Football and superstition: The weird side of soccer
Football is indeed world’s most popular sport with a crazy following of almost four billion fans worldwide. Recently, one of the most watched competitions was the European Champions League semi-final match pitting English team Manchester City against Spanish giants Real Madrid. Manchester City, which is coached by Pep Guardiola, was cruising to the finishing line with utmost confidence, but had their hopes dashed in a matter of minutes.
This sparked an online conversation that Pep is a cursed man and while at Man City, he will never win the coveted trophy with all European football clubs. Pep is said to have rubbed feathers the wrong way with his former midfield powerhouse Yaya Toure, whose agent is Dmitri Seluk. Seluk said Pep angered Africa when he benched the Ivorian for a whole year while at City and this apparently did not go well with African Shamans (witch doctors or spiritualists).
“He turned all Africa against himself. I’m sure that many African shamans in the future will not allow Guardiola to win the Uefa Champions League (UCL). This will be for Guardiola an African curse. Life will show whether I am right or not,” said Seluk in 2018.
Four years later, the curse continues to hover above Pep, and a similar conversation was sparked once again last year when Pep and City came real close to winning the trophy during the finals, but lost by a solitary goal to fellow English club Chelsea.
Barcelona Football Club player Adama Traore has also been a subject of discussion as the Hispano-Malian attacker switched nationality and opted to play for Spain despite having agreed to represent Mali in international football. A week later, before he got a chance to play for the La Roja, he got injured and many fans were quick to point to a curse for not playing for Mali.
Closer home, the issue has been an open secret and there is a lot of superstition in the beautiful game. On a number of times, Gor Mahia Football Club coaches have visited and carried out rituals on the grave site of Mzee K’Ogalo’s in Homa Bay. The last time the club officials visited the site, the club was desperate for a win and after the rituals, Gor Mahia won by two goals against Kakamega Homeboyz.
“As someone who comes from the Luhya community when it comes to supporting local football, I have been supporting AFC Leopards. I remember there is a time when one of their matches was played in Kakamega and I heard my uncle say that he had met with a couple of players who were involved in Omukanga (witchcraft). That is when I knew that footballers are just like other people, who believe in witchcraft,” says James Kingi.
For decades, superstition has marred a number of clubs. The late Kenneth Matiba, who was the Kenya Breweries Ltd chairman in the 70s, is alleged to have fired five players from the club for engaging in witchcraft. Matiba who was then the chairman of the Kenya Football Federation was so much against the vice that he formed a team with a cosmopolitan look and that is how Kenya Breweries now Tusker FC was formed.
“Personally, I don’t believe in witchcraft and superstition when it comes to football. But I know it is practiced. I have seen how during matches fans, whom we call researchers pour salts on goal posts. I know some clubs do not use certain gates when entering Nyayo Stadium, so it is a common thing,” says Tusker FC fan Jos Musyoka
Amulets in dressing rooms
Collins Shivachi who plays for AFC Leopard, intimated to Taboo that at dressing rooms, one might not be surprised when you see players conducting rituals and at times being tasked by the coach to carry amulets, which they believe carry charms.
“People come from diverse backgrounds and a football team is no exception. From my experiences in a number of dressing rooms, I have witnessed it all and it no longer bothers me as it used to when I started my football career. At times, when you converse with a player or coach, they will tell you that some injuries are caused by witchcraft, which might lead to one ending their career,” he says.
“Football is one of the few activities that brings up not just psychological and emotional attachment, but also, very few sports have the financial muscle the sport boasts of. Given the cocktail of all those things, you would expect that people would do anything to win their matches. It is common to see players bowing to pray before matches and that is never questioned. But when we bring superstition to the subject, the scale it tipped,” says pychologist Laurriette Rota.
“Anything you trust more than God is idolatry, and whether you are a footballer or in any other profession, as believers we should only trust in God as the Bible in Psalms Chapter 75 verse six says, “For promotion cometh neither from the East, nor from the West, nor from the South. But God is the judge: He putteth down one, and setteth up another. So, for someone to trust in evil powers to derail one’s growth it ends up affecting your psychology too,” says Reverend Theophilus Musyoka of Word Assembly Church, based in Thika.
The man of cloth further quotes Jeremiah Chapter17 verses 5-7 “Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who draws strength from mere flesh and whose heart turns away from the Lord. That person will be like a bush in the wastelands; they will not see prosperity when it comes. They will dwell in the parched places of the desert, in a salt land where no one lives. But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in Him,” he shares.