Monday, November 20, 2017

Soccer players :Common Superstitions

To be a top class goal scorer a player needs not only to be able to score when the opportunity presents but even when there is only half a chance. Scoring from the slenderest opportunity places an exclusive band of goal scorers far above the average striker. On a simple goal tally it is obvious more goals are scored in the modern game than was the case in early times. How much of this relates to improved soccer boots and ball technology remains debatable. Players are however, by nature, very superstitious and will go to extraordinary lengths to maintain their run of luck. Whilst performance is dependent on training, confidence and physical conditioning; all athletes feel they need to be in control and often observing superstitions provides this means. Athletes can only partially regulate their physical conditions but can have total control over their superstitious practices before and during a contest. Observed superstitions cause them to experience less anxiety than they would if they did nothing. When something appears to work, prior to success, then it is common not to change that routine. To minimise conflict between the need for a talisman in an environment where such practice is opposed the superstitious behaviour usually becomes covert.

Most actions defy common logic and some are so bazaar as to be noted here. Whilst most admit to being superstitious and doing silly things, like soaking themselves and their new boots in a bath before allowing boots to dry around their feet, many are as quick to dismiss these beliefs. When the accumulation of coaching, training, skill development and fitness are complete all that is required is for the player, is to go out and play. Or so you might think. The surreptitious nature of the game and likelihood of suffering an injury combined with the abject fear of public disgrace particularly when seen by 350 million people puts intolerable pressures on the players.

According to Morris (1981) these factors contribute to why soccer players are so superstitious. They are not alone in the sporting fraternity. The power of superstition is all in the mind and for some players the magic rituals take on astonishing intensity. In the main team mates respect each other's rituals and all avoid tempting fate.

Ritualistic behaviours can start days before the game and these include eating only certain things. Superstitious players will be careful to travel to the stadium observing all taboos as a means of not tempting fate. Prior to the match, Spanish National goal keeper, Pepe Reina (Napoli) on home match days, always tops up his fuel tank at his local garage whether he needs fuel or not. To calm himself down prior to each game, Malvin Kamara (former Sierra Leonean international, Cardiff City and Huddersfield defender) always watched his favourite film, "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory."

Many well known players will only wear certain shoes and socks, and like a young bride, place a sixpence (lucky coin) in their shoes for luck. England national team player, Phil Jones (Manchester United) always puts his socks on in accordance with whether his team has a home or away fixture. The left sock goes on first at a home fixture and visa versa when he is playing away.

Some personally polish their playing boots in preparation before the match. This menial task is usually reserved to apprentice players or boot boys. Alcohol, usually spirits, plays a role, and Desmond Morris, the anthropologist described one player who insisted on dosing the tips of his boots, one with whisky and the other water.

The most intense time for ritualism is in the changing rooms. Some players insist on entering the changing rooms in a particular way most of, which involves walking through the boot room. Lucky shoes, socks, and even laces all form part of the rituals, religiously followed by those seeking the good fortunes of fate. The manner the clothing is put on often become ritualistic. Some players are known to put on socks and boots and nothing else well before the game. They sit quietly psyching themselves up to a peak performance. This might involve a nip of whisky or their favourite tipple to further concentrate their mind. Putting on the left sock first before the right, or the right boot before the left. Lacing boots can become a ritual with players lacing and unlacing their boots multiple times before the game.

Some players insist on eating and Billy Bremner (former captain of Leeds United and Scotland) was famous for eating a plateful of baked beans before every game.

Former Chelsea striker, Adrian Mutu always always wore his underpants inside out and Morris reported the clothing of others could also become a focus to the superstitious. For example some players needed to see their coach wear socks of their lucky colour before they would take to the field. This fetishism extends to the shoes worn by the coach and the author described a ceremoniously fastened of the coach's shoe by one of the players as pre-match necessity before the team would leave the dressing rooms.

World Cup winner, Bobby Moore (West Ham) used to wait for his team-mates to finish changing so he could be the last person to put on his shorts before kick-off.

Another England Captain, John Terry (Aston Villa and Chelsea) always used the same urinal before every match. He insisted on wearing three pairs of football boots per game with a pair to warm up in, a pair for the first half and a pair for the second half. The Nike boots were never worn by him again. Terry would often donate them to the Make a Wish foundation for auction, or give them to fans and mascots, as a keep sake to take home from the game.

The great Johan Cruyff (Ajax) liked to slap his goalkeeper Gert Bals, in the stomach before every game.

Players are ritualistic even in the tunnel leading to the pitch. Some players will head or kick the ball a certain number of times or bounce it off the wall before running onto the field. Probably the most common superstition throughout football is being the last player out of the tunnel before every game. Kolo Toure (former defender for Celtic and Arsenal) always insists on being the last player to come on to the field. He would wait for all his teammates to enter the pitch before he would join them. He like many others, avoided stepping on white lines on the pitch and used the foot corresponding to a home (left) or away (right) fixture. By contrast Ronaldo Nazario (Real Madrid) always stepped into the field with his right foot. Other players who preferred to be last out include Paul Ince (West Ham United and Manchester United) , the beast of Vallecas, Alvaro Negredo (Beşiktaş JK ), and William Gallas (Tottenham Hotspur and Perth Glory).

Once on the pitch another set of ritual behaviour might take place. Players will take their boots off and put them back on again for luck. This is an old Jewish custom when the right shoe was put on first without tying it, then the left sock. The ritual required taking the right shoe off and putting on the right sock, left shoe on tied and back to the right shoe. Many players will kiss their boots or the ground for luck. During the 1998 World Cup, France’s Laurent Blanc kissed the bald head of goalkeeper Fabian Barthez before every match for good luck.

