There is a very fine line between superstitions, obsessive compulsive disorders, and crazy routines but some people manage to blur the lines a little bit more than others. Whether it’s their lucky pair of underwear or a favourite t-shirt that fits just right, or even wearing one boot before the other, superstition is surprisingly very common among footballers too.
We’ve heard of fans having different superstitions before, during and even after the games, and it should come as no surprise that even players, managers, and even team presidents have their own.
The ultimate belief or notion that certain outcomes or events can be influenced by supernatural forces that exist all around us and can sway a person’s judgment, may seem somewhat bizarre to some people. But superstitions and rituals are more often than not deeply ingrained and invested in a team’s history or even in an individual's identity as a reflection of some of the biggest losses and wins of their careers.
10. Cristiano Ronaldo
Five-time Ballon d’Or winner and one of the greatest players of all time, that’s what comes to your mind when one hears the name Cristiano Ronaldo. So when talks of superstitions come along and players with their own method of what may make them great, who would have thought that the man synonymous with ‘hard work’, makes the list.
However, through his years as a professional athlete, Ronaldo has developed certain quirks that have become superstitions. From being the first player to disembark while travelling to a game by plane, putting his right foot on to the grass first, standing the exact same way during free-kicks and so much more.
They all seem to have worked, as the Portuguese star has three Premier League titles, five Champions League titles, two La Liga titles, one Serie A title, one Euro title and of course, five Ballon d’Or awards and four European Golden shoes.
9. Johan Cruyff
Johan Cruyff wrote his name into football history and became one of the few men in the world synonymous with Dutch football. The former Ajax and Barcelona player embodied the “total football” style which guided the Netherlands to a World Cup final. At the same time, the Cruyff turn remains one of the hardest skills to master for any footballer.
However, as great a football player as he was, he was also utterly nuts. He was dependent on a series of obsessional pre-match rituals, something he would have never tolerated as a coach himself. Shortly before kick-off, he’d slap goalkeeper Gert Bals in the stomach and then walk over to the opposition half and proceed to spit his chewing gum towards their goal.
“It’s odd I know, but it seems to work for me. Once I’ve gone through with my little system before the game, my mind is fully focused on what we have to do to be successful on the pitch."
However, during the 1969 European Cup final, Cruyff gave Bals his customary smack and then walked over towards the opposition half, to spit his gum. It was only then that the Dutchman realised that he’d forgotten to chew gum and Ajax ended up getting thrashed 4-1!
8. France 1998 World Cup team
While they made the World Cup final purely on the skill and talent of the players in their team, who can say that what they did pre-game didn’t really help their cause. The French had a star-studded World Cup squad, with the likes of Zinedine Zidane, Marcel Desailly, Didier Deschamps, Emmanuel Petit and a young Thierry Henry.
But despite all that, they, or rather Laurent Blanc, had a rather amusing pre-match ritual, where the defender would kiss goalkeeper Fabien Barthez’s shaved head. And as the wins piled up, so did the number of kisses, and by the end, Blanc had the entire French team kissing the then-26-year-old goalkeeper's head - from the substitutes to the coaches, all walked up to Barthez and kissed his head.
Another unusual superstition of that team was that they would listen to Gloria Gaynor’s hit single “I Will Survive” in the locker room before every match. Their seating arrangement on the bus was even worse, with every member of the team designated a specific seat.
7. Australian national team
This story starts in 1969 and involves the woes of the Australian national team, aka the Socceroos, as they tried to qualify for the 1970 World Cup. The Socceroos had just lost a playoff match and had to face Zimbabwe in Mozambique. It was after the first game of the series (which Australia had lost), and a few players had heard about a witch doctor in Mozambique who could sort things out by putting a curse of some kind on the Rhodesians.
The entire team agreed and consulted the witch doctor, who buried some bones near the goal-post and cursed the opposition.
It worked, and the Australians went on to beat Zimbabwe 3-1 in the deciding game, but it was the drama after the match that changed things for the Socceroos. The move backfired when after the match the witch-doctor approached the team and asked for the £1000 that had been promised to him, but the team couldn’t pay up.
Angry, the witch-doctor reversed the curse, and since then Australian soccer has been cursed, or so the ‘Godfather of Australian football’, Johnny Warren, thought. The Australians would get knocked out in the final round of qualification, losing 2-1 on aggregate to Israel.
The national team went on to qualify for the 1974 World Cup, but after that, they suffered a series of gut-wrenching defeats. The Australians failed to be eligible for the ‘98 World Cup despite leading 2-0 in the second half of the final qualifier against Iran, the tear-jerker in Uruguay back in 2001 – where the Australians went 3-0 down at and to Uruguay, despite winning the first leg at home are two such instances of the supposed ‘curse’.
Things changed after John Safran decided to go back to Mozambique and reverse the curse, which included him and Warren sitting in the middle of the pitch where the ‘69 game was played.
Then a new witch-doctor killed a chicken, spreading the blood everywhere, and finally, both Safran and Warren had to wash themselves with clay in the Telstra Stadium. And the curse was finally lifted, as the Socceroos reached the 2006 World Cup and even reached the second round.
6. Derby County
When Derby County moved to their new stadium, the Baseball Ground in 1895, a stadium that would be home for the next 102 years, they had to evict a group of gipsies who dwelled on the site.
