Sports Gazette

by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London

Superstitions in Sport: The Secrets to Success

Posted on 7 December 2021 by Luke Young

The enjoyment of competitive sport comes down to the fact that anyone can win. For many athletes, the need to win is so ingrained that rituals and superstitions become a necessity for their preparation.

And hopefully without triggering anyone’s triskaidekaphobia, here are 13 of the wackiest and interesting superstitions and rituals in the sporting world.

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Tentacles of Tradition

We all know the typical symbols of luck; your four-leaf clover, the lucky horseshoe, a wishbone or coin. How about throwing a deceased octopus on your local ice rink?

Well this seems to work for the Detroit Red Wings. A tradition that has been a key part of the fans’ pre-match rituals since 1952.

The eight tentacles of the octopus represented the eight wins needed to win the Stanley Cup. The success of the ritual has kept it alive to this day.

Credit: @redwings_fanly

The double fault

Sport can make us do crazy things, and superstitions can make us do ridiculous things. For some, even hygiene goes out of the window, even for the Queen of Tennis, Serena Williams.

Serena reuses the same pair of socks for the duration of a tournament, and having won 23 grand slam titles, that’s 46 title winning socks with a questionable odour. By all means follow your idols but be careful of athlete’s foot…

The urinating goalie

When you need to go, you need to go right? But what if that urge comes moments before the daunting job of saving a penalty. Argentine goalkeeper, Sergio Goycochea would urinate on the pitch before every shoot-out, saying: “You know, by the rules of the game, until the match finishes you cannot abandon the field. And if you have any necessary human urges, you have to go on the field.

“So that is what happened against Yugoslavia [in the 1990 World Cup quarterfinals]. At the end of the game I really had to go so I had no choice. But we won, so then when the semi-final against Italy went to penalties I did it again – and it worked! So, from that moment on, I did it before every shoot-out. It was my lucky charm.”

I bet nobody shook his hand at full time.

A clove a day keeps the spirits at bay

Very rarely do we hear about the paranormal being mentioned in the same conversation as our beloved football. But this isn’t the case for Deportivo de La Coruña who keep the evil spirits at bay on matchdays with cloves of garlic.

The fans throw garlic on the field for good luck and believe this ritual gifted them their three Spanish Super Cups, two Copa Del Reys and one La Liga title.

They may not have won as much as they would like to, but at least they won’t be seeing any vampires around the stadium.

Intimate with the Inanimate

They say to not get intimate and sleep with anyone from work. But they never said to not sleep with anything from work.

MLB Hall of Famer Richie Ashburn spent his 15-year playing career sleeping with his bat before games to keep it safe and close by.

His wife must have loved that…

Credit: @BaseballQuotes1

The Insistent Ivorian

Some get booked for fouls, some get booked for dissent. Kolo Toure gets booked for his insistence on upholding his superstitions.

At half time in a Champions League tie between Arsenal and Roma, Toure’s teammate William Gallas’ return to the game was delayed by treatment for an injury. Toure needs to be the last player to step onto the pitch and therefore the game went ahead without them both. When Toure finally returned to play without permission he received the absurd booking.


Taking care of your teeth is an obvious necessity, but we’ve not seen it taken quite as seriously as MLB star Turk Wendell.

Edging closer to obsessive compulsive behaviour as opposed to superstition, Wendell would brush his teeth in between innings and in the dugout. A major league star with a major league superstition.

Credit: @jennypfafflin

Superstition or competition?

John Terry was one of England and the Premier League’s greatest ever defenders. He has an impressive 17 major honours, but what’s more impressive is his obligation to complete around 50 superstitions before a match. to name a few, he would sing along to an Usher CD in the car, park in the exact same spot, sit in the exact same seat on the team bus and wrap specifically three layers of tape around his socks.

It’s becoming clear that in order to be one of the greats in sport, you’ll need a wacky ritual to get there.

The many uses of urine

Now if you’ve got a weak stomach, I’m afraid urine trouble.

Within the world of sport there appears to be a variety of purposes for urine. Baseball fielder Moisés Alou used to pee on his hands before every game to ‘harden his hands and improve his performance’.

MMA fighter Lyoto Machida believes that all of his success was down to consistently drinking his own urine.

Ex-Birmingham City manager, Barry Fry believed that the team’s poor performances were at the hands of the supernatural. Fry tried to turn around Birmingham’s luck by urinating on all four corner flags before the game. Sergio Goycochea would be proud.

The goalie with the superstitious saliva

With nearly 600 Premier League appearances in his career, goalkeeper David James must have seen it all. From changing room bust ups to team bonding in the ice baths, but it’s what he got up to on his own that’s of interest.

For his pre-game ritual, James would wait until the urinals were empty and then spit on the wall for good luck.

Credit: @BBCSport

The Oompa Loompa ritual

Being a professional footballer really is the golden ticket career, but nobody has experienced as many golden tickets as Malvin Kamara. The ex-Cardiff City and MK Dons player would watch Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory before every game he played.

Kamara explained: “It gets me in the right mood. It’s been my favourite film since I was little – it calms my nerves and gives me luck.”

Cruyff’s minty madness

Even one of the greatest of all time had to rely on a few rituals. Johan Cruyff had to slap his Ajax goalkeeper, Gert Bals, in the stomach prior to kick off, and then would proceed to spit his chewing gum out onto the opposition’s half.

It may sound silly, but the day he forgot his chewing gum, Ajax lost 4-1 – a rare occasion for that great Dutch side.

Tough as old boots

You don’t need to spend ridiculous amounts of money on boots to be great at football. Paul Scholes once came out of retirement for Manchester United and took on Man City in a pair of £40 boots that he bought from JJB Sports on his way to the game.

Jack Grealish helped his beloved Aston Villa to promotion wearing the same pair of boots each game, believing that his fine form was down to the battered pair of boots.

Grealish explained: “They were brand new and then I got a few goals, a few assists. I thought these were my lucky boots, so I’ve had to keep them.”

Credit: @ESPNFC