Superstition and pre-match rituals are very much part and parcel of the footballer’s daily life. From the bizarre to the obsessive; these rituals have been around since the first pig’s bladder was kicked, and they’ll be around long after the game goes intergalactic.
Music choices, car park spots, breakfast and accessories; the list really is endless, and even the most well-known of footballers boast some of the weirdest superstitions – take Chelsea captain John Terry for instance.
Terry, a Premier League legend with over 700 club appearances for the Blues, has well over 50 pre-match superstitions ranging from shin pads to urinals:
“I started off with a couple of superstitions and because we did so well, kept winning and winning, I ended up with about 50 of them. Then it was a case of remembering them for every game!”
The 35-year-old has admitted to playing the same Usher CD in his car when driving to home matches, as well as having to park in the same parking spot. He also ties the tapes round his match-day socks three times and cuts the tubular grip for his shin-pads the same size every game.
The former England captain also has to urinate in the same urinal before home games – a fad that has caught on with many more of the Chelsea squad.
Terry also has regular lucky shin pads, one pair of which he lost after Chelsea’s 2-1 defeat to Barcelona at the Nou Camp in 2004. The defender had the Blues’ staff scour the 99,354 capacity stadium to look for them, to no avail:
“Those shin-pads had got me to where I was in the game – and I’d lost them,” said Terry.
“I really felt terrible because they were a big part of my routine.
“Before the (2004 Carling Cup) final I was having a go at the kitman even though it wasn’t his fault. I was thinking: ‘f***ing hell, I’ve had those shin-pads for so long and now this is it, all over.’
“Lampsy (Frank Lampard) gave me a pair of his and luckily we won, so they’ve stuck with me. Now they have become my lucky ones.”
When you’ve won as much as Terry has, who’s to argue with him over his oddities? He’s still going strong in the heart of the Chelsea defence well into his 30’s – so maybe there’s something to it?
Footballers have carte blanche when it comes to their own pre-match preparation, but when you read some of the best/worst, you may think that a few of them would benefit from a little professional help!
Check out some of the most bizarre pre-match rituals ever seen in the beautiful game:
Rio Ferdinand – Pre-Match Ritual: Ankle straps and bottle smashing
“I’d get to the game and get my left ankle strapped. I didn’t need to but I had to!”
Former Manchester United and England defender Rio Ferdinand was asked the question of pre-match rituals by the Oxford Union in 2015, and he had a ton.
“Before I got to the white line (when walking out for a game), I’d had to smash a bottle of water over my head and jump over the line. Then I’d have to run to the corner. I told you this is unbelievable!”
Kolo Toure – Pre-Match Ritual: Entering the Pitch Last
So you’ve heard of players insisting on certain positions in the team lineup when walking out onto the pitch for games, some jumping over the line, touching it, etc. But Celtic defender Kolo Toure, who had to be last on the pitch, took his penchant a little too far during a 2009 Champions League match when the Ivorian turned out for Arsenal.
As the players emerged from the dressing room for the second half, Toure waited on the touchline for fellow defender William Gallas who, with the referee’s permission, was receiving extra treatment. The game restarted without either defender on the pitch, and when Gallas did return, Toure followed to secure his position as last man on. He also secured a yellow card from the ref.
Sergio Goycochea – Pre-Match Ritual: Urinating
The former Argentine keeper (and male model) insisted on relieving himself on the pitch before penalty shootouts to give his team luck. This “worked” in Argentina’s 1990 World Cup quarter-final shootout against Yugoslavia and again in the semis, but without time to cast the spell when Germany were awarded an 85th minute penalty in the final, Goycochea finally came unstuck as Andreas Brehme tucked home.
Romeo Anconetani – Pre-Match Ritual: Salting the Pitch
Anconetani, a former president of Italian side Pisa, deemed salting the home pitch before matches a good luck charm. He apparently dumped a whopping 26kg on before one important clash.