The gipsies, angry at their removal allegedly cursed the team, saying that the two-time Premier League winners would never win another FA Cup. While the curse was thought to be fictional and just an excuse for the club’s horrid form, it lived and festered in the minds of the fans.
The Rams reached the 1898, 1899 and 1904 final and lost all three, and also lost three semi-finals. It seemed that the gipsies’ curse could actually be real and Derby simply gave up and never reached another final for another forty years.
In 1946, after forty years, Derby County reached another FA Cup final and fans were praying for a sign that the curse was lifted, even pleading to the skies “We are fans of Derby County, do you not think that’s punishment enough?”
It was soon after that the ball burst and prevented a Derby goal, and everyone took it as a sign that the angered spirits were appeased. Derby went on to win the FA Cup 4-1 in extra time.
However, it was later rumoured that Jackie Stamps paid a gipsy to have the curse lifted before the day of the final, where he went on to score twice as the Rams went on to win their first FA Cup trophy but have never reached the finals since then.
5. Romeo Anconetani
One of the odder superstitions on this list, former AC Pisa president Romeo Anconetani, the former Italian footballer and manager, would simply throw salt on the field because he thought it would help his team. The bigger the game, the more salt seasoned the pitch!
As Plato once described salt as the gift of the gods, is it that surprising that football fans (including Luis Fernandez) would sprinkle some salt on the pitch to perhaps, increase their chances of tasting some good luck?
Romeo Anconetani was no different and behaved precisely like other Italians who believed that even betting against their team would increase the chances of a better fortune. Still, perhaps the AC Pisa president went too far.
During a crucial match against Cesena, the former president walked onto the field and proceeded to flavour the four corners of the Arena Garibaldi with nearly 26 kilos of salt.
4. Birmingham City
When Birmingham City director Harry Morris evicted a band of gipsies off a derelict piece of land that would later become St Andrews Stadium (Birmingham’s home ground), he could never have imagined the consequences that would follow for the next hundred-odd years.
The gypsy curse that was spat out in 1906 followed the Blues for over 100 years, and over the years many Birmingham City managers would try and remove the curse but with little success.
Former manager Ron Saunders tried to banish the curse in the 1980s by placing crucifixes on the floodlights and painting the bottom of his player’s boots red. He hoped that the angry spirits might forgive the club and the ground, but it never worked.
Then, Barry Fry – in charge of the club from 1993 to 1996, tried a more “creative approach” and urinated on the four corners of the pitch before every home game, after a psychic told him to. That worked as the team started winning games before the club sacked Fry and the losses piled up again.
However, on Boxing day of 2006, the club finally celebrated the curse being lifted with a 2-1 win over Queens Park Rangers. They then went on to beat Arsenal in the League Cup, four years later in their first major final in the club’s history.
Easily one of the greatest players of all time, a Brazilian legend and one of the most successful league goal scorers could not escape from the clutches of superstition. During a low point in Pele’s career, the forward attributed it to a jersey that he had given a fan after a match. The Brazilian legend proceeded to send a friend on a mission to track down the jersey.
As luck would have it, the friend managed to track down the shirt and returned it to Pele, who’s goalscoring form returned soon after. But what the friend left out was the fact that he had actually failed in his pursuit of that particular jersey and had instead given the three-time World Cup winner the shirt that he had used in the previous match.
The belief that it was the shirt was more than enough for the Brazilian legend, and his form soon returned.
2. Midland Portland Cements
This bizarre one-time ritual made the cut solely for the fact that it was even considered a ritual. In 2008, the coaches of a Zimbabwean football team sent their players to a river to cleanse the side of evil spirits and figured that it was the best way to cure the side of a bad string of losses. So they sent 17 players and instructed them to wade into the Zambezi river, but only 16 walked out alive.
What the team and the coach later learned was the fact that the river was banned to the public and that swimming in the river was hazardous. The currents were so strong that even professional swimmers were warned against entering the river, let alone 17 semi-professional football players.
To make matters worse, the river was teaming full of crocodiles and hippos, and the team lost a key player after he was caught in the current and did not survive the team’s cleansing ritual.
To make things even worse, the team went on to lose the next few games, and the player became one of the rare cases where a superstition or a ritual resulted in a death.
1. Raymond Domenech
Raymond Domenech isn’t so much a fan of man management, as he is of mad management. Even if you keep aside his spats and fights with Patrick Vieira, David Trezeguet and even ousting Karim Benzema from his squad, Domenech takes eccentricity to another level.
Being a keen poker player does have it’s moments, especially during a football match, but one has to question the sanity of the French FA. After all, they appointed a manager for over six years, who allows astrology to affect his team selections.
Domenech had a particular problem with players with the Scorpio sun sign in his squads, referring them to as reckless, unreliable, troublesome and attention-seekers. Thus, he effectively ended the career of Robert Pires.
He displayed his eccentricity by responding to being knocked out of Euro 2008 by proposing to his girlfriend on the pitch and oversaw a mutiny two years later – but they all seem sane when compared to his dependence on astrology.
There have always been eccentric managers all around the world, from the late, great Brian Clough to Diego Maradona to Alf Ramsey and many more. It’s the fact that Domenech managed to somehow outdo them all, without ever winning a single trophy during his time that makes him No. 1 in our list of superstitions in football.
Published 03 Mar 2017, 09:21 IST