Costumes get players into one holy mess

Bristol footballers arrested in a Greek bar after dressing up as nuns for end-of-season party
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As far as the members of Hanham Athletic Football Club were concerned, it was a bit of end-of-season frivolity conducted in the very British manner of dressing up in figure-hugging, thigh-length nun costumes.

Unfortunately, what the Englishmen considered wimple-fuelled fun, the Greek statute book treats as "causing a scandal by provocative acts and misrepresenting a uniform".

The 17 current and former players for the Bristol Sunday league side yesterday accused the authorities in Crete of overreacting when they were arrested and detained for 40 hours after drinking in a bar on the deeply religious island while clad in their polyester "habits" (along with assorted lingerie) and waving crucifixes.

The men, aged 18 to 65, were paraded in front of television cameras on Monday as they arrived at court, handcuffed in pairs and still wearing their "sexy" costumes. The case against them was dropped after the individual who complained that the group were flashing at the bar in the town of Malia failed to turn up to give evidence.

Mick Underhill, 59, the chairman of the division four club in the Bristol and District League, expressed incredulity at the apparent prudishness of the Greek police. He said the club's members had been dressing up since the 1960s and had visited Portugal disguised in St Trinian's schoolgirl uniforms and had gone to Cyprus while sporting baby costumes. Speaking from a bar in Malia notorious for rowdy behaviour by foreign visitors, Mr Underhill told Sky News: "It's an end-of-season celebration and tradition. We're laughing at ourselves and the other people laugh at us too. We have a couple of drinks, and then we parade around the street in costume for one night of the holiday. We hadn't even finished our first drink when we were arrested and put in the back of a van."

It is not the first time that eccentricities of Anglo-Saxon society have been looked upon dimly in Greek climes.

Twelve British plane-spotters were arrested in 2001 in the southern Greek town of Kalamata after taking notes at a military air base. Eight were subsequently found guilty of espionage and sentenced to three years' imprisonment, but later had their convictions quashed after a year-long legal battle.

The football club members, who had been celebrating finishing fourth in the league despite losing five of their last six fixtures, complained about the jail conditions. "We will never forget, Mr Underhill said. "You wouldn't let a dog use the toilets in there and there was graffiti all over the walls.

"We were all squeezed into one cell with eight concrete beds and we had to buy food if we wanted to eat. We're all strong-minded men but we were shaken by the experience."

The players will return to Britain today, minus the troublesome costumes which have been left in their hotel bins.