Filippo Inzaghi – Ritual: Eating Children’s Biscuits
Mr buzzing bee himself, Pippo Inzaghi, took to consuming children’s biscuits before matches to bring him good fortune. Inzaghi, who Sir Alex Ferguson famously said was “born in an offside position”, always had to leave two left in the box.
Malvin Kamara – Pre-Match Ritual: Willy Wonka
Former Wimbledon defender Kamara took to watching the classic film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory starring the late Gene Wilder before matches as it eased his nerves and but him in the right state of mind. The former Cardiff man also said that the Johnny Depp remake “offends” him.
Serhiy Rebrov – Pre-Match Ritual: Groundhog Day
After a win, former Dynamo Kiev and Tottenham striker Rebrov had to re-enact the previous day to the letter, including waking up at the same time, eating the same food and talking to the same people.
Johan Cruyff – Ritual: Gum Spitting
The Dutch legend, who passed away this year, had a few odd pre-match rituals, including having to spit gum into the opposition’s half before kickoff. Cruyff also used to slap the belly of goalkeeper Gert Bals when at Ajax.
Laurent Blanc and Fabian Barthez – Pre-Match Ritual: Kissing
Before every match in France’s 1998 World Cup campaign, defender Laurent Blanc would plant a kiss on the bald head of his keeper, Fabian Barthez. Les Bleus won the tournament, beating Brazil 3-0 in the final, so fair enough!
Gary Lineker – Ritual: Not Shooting
Match of the Day presenter Gary Lineker, once a world class striker, used to hold back the shots during the pre-match warmup, for fear of “wasting” goals.
I wonder if the Leicester shorts he wore on the opening programme of the new season will become his lucky pair?
Artem Rebrov – Pre-Match Ritual: Talking with his Goalposts
The Spartak Moscow keeper kisses both goalposts before kickoff, and is known to talk to them during matches.
Adrian Mutu – Pre-Match Ritual: Basil in his Socks
As a pre-match routine, former Chelsea striker Mutu used to put basil leaves in his socks, with the Romanian reportedly boasting a whole host of odd kit habits.
The attacker was once warned by a group of Romanian witches that he would suffer during his career due to a curse put on him by an ex-girlfriend, to which he is said to have replied: “No problem, curses can’t touch me because I wear my underwear inside out!”
He also owes Chelsea millions after being sacked for testing positive for cocaine, the first of two lengthy bans which devastated his career.
Marius Lăcătuș – Pre-Match Ritual: No Touchy!
Romanian legend Lacatus couldn’t have anyone else touch his kit before him on matchdays.
Anatoliy Tymoshchuk – Ritual: Lothar Matthäus’ Armband
Ukranian captain Tymoshchuk has a lucky armband, which used to belong to German midfielder Lothar Matthaus. It’s his pride and joy, which he explained:
“I first saw [Lothar Matthäus] play at the 1990 World Cup in Italy and began to follow his career.”
“I liked the way he played and how he acted on the field. The co-trainer of Zenit gave me his armband. It’s a funny story, actually.
“After a Germany and Moldova match, he exchanged armbands with him. When he was watching our team, he saw that I was a fan of Matthäus and he gave me the arm band. I wore two arm bands when playing at Zenit, the captains and Matthäus’.
“The armband is linked to all of my personal accomplishments.”
Eusébio – Pre-Match Ritual: Lucky Coin in his Boot
The famous Portuguese striker carried a coin in his boot to give him luck on the pitch. After his retirement, he used to carry a lucky white towel with him whenever he went to see the Portuguese national side play.
Nils Liedholm, Bruno Conti and Franco Baresi – Ritual: A Wizard
Liedholm – a Milan star from 1949–61 and later their coach – was said to have a personal ‘wizard’ who he used to visit to discuss tactics and formations.
Maggi was said to have 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.”
Valeriy Lobanovskyi – Pre-Match Ritual: Ginger Players
Valeriy Lobanovskiy, the eccentric former Dynamo, Ukraine and Soviet Union boss, had a number of oddities.
He banned women from being on his team buses, of which he had to be the last off and not step on any cracks in the pavement. He also banned the number thirteen on his side’s shirts and believed that his teams had to have at least one ginger player to be successful.
