After several years out of the public spotlight, Jimmy Jump—the guy who was once the most famous pitch invader in the world—is back. In April, he surfaced from nowhere on a Spanish TV show, which was recording a piece outside a prison in Germany about the exiled Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont.
Jimmy, whose real name is Jaume Marquet i Cot, popped up on camera wearing his trademark red barratina hat and draped in a Catalan flag. The reporter ran with it and carried out a short, impromptu interview. Jimmy explained he was there in solidarity with the imprisoned Puigdemont and that his gesture had given him the "adrenaline" to do more "saltas," or jumps. He wanted back in the game. He wanted to highlight Puigdemont's plight. He wanted back in the game.
When it comes to pitch invasions, Jimmy has been to the moon and back. He's delivered on-field messages to some of the game's greatest players—Thierry Henry, Lionel Messi and Sergio Aguero among them. He's gatecrashed UEFA Champions League finals (Milan vs. Liverpool, 2007), FIFA World Cup finals (Spain vs. The Netherlands, 2010) and Copa America games (Argentina vs. Uruguay, 2011).
He's jumped into bullfighting arenas and sprinted down the track at a Grand Prix motor race. He surfaced at the back of a ruck during a rugby union World Cup final. One time he launched himself into a swimming pool in the middle of a televised water polo match. When he crashed onto the court during the 2009 French Open tennis final and tried to put a barratina hat on Roger Federer, the Swiss tennis star said afterwards he was perplexed: "He seemed to want to give me something."
Jimmy's non-sporting invasions are things of high farce. He walked down a catwalk during Barcelona's fashion week in a G-string. He stole Jarvier Bardem's thunder at the Goya Awards, the annual night Spain recognises its film acting talent. He's danced with a presenter trying to give the weather forecast on Hungarian television, and he's scampered on stage in the middle of Spain's entry at the 2010 Eurovision song contest, prancing around the forlorn Spanish singer, Daniel Diges, like a wood nymph.
But Jimmy's Twitter account has been silent since 2013, and his website has a "gone fishing" note on it. Although he disappeared into thin air, it's not hard to get in touch. I sent him a message from the email address on his website. We played email tennis and exchanged messages on WhatsApp for about a week.
Eventually we talked by video call one Saturday afternoon. He was living on the outskirts of Hamburg, Germany. He told me some interesting things about the world of pitch invading. ISIS was ruining it for his kind—because of the global threat of terrorism, security at big stadiums has increased significantly. It was easier to sneak into football stadiums in his heyday almost a decade earlier.
He was itching for a comeback. Neymar was football's greatest new "traitor," he wrote one night by phone message followed by a punching fist emoji. We discussed matches on the horizon he could invade. I was keen to tag along. The UEFA Europa League final in Lyon between Atletico Madrid and Marseille seemed a good choice. It was halfway between Hamburg and Barcelona, where I lived, but the game was midweek and he couldn't get off work.
The upcoming FIFA World Cup finals in Russia loomed large. He pushed me to sponsor him. I explained I was a freelance journalist and couldn't afford to fund that kind of adventure. Nor could I pay to ride shotgun with him to the UEFA Champions League final in Kiev between two teams he had deep connections with—Liverpool because of some memorable trips to Anfield and the club's unforgettable 2005 UEFA Champions League final in Istanbul, which he attended after a two-day coach ride; and Real Madrid, his great nemesis, the "rats," as he refers to them. But we agreed it could be a lark if I came to Hamburg to interview him and we could watch the match together in a pub.
A couple of weeks later, on the last Saturday in May, I arrived in Hamburg and messaged Jimmy to let him know I'd landed. I hadn't heard anything for about an hour so I decided to check out the Reeperbahn, the city's red-light district, where The Beatles did their internship.
When I got to a metro station, a message from Jimmy pinged on my phone. He said he was 100 kilometres from the city chilling by the beach in Lubeck. He said he'd be back later for the match, but I felt I couldn't be sure. We didn't really know each other beyond one conversation and a flurry of online messages.
A couple of hours later, though, he came good. He messaged to say he was on the highway back to Hamburg. We arranged to meet in the bar at the Generator, a well-known hostel in the centre of the city. Jimmy arrived. We chatted for a few hours.
One of the gifts Jimmy has is that he's a natural storyteller. He has great comic timing. He's full of sound effects. And he's the kind of guy who tells a story like he doesn't know he's being funny.
