Friday 13 special: European football superstitions

Friday 13 is a date which strikes fear into the hears of some; UEFA.com dons its lucky pants to investigate some of the habits footballers use to keep on the right side of fate.

©Getty Images

Pre-match preparation
Kolo Touré
always had to be the last player onto the pitch during his time at Arsenal – a situation which caused him trouble during a 2009 UEFA Champions League match against Roma. With team-mate William Gallas's half-time treatment for an injury delayed, Touré felt unable to re-enter the field until Gallas emerged, and the game resumed without either player. The Ivorian ended up being booked for rejoining the fray without the referee's permission.

Czech Republic captain Tomáš Rosický never sang the national anthem aloud, having realised while playing for his country at junior levels that whenever he belted out the anthem at the top of his voice, his team lost. Germany's Mario Gomez, meanwhile, got out of the habit of chorusing anthems completely after scoring in a youth match in which he had not sung.

Former Fiorentina coach Bruno Pesaola was so convinced the record he played to his side before matches brought good luck that he made a 500km round trip to pick it up after realising he had left it at home before an away game.

Laurent Blanc's lucky kiss
Laurent Blanc's lucky kiss©Getty Images

Chelsea's John Terry is also bound by rituals. For long spells he would listen to the same Usher CD in his car before every match, park in the same spot, sit in the same seat on the team bus, and even use the same pair of shin pads for ten years – before losing them in a game at Barcelona.

Laurent Blanc planted a kiss on the head of goalkeeper Fabien Barthez before each match in France's 1998 FIFA World Cup success. Less well known is the fact the squad reportedly listened to Gloria Gaynor's I Will Survive in the dressing room before every fixture.

One-time Pisa president Romeo Anconetani felt putting salt on the pitch before big games was lucky, once dumping 26kg of the stuff on the turf before a particularly important encounter.

The Czech Republic decided not to shave during UEFA EURO 2012 as a good-luck charm, with goalkeeper Petr Čech refusing to get out his razor even when his wife called to tell him he looked awful and should smarten up immediately.

Johan Cruyff at Ajax
Johan Cruyff at Ajax©Getty Images

Strikers' secrets
In his Ajax pomp, Johan Cruyff reportedly slapped goalkeeper Gert Bals in the stomach before every match, also endeavouring to spit his chewing gum into the opposition half before kick-off. More amazingly, Cruyff's team-mate Gerrie Mürhen insisted on wearing team-mate Sjaak Swart's underpants during European Cup ties.

England striker Gary Lineker did not take shots on goal during pre-match warm-ups because he did not want to waste a goal. He also changed his shirt at half-time if he failed to score in the first half.

Filippo Inzaghi: lucky biscuits
Filippo Inzaghi: lucky biscuits©AFP/Getty Images

Juventus, Milan and Italy forward Filippo Inzaghi had a sweet pre-match ritual; before games he was in the habit of tucking into a box of children's biscuits, crucially always leaving two in the box.

Dynamo Kyiv coach Serhiy Rebrov had an interesting habit as a player; after any win, he would do his best to replicate that day's pre-match routine for the next game, waking up at the same time, eating the same meals and talking to the same people.

Alan Rough with Scotland in 1978
Alan Rough with Scotland in 1978©Getty Images

Goalkeeping practice
Former Scotland goalkeeper Alan Rough's pre-match observances are perhaps the most complicated on record. "I got into a habit of not shaving before games," he remembered. "And I always had to hang my clothes on peg No13. I'd bounce a ball off the changing-room wall a certain number of times – I forget how many – being careful not to stand on the unlucky part of the floor.

"I wore a favourite old shirt under my top and always my own white socks, and continued to take them on Scotland trips when the Scottish FA started getting fussy about the team all wearing red. Away to Israel [in a 1981 World Cup qualifier] I forgot to wash them from the last match so they were soaking wet from the sink but there was me, squelching around, soapy bubbles popping in the eyelets of my boots, and playing one of my best games for my country. I should have made that another wee routine."

His in-game behaviour was every bit as complex. "I used to have a hat full of lucky charms to put behind the net," he said. "There was a scabby tennis ball, a thistle keyring, a couple of marbles, lots of daft wee trinkets – and when fans chucked more I'd have to put them in the bunnet [a type of cap] too. I liked to blow my nose a lot during games and ask the time a lot, and I'd always have seven pieces of [a certain brand of chewing gum] with me: three for each half and another for the last five minutes when things got exciting. So, yes, quite superstitious."

During his Liverpool stint, Pepe Reina – now of Napoli – was in the habit of filling up the fuel tank in his car at the same service station before every match (whether he needed petrol or not) and insisted on parking in bay 39 at Anfield.

