Fictional Moldovan Soccer Phenom Tells All
Inside the ingenious hoax that fooled the British sports press.
As a result, the sports pages in English newspapers—not just the gaudy tabloids but mutton-chopped old hussars like the Times—tend to be marbled, a little grotesquely, with fantasies about which star player is bound for which famous club for the GDP of which landlocked principality. They're full of hoaxes already, in other words, tales planted by manipulative club representatives, prehensile agents, and the nannies of David Beckham. The only difference with Masal Bugduv was that it was the papers that fell for the hoax and the readers, vengeful victims, who saw through it.
So, who was this clever hoaxer? Whoever engineered the prank left behind a calling card in the form of the fictional Moldovan newspaper Diario Mo Thon, described in one of the concocted AP stories as "the top sports daily in Balti." Diario means diary in several Romance languages, and mo thón is Irish for my ass—just the kind of nested, polyglot ass pun that every good imaginary-Moldovan prank requires.
It got better. After SoccerLens blogger McDonnell broke the story, Bugduv fans in Ireland noticed that the player's name was a phonetic twin for m'asal beag dubh, which is Irish for "my little black donkey." A second Irish ass pun, sure. But "My Little Black Donkey" is also the name of an Irish-language short story by early 20th-century writer Pádraic Ó Conaire. And the story, about a man tricked into overpaying for a lazy donkey based on some vivid village gossip, can be read anachronistically as a parody of the culture of soccer transfers, in which the flaming rings of hype around a player—about how good he is, where he might go, how much a club might pay for him—often seem to overwhelm the minor matter of what he does on the pitch.
Our hoaxer, then, was likely an allegorically inclined Irishman. This theory gained steam when, not long after the hoax was revealed, I got an e-mail via my Bugduv-obsessed blog from someone claiming to be the instigator of Bugduv mania. He said he was a newspaperman in Galway. Some of the fake AP stories had, indeed, been posted under the pseudonym "GalwayGooner," and the e-mailer's IP address did, indeed, match Galway. Now writing under a different pseudonym, he confirmed the prank's "Little Black Donkey" origin and passed along some entertaining anecdotes, including one about hearing Bugduv's name in a pub conversation before the Times piece went to press. He said he dreamed up Bugduv as a "social experiment."
What was strange, though, was that while I worked to confirm his identity—the more brilliant the hoax, the less you trust the person who takes credit for it—my quarry kept sidestepping every request for evidence. He knew the details of the hoax inside out and even sent me a rollicking narrative account of the work he'd done to create it. (You can read the alleged hoaxer's lengthy explanation of the Bugduv-creation process—and whether the fictional footballer is more like Borat or Forrest Gump—in this sidebar.) But whenever I pressed him for more definitive proof, he'd get skittish and threaten to cut off contact. Either this was another hoax—a counterfeit hoaxer trying to become the real thing—or else the actual hoaxer, like all good magicians, preferred to maintain an element of doubt.
What he sent me, instead of proof, was more about our imaginary player. I learned his nickname ("Massi") and the personality of his agent ("like the fat bloke who accompanied Borat around America"). I even got a new fake AP story, in which Bugduv claimed that he was real and the exposure of the hoax was a hoax. It became clear that while I was worrying over the unreality of my pseudonymous correspondent, he, whoever he was, was delighting in the reality of Masal Bugduv. The Moldovan phantom had taken on a life of his own.
Update, Jan. 28: Blogger Neil McDonnell has confirmed that our alleged hoaxer is indeed the man behind Masal Bugduv. Read all about it here.