After Manchester City lost their Champions League semi-final against real MadridStories have surfaced of a supposed curse placed on Pep Guardiola resulting from a feud with Yaya Toure.
In reality, their European exit was more down to poor defending and tactical inflexibility than anything supernatural, although football is full of strange tales of curses and spells. Some even coincide with frightening changes in fortune.
So, whether you are a believer or not, the following examples may make you think.
Curse of the Racing Club Cat
The Racing Club cat crisis is one of the weirdest stories in football. In the 1950s and 1960s, the Buenos Aires club was one of the most successful in South American football. When they won the Copa Libertadores and Intercontinental Cup double in 1967, fans of bitter rivals Independiente decided enough was enough. They broke into the club’s El Cilandro stadium and proceeded to bury the corpses of seven black cats around the location.
Remarkably, seemingly in an instant, success turned into a trophy drought that lasted for decades. Racing Club started taking him so seriously that they performed an exorcism, but that didn’t help. They then resorted to excavating their own land, but were only able to find and remove six of the cats.
Finally, in 2001, during stadium renovations, the seventh cat was found. Later that season, Racing Club won the league to end their 37-year drought.
Hibernian and the harp
Hibernian won the Scottish Cup for the first time in 2016, beating Rangers to finally end a 114-year wait to lift the trophy. Was there more than meets the eye, though?
The Hibs previously had a harp on their crest to pay homage to their Irish roots, and one of the last remaining was located in the South Stand. It was removed during the renovation of the stand in the 1950s, but was not replaced after the works.
This upset a local woman, who ‘cursed’ the club until they returned the crest emblazoned with the harp to the place she considered its rightful place.
The club finally complied with – you guessed it – 2016, just months before winning the Scottish Cup.
Benfica and the curse of Bela Guttmann
While Benfica commands a lot of respect, they are also a club that Europe’s top flight are secretly very happy to be drawn against.
That wasn’t always the case, however, and perhaps it could have been very different too.
Real Madrid dominated the European Cup in the 1950s, winning five successive titles. Benfica were the team that ended that run, winning back-to-back successes to start the 60s as the best team in Europe.
Bela Guttman was the manager who delivered this and, perhaps understandably, asked the club for a pay rise. The board refused and Guttmann cursed the club with words that have tormented them ever since: “Not in a hundred years will Benfica ever be European champions.”
Benfica have since appeared in eight European finals – five in the European Cup and three in the Europa League/UEFA Cup – and lost them all. Even the construction of a Guttman statue at the Estadio da Luz didn’t help, nor did Eusebio literally beg him before the 1990 European Cup final.
The curse of Leeds’ Elland Road
Don Revie was, as most people know, meticulously superstitious. He couldn’t enjoy wearing anything to a game besides his lucky costume, or taking a different route to the dugout.
In fact, he was so convinced the bird pictures were ominous that he forced the club to remove the peacock from the Leeds United Crete.
There had long been a rumor that Elland Road had been built on a cursed land of gypsies, and it prevented them from becoming a force. Revie decided to take no chances and in 1971 hired someone to exorcise the land and lift the curse. Later that season they lost the league title to Derby by a single point. Of course, Leeds then enjoyed a trophy-laden era under Revie and won the league title again in 1992, so perhaps the lifting of the curse succeeded after all.
Don’t touch the mug!
This one is probably more superstition than a real curse, although as far as European grand finals go, it’s probably a good one to have. It may also be folklore, but if it is folklore, UEFA will be happy to promote it on its website. Players pass the trophy before entering the field in the final, but almost all of them dare not touch it until they have won it. Four players defied superstition and dabbled in it before the game. Ludovic Giuly did it in the 2004 Champions League final, as did Milan’s Gennaro Gattuso in the famous Istanbul final. The last player to make it in the Champions League was Bayern Munich’s Anatoliy Tymoshchuk in 2012. All of them lost. The curse may well extend to the Europa League as well, with Dimitri Payet touching the cup ahead of Marseille’s 2018 loss to Atletico Madrid.
