Ta’s Timeout: Soccer superstitions

Graphic by Nina Potischman

Superstitions have always been a part of sports, and in soccer, there is no difference.

As fans, we like to believe that what happens on the pitch is strictly due to players’ skill levels and performance. While this is a logical explanation, there’s no denying that luck plays a massive role in deciding what happens in a match.

Players know about the importance of luck in the beautiful game, and many try to increase (or at least preserve) their good fortune through seemingly ridiculous pre-match rituals. Fans have also played into the absurdity of superstitions in soccer — some even believe animals to be oracles and good luck charms.

Here’s a rundown of some of the most ridiculous superstitions in the history of soccer.

1. Paul the World Cup-predicting octopus

Paul the octopus received worldwide attention for his impressive predictions at the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa, when he correctly predicted all eight matches he was asked to. His keepers in Germany had him predict mostly matches involving the German National Team, with one exception being the final, for which Germany failed to qualify.

Paul correctly predicted Germany winning every match in the group stage, the round of 16, and the quarterfinals. Many German supporters were immensely disappointed when Paul predicted Spain to beat Germany in the semi-finals, which it did in a narrow 1-0 victory.

During each prediction process, Paul’s keepers had him choose between two boxes of food that were identical except for their decorations, which were simply the flags of the competitors in the match. Paul’s predictions may be explained by a remarkable ability to recognize the German flag of his keepers’ home, but regardless of this plausible explanation, his success rate is impressive.

2. The French kiss of luck

During the 1998 FIFA World Cup in France, French center back Laurent Blanc kissed French goalkeeper Fabien Barthez on his shiny, bald head before every match. Blanc, along with other members of the French National Team, strongly believed in the superstition. The French continued to put their faith in it, and rightly so, as they reached the final on home soil.

Even though Blanc was suspended for the final after being sent off in the semi-final, right before the title match against Brazil, Blanc came out on to the pitch to give his goalkeeper the magic kiss on the head. And sure enough, the French superstition worked once again, as the French beat the Brazilians 3-0, lifting the World Cup for the first time ever.

But the ritual didn’t end there. When Blanc retired from football, Barthez would not let anyone else kiss his head.

3. Pelé’s lucky shirt

Even the legends are susceptible to believing in superstitions. In the mid-1960s, Brazilian superstar Pelé suffered a massive dip in form while playing for Brazilian club Santos. After ending many matches in frustration, he concluded that his new shirt was bad luck, and that his old shirt brought him good luck.

Of course, there was one major issue. He had given his old shirt to a Santos fan and there was no way he could get ahold of the fan to retrieve it.

Pelé desperately tried to track down the fan, instructing a friend to locate the fan at all costs. Eventually, the shirt was returned to Pelé, and his form along with it.

But Pelé’s friend actually lied to him about finding his old shirt. He really failed to find the old shirt, and instead gave Pelé the shirt he had been wearing the whole time, the ultimate soccer placebo.

4. Sergio Goycochea’s good luck charm

In the 1990 FIFA World Cup knockout stages, Argentina’s backup goalkeeper Sergio Goycochea had to step up big-time, as the Argentine starter broke his leg in the group stages. After shutting out Brazil in the round of 16, Goycochea had an even tougher task ahead of him against Yugoslavia.

Argentina fought hard with Yugoslavia, taking the quarterfinal match all the way to penalties. Goycochea was ready to be his country’s hero once again, but this time there was one obstacle in his way: he really had to pee.

Since the match had not ended, Goycochea was not allowed to leave the field. Instead of holding it in for the rest of the shootout, he decided to urinate off the side of the field, while his Argentinean teammates created a wall to prevent others from seeing. After urinating, Goycochea went on to block Yugoslavia’s final two penalties, winning the match for Argentina.

Argentina then faced Italy in the semi-finals, once again taking the match to penalty shootouts. Goycochea figured that urinating would bring him good luck once again, even though he didn’t have the urge to do so. So he did it anyway, and was able to pull off his heroics once again, taking Argentina to the final.

The final against West Germany did not go to penalties, so Goycochea did not have the chance to put his superstition to the test once again. Regardless, the goalkeeper would go on to perform the same ritual before every shootout of his career.

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