Superstitions and Rituals in other sports
Footballers are by no means the only sportsman to indulge in fantasy. Athletes from all walks have been known to have obsessive and quite often strange superstitions. Here are some of the weirdest:
Joe Nieuwendyk – Hockey – Ritual: Peanut Butter and Baby Powder
Former Calgary Flames star, Joe Nieuwendyk, used to eat exactly two pieces of peanut butter toast before each game. Nieuwendyk then used to sprinkle baby powder all over the blade of his stick, which he believed gave it magical powers and would help him score goals.
Steve Kline – Baseball – Ritual: Never Washing his Hat
A retired left-handed pitcher, Kline never used to wash his hat during a season. His hats became so popular with fans that the St. Louis Cardinals once held a “Steve Kline Hat Day” where the first 5,000 fans that entered the park got their own dirty hat!
Mike Bibby – Basketball – Pre-Match Ritual: Nail clipping
During timeouts, Bibby would clip his nails as the coach fired up the team talk. So often did he indulge in this ritual that the trainers would actually hand him nail clippers during the timeouts.
Jerry Tarkanian – Basketball – Ritual: Chewing on a Towel
As a baseball coach, Tarkanian started chewing on a wet towel during a game in South California. He’d had enough of going back and forth to a water fountain and so wet a towel in order to stay court side. He nibbled and nibbled until his retirement in 2002.
Jason Terry – Basketball – Ritual: Sleeping in Opponents’ Shorts
The night before games, Terry would sleep in the shorts of the opposition team. He owns a pair of shorts from every team in the NBA.
Les Miles – American Football – Ritual: Eating Turf
LSU football coach Les Miles took to eating pieces of the turf before matches.
When asked about it, Miles said, “”I have a little tradition that humbles me as a man, that lets me know that I’m a part of the field and part of the game,
“You should have seen some games before this. I can tell you one thing: The grass in Tiger Stadium tastes best.”
Nascar has plenty of superstitions, including:
- There are no green cars since they are considered bad luck.
- No driver carries $50 notes as they are also considered bad luck.
- Peanut shells are not allowed on the track. Any other peanut product is fine, just no shells. This is due to crashes that happened decades ago where peanut shells were found in the wrecks of driver who had died.
Kevin Rhomberg – Baseball – Ritual: Turning Right
A former left fielder, Rhomberg had the curious superstition of not ever turning right during games. He would have to spin round left if he needed to.
Rhomberg also had to touch a player that touched him first on the pitch. The player would chase down opposition players that had touched him while speeding past just to fulfil his superstition.
Share Your Weird Pre-Match Rituals and Win Prizes
Strange pre-match rituals have been part of the game for years, with the likes of Gary Lineker, Kolo Toure and Fabian Barthez all indulging in their own weird and wonderful superstitions. Now Bavaria want to hear yours.
Launched to highlight the brilliance of their 300-year-old beer, Bavaria’s Team Independence campaign looks to celebrate the wackiest Sunday League rituals, from funny wigs to odd dressing room music choices.
Simply follow this link to go to the Team Independence site and explain, in 300 words, just what it is you and your team get up to before the big match, with one entry per team permitted.
Impress the judges with your oddities and you could win:
- 15 shirts, custom designed
- 2 Bavaria Footballs
- 1 Bavaria Flag
- 2 Bottle Openers
- 60 bottles (to include a selection from Bavaria range)
Be it a mass viewing of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, kissing your bald keeper’s dome or wearing your shorts inside-out; its the weirder the better for Bavaria, and your uniqueness could score you quite the treasure trove – including enough beer to stock your post-season bash and as funky a kit selection as you dare.
Just be sure not to land yourselves in hot water with your rituals, as Terry and his teammates almost did with their urinal antics:
“A few months ago the club secretary said to me: ‘we have had a few calls from the FA complaining because we have been going out late’ and I didn’t have the heart to tell him it was because we were all waiting to go for a wee.”