One of the ideas I have for another book down the road is one on superstition and sport. After religion, sport comes pretty high up on the list of human activities that evoke magical thinking. We all know about all the superstitious rituals that various players engage in prior to matches. I have already covered David Beckham’s OCD and the habit of his AC milan teammates patting his bottom for good luck. But I think that the sports fan is a peculiar species.
Nick Hornby famously wrote about his pre-match ritual of buying a sugar mouse on his way to the football match. He would bite the head off and then lob the remainder into the road as a way of ensuring that his beloved Arsenal would win.
I recently had the rare opportunity to go to an Arsenal game – the first match that I have been to in over 25 years and there is something fanatical about fans. So I was not too surprised to read this week about the corpse of a fan that was smuggled into a Colombia match between Cúcuta Deportivo and Envigado. Cristopher Alexander Jácome Sanguino, a 17-year-old supporter, had been gunned down the day before but his friends decide to take him to the match last sunday anyway.
We always think of the South Americans being somewhat loco when it comes to football but you find similar sports fever across the globe.
Hamburg SV soccer team in Germany is building a cemetery as part of a new stadium so that fans can be buried next to the playing fields. Apparently this is because it is illegal in Germany to scatter human remains in pubic places. Other clubs are a bit more liberal with many die-hard fans ending their days on the pitch. The singer/actor Meatloaf is such a fanatical baseball supporter, that he plans to have his ashes scattered over the Yankees stadium in New York by helicopter.
These stadiums are the new sacred sites that must not be violated. When a construction worker recently buried a Boston Red Sox jersey in the concrete foundation of the Yankees stadium as a curse, team owners paid $50,000 dollars to have the offending garment excavated in a five-hour operation. The jersey later sold for $175,000 to a Red Sox fan.
So when it comes to sport, people display some very strange beliefs and behaviour. As Bill Shankley, the former manager of Liverpool Football Club quipped,
‘football isn’t a matter of life and death – it’s more important than that’