Chewing gum too can play a role Players will roll some players roll their chewing gum into a ball and attempt to kick it. Successful contact means a good game but when the player misses then bad luck will follow. Johan Cruyff like to spit his chewing gum out in the opposition half before kick off.

Many goal scorers have a hair cat before each game to bring them luck. During warm ups some strikers refuse to shoot at goal in order to keep luck on their side. Gary Lineker (England and Tottenham Hotspur ) always changed his jersey at half time especially if he had not scored in the first half . Common enough practice today, but back then, it was unusual.

When Edson Arantes do Nascimento (Pele) ran into a goal less spell he blamed it on giving his Santos jersey away to a fan after a game. Distraught, he asked one of the club's employees to track the jersey down and bring it back. Once restablied with his old jersey, the player managed to score again. Some years later, however, the employee admitted to having cheated. He had just grabbed a similar jersey from the club's locker room and pretended it was the original.

Players will carry lucky charms including a rabbit's foot or lucky heather. The absence of pockets in playing kits and restrictions on wearing jewellery for safety mean the talisman are slipped into the shoe, or in the case of goal keeper such paraphernalia are tossed into the back of the goal. Former Republic of Ireland keeper, Shay Given (Stoke City) keeps a vial of Lourdes holy water at the back of his goal as a lucky charm.

Former England number one David James (West Ham and Manchester City), always insisted in not speaking to anyone prior to the game. He would only use the urinals if they were empty and regularly spat on the wall for luck. Pepe Reina touched the turf and before crossing himself, would always knock both posts and the crossbar, before pacing out four strides into his six-yard area. As part of his pre-match ritual he liked to limber up with some squat thrusts and a couple of shimmies to get his muscles warm.

In the past many keepers insisted on wearing their old jumpers for luck. This obviously changed in modern times with sponsorship and new strips each season but since the Gunners' 1927 FA Cup final defeat to Cardiff, which was blamed on a greasy new woollen top worn by Dan Lewis, Arsenal's goalkeepers never wear brand new shirts unless they have been washed beforehand.

Players are not allowed to leave the field of play during a game even when nature calls. Several goal keepers have been caught short during a game including German Internationalist, Jens Lehmann (Arsenal), Fabien Barthez (France and Manchester United) and Sergio Goycochea (Argentina) in the quarterfinal of the 1990 World Cup. Taking a leak in public has become a bit of a ritual.

Players prefer to play in boots that are broken in. Not so strange when hidden seams can burst causing painful blisters as well as cuts and abrasions to their feet. In the past, some players preferred to remove design logos from their boots. Manufacturers once alerted to this antic incorporate weaknesses such as hidden seems which tear easily once the company's logo are removed. Boot contracts and bespoke footwear for the top players have more or less stopped this habit but some players will insist their signature boots include their children's names, Prior to boot contracts key players were incentivised to wear novel boots. Alan Ball accepted boot manufacturer Hummel offer to wear their all white boots for £2,000 but when he discovered they were uncomfortable to wear he got young apprentices to paint his Adidas football boots white. All went well until the white washed off and the company withdrew their cash payment.

In 1908 when goal-scoring ace, George Hedley played for Wolverhampton Wanderers he scored a goal against Newcastle causing one of his favourite boots to split. Despite being offered a new pair Hedley steadfastly refused and saw the game to completion with one tattered boot. The player had his favourite boots patched up at least 17 times before eventually and somewhat reluctantly parting with them.

Occassionally the occult plays a role in football and after it was discovered there was a gypsy curse on Birmingham City, the then club secretary, Alan Jones took the unusual step to lift the hex by urinating in all four corners of the pitch at St Andrews. It seemed to work and the Blues started to pick up points again. Cameroon coach Winfried Schafer and his assistant, Thomas Nikono, were less lucky when they were jailed after it was discovered they placed a voodoo curse on their opposition during the 2002 African Nations Cup. During the same competition, Tony Sylva, the Senegal goalkeeper asked a witch doctor to make him some magic paint, and he kept a clean sheet for 448 minutes.

The president of Pisa Football Club, Romeo Anconetani, threw salt on the ground before games brought his team luck. The owner of Cardiff City, Vincent Tan changed the club’s colours to red from the traditional blue to bring luck to club and increase its appeal in the Far East. Red is considered a a lucky colour. He also gave preference for signing players with the number 8 in their birth dates.

The former French national football team manager Raymond Domenech read horoscopes and chose his team squads accordingly. He particularly disliked Scorpio and Leo’s, which effectively ended the career of Robert Pires. Marcelo Bielsa who managed both the bational teams of national teams of Argentina and Chile would regularly ask nuns to pray for his team. Manager of Argentina’s 1986 World Cup Squad, Carlos Salvador Bilardo always called a female fan for luck after she wished him luck before the team won 4-1.

Why so many superstitions involve boots remains unclear but such behaviour as preferring the right or left has been known since antiquity. In Roman and Greek times the left side was considered lucky with one exception and that was when entering a home. Only the right foot could cross the threshold if good luck was to prevail. In rich domiciles there were servants whose sole function (excuse the pun) was to direct all visitors to use their right foot first. They were called footmen and position is still with us today. By the Middle Ages the left side was more associated with bad luck. The origins of "By the left quick march" for example refer to a clear indication no mercy will be extended to the enemy. Soccer players may be extending the same charity to their opponents. For most people left sides are weaker. This is partly explained by neonatal compression of the left leg against the mother's spine in the womb. Attendance to the right foot first may be to favour the stronger side. This would be reversed in the case of left-footed players. One other reason to explain the boot ritual may be the misfortune awaiting those who place their right foot in a left shoe. History records this happened to Augustus Caesar.

"Augustus having an oversight

Put on his left shoe for his right

Had like to have been slain that day

By soldiers mutinying for pay."

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