the 500 pounds ($780) he owes to the government right now.
Currently, there are four warrants out for Roberts arrest because he hasn't kept up on his fines. He's banned from every soccer game in England and Wales. He has the passport regulations to comply with every time an English soccer team plays abroad. He's banned from an English casino group. And his passport forbids him from ever returning to Hong Kong.
"Usually, with Mark, I can always reduce the court to fits of laughter," said Lawrence Leigh, Roberts' attorney. "They just love it. I remember one case I said to this female judge, 'Madam, you look puzzled.' She says, 'I actually am, Mr. Leigh.' And I said, 'Well, my client is a serious threat to society -- he's a serial streaker.' I still don't think she has stopped laughing."
But Leigh's tactics don't always work. Roberts is due in court in March 17 for his streak at last summer's Commonwealth Games. There, he streaked the 100-meter sprint final and set a new world record. "Slowest 100-meter dash ever," he jokes. A Manchester court has charged him with being a public nuisance, an age-old rule from the common law days. It's the first time any of Roberts' cases have gone to trial.
Roberts said the prosecution plans on arguing that his streak caused harassment and distress to the public. But he and Leigh have their defense ready. They plan on calling to the stand each and every one of the 40,000-plus that were in attendance that day -- "including Prince Edward and Sophie."
"They can't say whether or not this caused someone to be upset," Leigh said. "Heck, it's probably the first sexual excitement (Edward and Sophie) have had in years."
Roberts says that's just what this is all about -- fun. While the events of Sept. 11 might have scared some from such a security-breeching profession, Roberts says it's all the more reason to continue. Before he retires in 2005, two ultimate goals remain -- the Athens Olympics in 2004 and either Super Bowl XXXVIII or XXXIX.
"The Super Bowl is obviously a huge risk with security, but it's to make a point," Roberts said. "Life is getting too serious at this point. I want to remind people we can still laugh. And I don't care where you're from. When you see me with my clothes off, you're going to laugh."