Ex-England custodian David James's pre-match days consisted of a long litany of rites; most disgustingly, he would pay a pre-game visit to the urinals, wait until they were empty, then spit against the wall.

Goalpost kisser Artem Rebrov
Goalpost kisser Artem Rebrov©Getty Images

Spartak Moskva keeper Artem Rebrov famously kisses his goalposts and speaks to them before each game.

Clothes
Romania striker Adrian Mutu's unusual pre-match ceremonials included putting basil leaves in his socks. Mutu, incidentally, was once warned by a group of Romanian witches that his career might suffer because of curses administered by a former girlfriend. "No problem," he reportedly replied. "Curses can't touch me because I wear my underwear inside out."

Another noted Romania star, Marius Lăcătuș, insisted that no one touch his kit before he did on matchdays.

Stars on Galatasaray support
Stars on Galatasaray support

Gheorghe Popescu was horrified at Galatasaray to see team-mates holding their boots with studs pointing upwards – something he considered to bring bad luck. However, it obviously did his team no harm in the 1999/2000 UEFA Cup final, when the defender slotted the winning penalty in the shoot-out against Arsenal.

Much-travelled Italian coach Renzo Ulivieri was a great believer in the power of his lucky coat, memorably wearing it throughout a match in Palermo despite 35C temperatures.

Wales: Top five qualifying goals
Wales: Top five qualifying goals

Wales manager Chris Coleman felt a similar habit helped his side make it to UEFA EURO 2016. Reflecting on a 6-1 loss in Serbia in September 2012, he said: "It was really hot that night so I took my suit jacket off and we had a very bad result. So since then, no matter what, I've kept my jacket on because I don't want to experience that again."

Marseille defender Basile Boli, whose header decided the 1993 UEFA Champions League final, had lucky underpants which he wore in every game, from his first professional appearance to that final in Munich.

Late Spain coach Luis Aragonés was thought to have a problem with the colour yellow, once compelling forward Raúl González to change when he turned up at the team hotel in a canary-coloured shirt.

Juventus and Croatia ace Mario Mandžukić has a lucky pre-match routine which involves wrapping his hands in tape – a ritual inspired by boxers' preparations for a big bout. "There's no way the physio will not wrap my hands before a match," he said.

Ivan Rakitić leads with the left
Ivan Rakitić leads with the left©Getty Images

Barcelona's Croatia midfielder Ivan Rakitić has a pre-match gambit too: he bandages up his left leg, then puts on his left sock and left boot, but always takes his first step onto the pitch with his right foot. By contrast, former Germany striker Miroslav Klose always put his right boot on first and took to the field right foot first. Interestingly, most luck-conscious Ukrainian players step out with their left foot first and also tie their left boots first.

Middlesbrough's Álvaro Negredo confessed to always keeping the same shirt the next match after scoring a goal – although he clarified that he washes it first. He also makes a point of being last out of the tunnel.

Former Stuttgart coach Armin Veh demanded that his side switch from white to red shirts for as many fixtures as possible, with the evidence of results supporting his assertion that "we're more aggressive in red than white".

André Schubert with 'lucky hoodie'
André Schubert with 'lucky hoodie'©Getty Images

Mönchengladbach boss André Schubert, meanwhile, was forced to refute the claim that he had a lucky hoodie after he led his team to six straight Bundesliga victories after taking charge. "I am not at all superstitious, but if everyone likes this thing, I am happy to go along with it," he said. Identical hooded tops rapidly sold out in the club shop.

Rostov's trainer Kurban Berdyev is never without his lucky prayer beads; he also had a lucky suit jacket which he often preferred to a more substantial coat despite the sometimes bitter cold in Russia.

While captain at Shakhtar Donetsk and Zenit, Anatoliy Tymoshchuk always wore two armbands – his own, and one that previously belonged to German midfield general Lothar Matthäus.

Macedonia's most successful coach Gjoko Hadzievski changes his shoes and clothes each time his team loses. "I do not throw them out, but I only wear them for training sessions," noted the much-travelled Hadzievski, who also alters his route to the stadium whenever a defeat occurs.

Lucky charms
In Scotland, Dunfermline's French-born striker Farid El Alagui is a great believer in the power of a lucky £1 coin which he found on the pitch during a pre-match warm-up while playing for Falkirk. He has taken it everywhere he has played since, entrusting it to one of the team's back-room staff before each game.

See Eusébio inspire Benfica to glory
See Eusébio inspire Benfica to glory

Benfica great Eusébio also had a lucky coin, which he wore in his boots in his playing days. In the years before his death, he also used to carry a lucky white towel whenever he watched the Portuguese national side.

One of Macedonian football's shining lights of the 1970s, striker Vancho Balevski always chose the same end of the pitch if he won a coin toss, and as coach of Vardar and Sloga he conceived a new lucky coin ritual. He would go to church and leave an offering according to the traditions of the Orthodox Church, but would take one coin back to throw into the opposition goal before the next game – believing this would make his rivals concede more.