When it comes to his personality, Jimmy is an open book. He doesn't hold much back. He has one sister. As a kid, his family used to tour around Europe's great cities for summer holidays in the family's Land Rover. One time, they visited the Vatican. Jimmy was about nine or 10 years old. He disappeared. He was eventually found, having sneaked into the private offices of the Holy See. When his dad challenged him on it, he explained it away. "I feel something special," he said.
Jimmy first got the notion to do a pitch invasion around the time of a match between Catalonia and Brazil at the Camp Nou on the eve of the 2002 FIFA World Cup finals. He was at the game with his mate, Albert, a Brazilian guy living in Barcelona at the time. Albert was a pivotal figure in his pitch-invading career, and a wildcat that we will explain more about shortly. Pitch invaders in Brazil, said Albert, do it so they can try to hit players. Jimmy said he would like to do it so he could give a Barca flag to Ronaldinho as an enticement to the Brazilian, who ended up joining Barcelona a year later. Jimmy was more interested in peace than war.
Jimmy's maiden jump happened a few months later at the Camp Nou in October 2002. It was a fitting location. The impulse to do a pitch invasion sprung from an unfulfilled dream a lot of us have had. As a football-mad kid growing up in Catalonia, Jimmy dreamed one day of playing at the Camp Nou. Pitch invading was his vicarious way of realising that little boy's dream.
In May 1997, Jimmy travelled to Rotterdam in the Netherlands to see Barcelona defeat Paris Saint-Germain—thanks to a penalty by the Brazilian Ronaldo—in the final of the old European Cup Winners' Cup. At the end of the game, Barcelona's defender "Pitu" Abelardo—who is the current manager of Alaves in La Liga—threw his jersey into the crowd. Jimmy managed to hold onto it despite a burst of punches and grabbing from his fellow Barca fans in the stands.
Five years on, Barcelona were playing Alaves in La Liga. Jimmy decided to run onto the Camp Nou turf—where Abelardo was returning for a match as an Alaves player—and pay homage to him. It was a sentimental operation. He jumped onto the pitch by the south end of the stadium, close to the corner flag, and ran up to him bearing a T-shirt with a message written in Catalan: "Pitu Forever." "Running onto the pitch, I felt the power for the first time," he said. Jimmy Jump was born.
Over the next year or two, his thinking crystallised. He made up the Jimmy Jump persona. There was a lefty political edge to his positioning. He adopted the traditional barratina hat, which harks back to the French Revolution with its connotations of liberty and ties into his deep-rooted aspirations for Catalan independence. His trademark black T-shirt had the cartoonish Jimmy Jump emblem on it. "Superman has the cape," he said. "I have the black T-shirt with the Jimmy Jump logo on it and the hat." He built a website. He was on his way. He did a couple more jumps. Although he didn't know it at the time, everything was building toward his first great jump: Lisbon, July 2004.
Jimmy was sitting at home one day when he sent a message to some friends, including Albert, to say he was going to "jump" onto Andreu Buenafuente's TV show wearing his Jimmy Jump uniform. Buenafuente is a comedian and late-night television show host in Spain. Jimmy wanted to spread the word about Jimmy Jump.
"Back then, everything I did was spontaneous," he said. "I don't know how I used to even do all this. I used to slither like a snake." Jimmy did as Jimmy said. He rocked up to the TV3 station and materialised on camera in the middle of Buenafuente's programme, blurting out his cry for recognition: "Hey Buenafuente, I'm Jimmy Jump."
At the time, the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens was coming up. "Buenafuente was holding an Olympic torch," said Jimmy, "looking like a fool. Whatever. When I jumped onto set somebody said, 'Look, it's the anonymous jumper,' and I said in Catalan, 'I'm going to jump at the final of the Euros.' I didn't even know what I was saying. It just came out of my mouth. I hadn't planned to say it. What a crazy thing to do."
The cat was out of the bag. Jimmy spoke with Albert. Jimmy said he had to deliver on his pledge. He needed to get to Portugal for the UEFA European Championship finals. He had a job to do. Albert was the ideal man to help him. It was an easy sell. They had been fast friends since their days travelling to matches with the Boixos Nois, Barcelona's ultras, including a chaotic trip to Real Madrid's Bernabeu stadium in 2002 for a UEFA Champions League semi-final second leg, which Barca lost on aggregate, 3-1.
Once Jimmy ran his plan to jump at the Euro 2004 finals past Albert, they set off. Life was like that then. Jimmy—who at the time worked as a salesman, hawking everything from apartments to cars and Chupa Chups lollipops—was off work because of a muscle condition. The pair headed for Portugal in Albert's Ford Focus.
