Benfica, Bela Guttman and the Biggest Curses of World Football

Ryan Bailey@ryanjaybaileyFeatured ColumnistMay 15, 2014

Benfica, Bela Guttman and the Biggest Curses of World Football

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    Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

    Those who tuned in to see the exceptionally drab Europa League final on Wednesday evening may have felt unlucky, but losers Benfica suffered a miserable fate that some believe was pre-ordained.

    The Portuguese side's defeat by penalties to Sevilla was their second consecutive Europa League final loss and their eighth consecutive loss in a major European final.

    The superstitious are blaming the curse of Bela Guttman for this continued misfortune. Guttman was a legendary journeyman manager who took charge of Benfica in 1959.

    After leading the Eagles to consecutive European Cups, the Austro-Hungarian coach requested a pay rise. He was turned down and, upon leaving the club for Penarol in Uruguay, allegedly placed a curse on the Portuguese team.

    "Not in a hundred years from now will Benfica ever be European champion," he reportedly said. And they have lost every opportunity at continental glory since. 

    This disturbingly accurate old wives' tale inspires our list of the biggest curses in football... 

The Socceroos Witch Doctor

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    Associated Press

    In 1969, the Australian national team headed to Africa to face Rhodesia for a 1970 World Cup qualifier. While there, the players are said to have consulted a witch doctor who buried bones near the goal posts and cursed the opposition.

    The Socceroos won 3-1 but failed to come up with the $1,000 payment for their witch doctor. The dissatisfied occultist then cursed the Aussies, and they subsequently failed to reach the 1970 World Cup. They then failed to score a single goal at the 1974 World Cup and didn't qualify again until 2006.

    Apparently, the curse was only lifted in 2004 when a TV personality named John Safran travelled back to Africa to hire a new witch doctor to reverse the damage.  

The Curse of Garabato

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    In 1948, the owners of Colombian side America de Cali debated moving into the professional leagues. One of the owners, Benjamin Urrea—better known as "Garabato"—was strongly opposed to the idea, allegedly saying: "If the team is professionalized, I swear to God that it will never be champion."

    America de Cali had to wait 31 years until it earned its first league title. In 1980, an exorcism ritual was performed on the field that led to them subsequently winning the Primera A seven times in 10 years.

    Even now, some superstitious fans believe the curse hangs over them in some form. 

Derby County's Romanian Gypsies

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    When Derby County took charge of the Baseball Ground from a local baseball team in 1895, they ousted a group of Romanian gypsies using part of the land.

    Legend has it the scorned settlers placed a rather specific curse on the club, claiming they would never win the FA Cup. Between 1896 and 1903, they reached three finals but never lifted the trophy.

    The next time they reached the final, in 1946, a club representative apparently met with the gypsies in an attempt to lift the curse. In the final against Charlton, the score was 1-1 when the match ball burst, which many took as a sign of the curse lifting. The Rams went on to win 4-1.

Birmingham's 100-Year Hex

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    Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

    When Birmingham City first moved to St Andrews from nearby Muntz Street, they occupied land previously owned by gypsies. After they were forced to move, it is said they put a 100-year curse on the club, similar to that suffered by Derby County. 

    Despite winning two league titles and two League Cups in that century, some managers tried their best to lift the curse. Ron Saunders apparently hung crucifixes from the floodlights and painted the soles of his players' boots red while Barry Fry sought the advice of a mystic who told him to urinate in all four corners of the pitch.

    On Boxing Day 2006, Birmingham celebrated the centenary of their first game at St Andrews with a 2-1 win over Queens Park Rangers. 

Southampton's Evil Spirits at St Mary's

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    Sang Tan/Associated Press

    Southampton left the Dell behind for their new digs at St Mary's in August 2001, but the players did not adjust well to their new home.

    After failing to win at home by November, Saints bosses did the sensible thing: They brought in Cerridwen "DragonOak" Connelly, a Pagan witch and archaeologist. She performed a Celtic ritual with water sprinkled, urging any evil spirits to depart.

    Later that day, Southampton pulled off a convincing win over Charlton, apparently indicating that the ritual had worked. Afterwards, manager Gordon Strachan said: "If she's that good she can take training for the next two weeks and I can get on with my golf while she gets rid of the ghosts. Maybe she can play up front."

    Southampton were also threatened with a curse by a Portsmouth-supporting builder working on their new training ground, who buried a Pompey shirt within its walls. Thankfully, the builder's decision to post a video of the exact location of the shirt on the Internet meant it was fairly easy to find and remove it. 

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