Bosnian midfielder Bruno Akrapović had a penchant for the No8 shirt throughout his lengthy career in Germany. The reason? He signed his first German contract – at Arminia Hannover – on 8 August 1988.

Omar Borg's lucky charms
Omar Borg's lucky charms©Domenic Aquilina

In Malta, former Mosta keeper Omar Borg carried two charms – a religious icon that once belonged to his grandmother and a pink ribbon given to his baby daughter – for luck. "I wear them every time I play, they give me extra strength," he told UEFA.com. "If ever I can't find them before a match, I panic more than if I had lost my gloves."

Curses
Dinamo Zagreb were struck by the 'curse of the coin' after a controversial first-round success over Spartak Brno in the 1966/67 Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, a competition they won. After the two-legged tie ended 2-2, the victors were decided on a coin toss; Dinamo captain Slaven Zambata allegedly started celebrating as soon as the coin hit the ground, and in the resulting confusion no one – referee or opponents – actually checked whether he had called the toss correctly. Since then, some Dinamo fans reckon the sporting gods have been on Dinamo's case.

While Birmingham City manager, Barry Fry bought into a story that the club's St Andrew's home was cursed, going through a ritual that required urinating on all four corners of the pitch in order to appease the evil spirits. "Did it work?" he said later. "Well, we started to win and I thought it had, then they sacked me so probably not."

Did Béla Guttmann curse Benfica?
Did Béla Guttmann curse Benfica?©Getty Images

After masterminding Benfica's 1961/62 European Cup triumph, Hungarian coach Béla Guttmann reportedly left the club under a cloud, telling the board of directors that the Eagles would not be European champions again in the next 100 years. They have lost all eight of their major European finals since.

Bad vibes
Swedish Serie A hero Nils Liedholm – a Milan star from 1949–61 and later their coach – reputedly had a personal wizard, Mario Maggi, whom he visited for guidance on formations ahead of games. Maggi purportedly predicted a defeat for Liedholm's Roma in the 1983/84 European Cup final, and said: "Nils didn't speak to me for two months afterwards. I wasn't just a good luck charm for him, but also for other players including Bruno Conti and Franco Baresi."

Ex-France coach Raymond Domenech was apparently a great believer in astrology, bemusing reporters in the run-up to UEFA EURO 2008 with the line: "When I have a Leo in defence I've always got my gun ready as I know he's going to want to show off at some point and cost us." Atlético Madrid boss Diego Simeone is supposedly into horoscopes too.

Former Eintracht Frankfurt coach Horst Ehrmanntraut arbitrarily banned his assistant Bernhard Lippert from the dressing room before a game, having decided his No2 "emits negative energy". Lippert later said: "I did not like having to wait outside, but Horst had several quirks and I learned to deal with them." He certainly did.

Ehrmanntraut also preferred not to watch his charges from the bench, but from a cheap white plastic chair which he placed closer to the pitch. He supposably used this position to imbue every player with his energy, though he later denied this, saying he just wanted the calmness of being on his own. "I could concentrate on the game better," he said. His chair is now an exhibit in the Eintracht museum.

Emeric Ienei (front)
Emeric Ienei (front)©Bob Thomas/Getty Images

Coaching masterclass
Steaua Bucureşti's European Cup-winning coach Emeric Ienei set great store by the power of a certain number. He explained: "I was never wary of 13. On the contrary, at hotels I chose room numbers ending 13 if possible – after all, 13 September is my daughter's birthday.

"But I had other superstitions: I never let my wife come to the stadium for matches. When Steaua won the European Cup final in Seville in 1986, she had to watch on TV in our hotel room. When I was a player and I found a stone on the street, I was always sure we were going to win our next game if I managed to kick it at a target of my choice."

Mircea Lucescu and fellow Romanian coaches Anghel Iordănescu and Victor Pițurcă all respect the tradition that says the team bus cannot be reversed when the squad are on board. Reversing manoeuvres can only be made once the team are out of the way. Iordănescu, Lucescu – and indeed most Georgian sides – also think it unlucky to have women on the bus.

Era-defining Dynamo Kyiv and Ukraine coach Valeriy Lobanovskiy had some notable eccentricities; his Dynamo squad had no No13 shirts and women were not allowed on any coaches – though he made an exception for stewardesses on aeroplanes.

Moreover, he was always the last person off the team bus, and assiduously avoided stepping on cracks in the pavement or the lines on the pitch. More amazingly, he also believed a team needed at least one ginger-haired player to be successful.

Dynamo great Valeriy Lobanovskiy
Dynamo great Valeriy Lobanovskiy©Getty Images
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