• Top Tens

Top 10 sporting curses

ESPN staff
October 31, 2013
They're difficult to pick out, but there are two Manchester United players in this photo © Getty Images

It's Halloween, in case you hadn't noticed, so ESPN's Top Tens takes a turn for the spooky this week as we run down our favourite so-called curses in the world of sport.

10. United's grey day

Manchester United's now infamous grey away strip finally fell foul of Alex Ferguson during a game at Southampton in 1996. Having already lost four of the five games they had played in it, United found themselves 3-0 down at half-time. "The players couldn't pick each other out," Ferguson said. "They said it was difficult to see their team-mates at distance when they lifted their heads.

A football kit that turns your players invisible. Genius! But only if you can still see your team-mates…

9. Spooky snooker

It is every snooker player's dream to lift the World Championship at the Crucible, but first-time winners have not fared well in the defence of their crown the following year.

Not even the greats such as Stephen Hendry, Steve Davis and Ronnie O'Sullivan have successfully defended their title when they first got their hands on snooker's grandest prize, with the only men to come within one match of breaking the Crucible curse being Joe Johnson, in 1987, and Ken Doherty in 1998.

Hendry, Davis and O'Sullivan have 18 world crowns between them, so they'll probably get over it.

8. Saints hoodoo

When Southampton Football Club moved into St Mary's stadium in August 2001, their players seemed to suffer from a sudden crisis in confidence.

Still winless at their shiny new ground come November, the club called in pagan witch doctor Cerridwen 'Dragonoak' Connelly to rid them of the jinx.

'Dragonoak' sprinkled water from a wooden chalice outside around the stadium and demanded the spirits be gone. It worked, as later that afternoon the Saints outplayed and beat Charlton Athletic.

The fans celebrated as if they'd won the league, and snapped up t-shirts emblazoned with "First win - I was there!"

Then manager Gordon Strachan said of 'Dragonoak': "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."

7. Birmingham's 'wee' problem

Birmingham City played under a curse between 1906 and 2006 when, as the legend tells, the club moved from nearby Muntz Street to its current location at St Andrew's.

The new stadium was built on land being used by the Romani people, who placed a 100-year hex on the stadium when they were evicted.

Former manager Ron Saunders trued to banish the curse in the 1980s by hanging crucifixes from the floodlights and painting the soles of his players' boots red. Barry Fry, manager between 1993 and 1996, tried something slightly less tactful when a clairvoyant told him the spell would be broken if he urinated in all four corners of the pitch.

6. Derby rammed by gypsies

Birmingham weren't the only team cursed by a stadium move. When Derby County ousted Romani gypsies from the Baseball Ground, they were rather hilariously specific - placing a spell on the club saying they would never win the FA Cup.

Between 1896 and 1903, the Rams reached six semi-finals and three finals, but didn't get their hands on the trophy.

When they reached the final again in 1946, representatives from the club met with the Romani community in an attempt to have the curse lifted. With the score locked at 1-1, the ball burst. It has since been seen by fans as the moment the hex lifted - with County going on to beat Charlton 4-1.

5. Cover woes

Eddie Mathews was the first ever Sports Illustrated cover star - and the jinx hit immediately © Getty Images

It would seem posing for the cover of esteemed American magazine Sports Illustrated is akin to committing career suicide.

In fact, the Wikipedia page on the SI cover jinx features no fewer than 93 incidents, including the very first issue in 1954 where Atlanta Braves third baseman Eddie Mathews appeared on the front page just days before breaking his hand.

Of course, basketball demi-God Michael Jordan emblazoned the cover a record 49 times - and he did alright for himself.

Maybe the curse was his decision to take up baseball…

4. Boston dread Sox

Some allege that there was a curse placed on the Boston Red Sox, who failed to win a World Series after 1918, after uber-legend Babe Ruth was sold to the New York Yankees.

The Red Sox had just won four titles in seven years, but after the controversial transfer the previously lacklustre Yankees went on to win 26 World Series Championships - while the Red Sox wouldn't win baseball's biggest title again until 2004 when they beat the St Louis Cardinals (a feat they repeated on Wednesday).

Of course, Boston's slump and New York's rise to prominence couldn't simply be explained by the fact they had just traded the greatest player to ever pull on a baseball jersey. No siree.

3. Short game horrors

Since 1960, a friendly contest has taken place on Augusta's par-3 course the day before the first round of The Masters.

It quickly became apparent that no player to win the short-game contest had gone on to slip into the coveted Green Jacket - a record that still exists to this day.

In order to avoid falling foul of the so-called curse, the top players tend to not take it so seriously - including Rory McIlroy, who this year let girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki have a turn…

2. Swoosh misdemeanours

Nike sure know how to pick 'em.

While McIlroy has merely slumped in form since pulling on the swoosh, Nike stablemate Tiger Woods hit the headlines for a whole series of extra-marital affairs.

And then there's Lance Armstrong, with whom Nike ended their long term relationship due to "seemingly insurmountable evidence" that he participated in doping. (That and, you know, him actually admitting it.)

Sprinter Marion Jones won five medals at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney before being stripped of her titles and jailed seven years later when it was discovered she'd used banned substances, while fellow runner Justin Gatlin became the first sports star ever dropped by Nike when he was caught doping.

Staying with the Olympics, Oscar Pistorius is currently awaiting trial for the murder of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, while basketball star Kobe Bryant was arrested in connection with an alleged sexual assault just days after putting pen-to-paper with the American brand.

NFL quarterback Michael Vick also found himself in trouble with the law when he was jailed for bankrolling an underground dog-fighting ring. Vick was dropped by Nike when he was locked up - only to be re-signed by the brand upon his release. "We do not condone those actions, but we support the positive changes he has made to better himself off the field." That's nice of them.

And we can't talk about sportsmen misbehaving without a mention of football - with the likes of Wayne Rooney, Carlos Tevez, Franck Ribery, Rio Ferdinand and Mario Balotelli just a selection of the Nike stable to have hit the headlines for the wrong reasons in recent years.

1. Ghost goals

Quite often in football a goal is not awarded when television replays prove the ball quite clearly went over the line.

Who can forget Pedro Mendes' "goal" for Tottenham at Manchester United, when goalkeeper Roy Carroll spilled a hopeful long-range effort over the line? Or when Frank Lampard "equalised" for England against Germany at the 2006 World Cup?

But what about times a goal has been awarded despite the ball quite clearly being nowhere near in?

During Chelsea's FA Cup semi-final against Tottenham in 2012, referee Martin Atkinson awarded Chelsea a goal after an effort from Juan Mata. Atkinson believed the shot had crossed the line, despite replays confirming several Spurs players - and Chelsea defender John Terry - had successfully blocked the effort several yards in front of the goal-line.

Earlier this year, during a Spanish third division game between Quintanar del Rey and Toledo, a Quintanar player lashed the ball against the bar from long-range. The ball rebounded back into play and was cleaned up by the visitors' defence. Not one player appealed and, as the keeper swept up the loose ball, the referee awarded a goal to the surprise of everyone at the ground.

And just this month, Bayer Leverkusen's Stefan Kiessling was awarded a goal after the ball found its way through a hole in the side-netting. Despite Kiessling clearly reacting in frustration at his miss, referee Felix Brych claimed the Leverkusen players had "tricked" him.

But our undisputed favourite comes from a Championship game between Watford and Reading in 2008. When a goalmouth scramble ensued around 15 minutes into the match, linesman Nigel Bannister flagged and then rookie referee Stuart Attwell pointed for a goal kick. Bannister then called Attwell over, claiming the ball had gone in.

Well, we'll let you decide:

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