Animal incursions onto football fields are always cause for some celebration, and there are many amusing tales of dogs, foxes, birds and the like staging pitch invasions. All are interesting in their own right, but what if the animal was the king of the beasts - a lion?
This big cat escaped from George Sanger's circus at Willesden Junction, in Harlesden, north-west London, in 1899. The escape was widely reported, and the following beautifully-detailed report appeared in the Yorkshire Post on 28 February 1899:
"It was not until yesterday morning that details transpired of the exciting lion hunt which took place on the previous afternoon in the wilds of Willesden Junction. Mr. George Sanger, the veteran showman, was escorting a party of friends connected with his limited liability company around the circus and menagerie, when, about five p.m., a tremendous commotion was heard. Tigers and wolves howled in unison, parrots and monkeys screeched, while, loud above the din, came the trumpet notes of the elephants.
Young Prince, a splendid example of the African lion, had escaped from his enclosure, and was frolicking about with a freedom which he might have enjoyed in happier days on the plains of Somaliland.
In response to a call to arms, there assembled a number of grooms and labourers, a motley collection, who placed themselves under the leadership of Mr. George Sanger. The lion, fortunately, had recently dined, and was apparently in a rather amiable mood. He ambled along into an adjoining football ground, nearly frightening to death an old lady with whom he playfully collided on the way.
After a cheerful display of leonine activity in the football ground, Prince found matters getting rather too warm for his comfort, and so betook himself through a fence to the neighbouring railway embankment. He was well under way along the track, still followed by the hunters, when he was perceived by people crossing a bridge. They commenced to shout, and thus frightened the noble animal, who, giving vent to a muffled roar, turned and prepared, as it were, to rend his pursuers, some of whom showed unmistakable signs of re-tracing their footsteps. Happily for them a manhole chanced to be near, and, the lid being weak, Prince fell in.
Only a few seconds elapsed before the captors had closed upon their fallen prey. Lassoes, were obtained, and after a great deal of manoeuvring, Prince was hauled to the surface, wet, trembling with cold, and nerveless. He was promptly rubbed down and gratefully imbibed a little stimulant, after which his keeper led him back to the cool retreat of the circus.
Fortunately no one was injured, with the exception of a lad, whose right hand was slightly lacerated by the lion's claws. The boy [George Pearce] had merely tried to catch the lion as he might catch a goat."
Find more tales from Victorian football in The Victorian Football Miscellany.