They gunned it straight for Lisbon in time to make it for the tournament's first semi-final between the Netherlands and Portugal. Jimmy snuck into the match without a ticket. Albert had various scams going on. He was touting match tickets. He was placing banners along the front rows of the stadium with advertising for Brazilian companies. "He always knew how to make money," said Jimmy. "I didn't. I just went along to games to jump."
Jimmy had some Dutch hats with him. His heart was with the Dutch. He identified with them—the pot smoking, the stream of famous Dutch players on Barca's team over the decades, and he had spent time there in the late 1990s studying in The Hague at Erasmus University Rotterdam. But he was to be disappointed as Portugal won and to make their first major final.
On the afternoon of the final at Lisbon's Estadio da Luz, Jimmy went back to his hotel room and had a shave. He was getting his game face on. He put on his black Jimmy Jump T-shirt under another top and stashed away his barretina hat and a Catalan flag.
When he and Albert got to the ground, they sneaked in past the first set of security controls. As Jimmy recounted the passage of events to me, he grabbed the salt and pepper shakers on the table and moved them around for illustration purposes. Albert got turned away at the second security controls. Jimmy continued onwards past the third checkpoint and on into the stadium. He never does a jump with a match ticket. "It would be shameful," he said.
Once he got into the stadium, he headed straight for the VIP zone. He said it's easier to jump onto the pitch from the VIP area. Just as he arrived at the VIP door, the Portuguese delegation came along. It was a posse of about eight to 10 dignitaries, including Portugal's president, Jorge Sampaio. Jimmy rowed in behind them, cool as a cat. They were waved through without having their credentials vetted.
He laughed while recounting the details. The game came effortlessly to Jimmy. He was in his element. He passed up to the second floor of the VIP area, where all the other dignitaries chatted together, drinking and eating canapes. Among the crowd was Michel Platini, who became UEFA president two years later, and Joan Laporta, Barca's president. Jimmy mingled with them in his normal clothes, eating finger food alongside Platini.
"I was calm, strong, powerful. I had all the tools," he said. "My attitude was great. Not that I want to show off, but I was 28. I was cold-blooded. My heart beat calmly. It was almost abnormal. Even I became worried by it. With the passage of years, I could reach to the point where I didn't feel anything. I was never nervous for those early jumps. I knew I wouldn't die because of what I was doing. I had adrenaline pumping. I wanted to do it."
When it came close to kick-off, Jimmy grabbed the lift down toward the pitch with some journalists. He took a position behind Greece's German coach Otto Rehhagel. Some of Jimmy's friends watching on television could see him waiting for his moment. Jimmy bided his time. He likes to enjoy the first half of the game and then do his jump in the second half. Greece took the lead close to the hour mark.
"When Greece scored, I said to myself, 'Hey, Jimmy, you better jump.' With a jump, anything could happen. Your head can change in a flash; say, if there's a penalty you could run onto the pitch and kick it."
The match was coming to a close. Security people began taking up their positions. Still he waited, until finally, with only a handful of minutes left to run on the clock, he bolted onto the pitch. He ran toward the halfway line and then cut back to Portugal's goal, passing Luis Figo, Portugal's captain, en route.
In the eyes of Barca fans, Figo—who left Barca for Real Madrid four years earlier in one of football's greatest transfer shocks—is a traitor. As Jimmy ran past Figo, the player started to turn and look toward Jimmy until Jimmy threw his Catalan flag at Figo's face. Figo turned away in disgust. "I remember seeing Figo make this bitter face," said Jimmy.
Jimmy continued on toward Portugal's goal. He launched himself into the goal's net, raising his arms aloft in celebration before he spectacularly wiped out on the netting. He was swept up by frantic security men. "I wasn't right in the head," said Jimmy. "I was crazy. I saw myself as a warrior, a Spartan."
Jimmy was taken into the bowels of the stadium and kept in detention for an hour or two. Later, he was transferred to a prison in the city. He said the legal process is pretty routine—a night or two locked up in prison, his belongings are confiscated, followed by a court hearing before a judge—although, he adds: "You never know how the police will react."
He's never picked up serious injuries. He shows me a scar he still has from one jump. He's usually manhandled as he's taken from the pitch. After a pitch invasion during a Real Madrid vs. Barcelona game in 2005—a match made famous by a virtuoso display from Barcelona's Ronaldinho that memorably prompted Real Madrid fans to applaud him—Jimmy got roughed up twice: in the stadium and later by national police in prison. "I didn't get injuries," he said, "but they hit me with bad intentions."