Whether it’s a real curse or not, it’s probably best to play it safe. Hands by your side.
America De Cali and the Curse of Garabato
When America de Cali leaders met in 1948 to discuss plans to professionalize the club, it was generally a well-supported idea.
One man was not happy, however, a gentleman and former gambler named Benjamin Urrea and known as El garabato. He bitterly opposed this decision, but ultimately failed to convince anyone to follow him.
Eventually defeated and furious, Urrea walked out of the meeting with the parting words, “They can do whatever they want with the team, but I swear to God they’ll never be champions.”
They finally did, in 1979, months before an exorcism was performed on the ground. After that, they won five successive titles. America de Cali have been regular champions ever since. So there’s reason to suggest that the curse was lifted or never existed in the first place, but their continued failure to win the Copa Liberatores keeps the story alive.
Hammerfest and the Curse of Nils Mikkel Sara
We all like to try out the referee, don’t we? It is the prerogative and the right of all football fans. However, you may want to rethink this position the next time you are tempted. In 1999, second-tier Norwegian club Hammerfest, which is definitely do not a DIY convention, blamed referee Nils Mikkel Sara for their 2-1 loss to rivals Alta.
Sara demanded an apology and when that failed to materialize he placed a ‘gande’ (a term used for Sami curses) that Hammerfest would lose all of their remaining games and be relegated.
“At first the Hammerfest manager thought they were just unlucky, but then the players started believing in the curse,” a story expert said. Guardian. “After talking to some old locals, the coach tried to lift the curse by sacrificing herring on a sacrificial stone in the area, but that didn’t help.”
Hammerfest were eventually relegated and Sara had made his point: “I won’t curse a team for a whole season again,” he said. “But maybe for a game or two, who knows?
Barry Fry’s desperate measures in Birmingham
Birmingham City were another club to fall under the gypsy curse. When they moved to St Andrews in 1906, the site of the new ground had previously been occupied by Roma and they placed a 100-year curse on it. It was something other managers had been aware of and attempted to address, with a variety of solutions attempted such as painting players’ boots red and hanging crucifixes from floodlights.
Barry Fry, always the innovator, had a different solution. During a long run of games without a win, he urinated all over the pitch in an attempt to lift the curse. “We were desperate, so I rammed all four corners, holding on as I waddled across the pitch,” he recalled.
“Did it work? Well, we started winning and I thought it did, and then they fired me, so probably not.”
Derby and the Curse of the Baseball Field
Another club that fell foul of Roma gypsies was Derby. They moved to the baseball field in 1895, evicting former residents for doing so.
These residents were not the happiest and cast a curse on the club, supposedly ensuring they would never win the then hugely coveted FA Cup. Over the next eight years, Derby reached three FA Cup finals – losing them all.
It took them 42 years to get back to an FA Cup final and then manager Jack Nicholson paid the Gypsies to remove the curse. With the scores level after 90 minutes against Charlton, the ball burst, which many took to symbolize the breaking of the curse. They then won 4-1.
The curse of Pep Guardiola in the Champions League
“He [Guardiola] turned all of Africa against itself, many African fans turned away from Manchester City,” Yaya Toure’s agent Dimtry Seluk said in 2018 when discussing the Spaniard’s decision to bench the player for his final year at Manchester City.
“And I’m sure many African shamans in the future won’t allow Guardiola to win the Champions League. “It will be an African curse for Guardiola. Life will tell if I’m right or not.”
You have to wonder if those words crossed Guardiola’s mind after Real Madrid’s stunning comeback against Man City in the Champions League semi-finals.
Guardiola has now lost six Champions League semi-finals and it’s been 11 years since he won the competition.
To what extent this is due to a “curse” is debatable, of course. All but two of those semi-final defeats came before he even joined the Etihad, although he also lost a final with the Citizens.