In Lisbon, however, police regarded him like he was a hero. They took pictures of him with their arms around him. They cracked open bottles of champagne to toast him. "And Portugal had lost! They treated me like a dignitary," he said. Albert picked him up from prison. They got invitations to dinner. The press were keen to capture his story.
Jimmy had become an overnight international celebrity. His website—which Jimmy claims once registered as one of the 10 most-visited websites in the world—collapsed. The reaction of his family to his notoriety was mixed. His grandmother—who passed away in 2005—revelled in his exploits.
"She was a big fan of mine. She loved it," he said. "My dad was kind of upset sometimes. With the final in Lisbon, people said to him: 'Hey, we saw your son in Portugal.' Famous journalists called to their house. He spoke to all of them. My mother ... she respects all of this."
In Jimmy's apartment in Barcelona—as he tore around the world doing one pitch invasion more elaborate than the last—fines and legal threats came whistling through his letterbox. Jimmy took no notice of them. He was storing up trouble for down the road.
"I destroyed them!" he said, clapping his hands. "Every week I got papers. Everything that arrived I just tore it up. I didn't care about anything. I wasn't even registered in my neighbourhood in Barcelona. It's not like now—in Germany I do everything correct. Then I worked. I got money. I did jumps. The police were very angry," he said, before adding he's since been told he had undercover police watching his apartment at the time.
The penalties started mounting. Some of them were only a few hundred euros. Some of them were for big coin. He got fined €60,000 for his Formula One invasion in May 2002. He got another €60,000 fine for invading the Clasico at the Bernabeu in 2005.
The time he jumped Real Madrid's former player Cristiano Ronaldo on the night of thunderstorms in the Camp Nou in May 2011 was the one that did for him. He was told he'd be tossed into jail the next time it happened. He was swimming in debt. The fines he owed totalled around €250,000.
He weighed up his options. He needed to clean his slate. A guy in the tax office advised him the best solution was to accept an administrative fine because it is a money-only fine and not considered criminal. That way he'd avoid going to jail. They told him to leave Spain and return after six years. At one stage, he ended up having to pay half his salary to tax authorities. He explained everything to his family and decided to move to Germany. He hit rock bottom.
"Coming to Germany changed my life," he said. "I was in Germany and I didn't know what to do. Everything was very difficult. It was a new life. I begged for money. I slept in churches in Berlin. I was having a bad time. I stopped jumping. I passed from being the best pitch invader in the world, a TV star, to being in Germany as an immigrant, working like a robot in a factory, making €1,000 a month. It's s--t."
Toward the end of our interview, Albert sent us a three-minute voice message on WhatsApp. Jimmy put it on loudspeaker and repeated bits of it that were hard to make out, or maybe just for emphasis.
On the message, Albert spoke in a mix of Catalan, Spanish and English. He's infectious. He sang football chants. He talked about his life as a father of three. He got his young son, Jordi, to say hello. He talked about the things he loves in life, including Corinthians and Catalonia, and the things he hates: "F--k Madrid!"
He reminisced about some of the "crazy" episodes he had with Jimmy. He talked about going on the road again. For one more heist. He said he'd pick Jimmy up in Vienna with the Camisa 12, Corinthians' infamous ultras group from Sao Paulo, and they could drive together to Moscow for the World Cup.
"Old rockers never die," he said. "In this life nothing is impossible. We never know. Maybe 14 years after the great jump of Jimmy Jump in Lisbon, he will jump again. He's the best streaker in the world!"
Jimmy emphasized the word "maybe." His mood changed after playing the message. The tone of his voice lowered.
"I don't know what I am going to do," he said. "My life here is so different. I have my apartment and a s--tty job in a factory. I'm not well. I'm after five or six years without doing a jump. It was my life, but I'm scared about jumping again. Before I never thought about anything. I just did it. Now I don't have depression, but I have a weird feeling. Sometimes I don't sleep properly at night time."
Later, while watching the Champions League final on the TV in the hostel bar, Jimmy clarifies that he's not suffering from depression. But who wouldn't be down in his position? Jimmy is in a bind. He's like an old, retired boxer who wants one more dance in the ring, but he wonders if he still has the bottle to pull it off.
He's being pulled in two directions. He's wrestling with fear. He doubts whether he can still do it, but he's desperate to taste that tantalising adrenaline rush of a jump again. He wants to run wild around a stadium—for freedom and fame—in front of thousands of people. He wants to feel alive. "I want to feel it all again," he said.
He hankers after the best days of his life. He wants to be somebody again.
Follow Richard on Twitter: @Richard_Fitz