Pep Guardiola's Yaya Toure 'curse' and nine other spooky hexes of football folklore

Are curses in football real? Pep Guardiola probably doesn't think so, but you never know...

After Manchester City lost their Champions League semi-final to Real Madrid, stories resurfaced about a supposed curse placed on Pep Guardiola stemming from a feud with Yaya Toure.

In reality, their European exit was more down to poor defending and tactical inflexibility than anything supernatural, although football is full of strange tales of curses and hexes. Some even coincide with spooky changes of fortune.

So whether you are a believer or not, the following examples may just make you think.

Racing Club cat curse

Racing Club Juan Domingo Peron stadium

The Racing Club cat crisis is one of the weirdest tales in football. In the 1950s and 60s, the Buenos Aires club were one of the most successful in South American football.

When they won the Copa Libertadores and Intercontinental Cup double in 1967, fans of their bitter rivals Independiente decided enough was enough. They broke into the club's El Cilandro Stadium and proceeded to bury the corpses of seven black cats around the place.

Remarkably, seemingly in an instant, success turned to a trophy drought that lasted decades. Racing Club started taking it so seriously that they performed an exorcism, but that didn't help. They then resorted to excavating their own pitch, but were only able to find and remove six of the cats.

Finally, in 2001 during stadium renovations, the seventh cat was found. Later that season, Racing Club won the league to end their 37-year trophy drought.

Hibernian and the harp

Hibernian fans 2016

Hibernian won the Scottish Cup for the first time in 2016, beating Rangers to finally end a 114-year wait to win the trophy. Was there more to it than there seemed, though?

Hibs previously had a harp on their crest to pay homage to their Irish roots, and one of the last remaining ones was situated in the South Stand. It was removed when the stand was renovated in the 1950s, but not restored to its position after the work.

This upset a local woman, who 'cursed' the club until they put the harp-emblazoned crest back in what she considered its rightful place.

The club finally complied in - you guessed it - 2016, just months before they won the Scottish Cup.

Benfica and the curse of Bela Guttmann

Bela Guttmann curse

While Benfica command a lot of respect, they are also a club who the European elite are secretly quite happy to be drawn against.

It wasn't always that way, though, and maybe it could have been very different too.

Real Madrid dominated the European Cup in the 1950s, winning five successive titles. Benfica were the team who ended that run, enjoying back-to-back successes to start the '60s as Europe's top team.

Bela Guttman was the coach who delivered that and, perhaps understandably, asked the club for a pay rise. The board refused and Guttmann cursed the club with words that have plagued them ever since: "Not in a hundred years from now will Benfica ever be European champion."

Benfica have since played in eight European finals - five in the European Cup and three in the Europa League/UEFA Cup - and have lost them all.

Even building a statue of Guttmann at the Estadio da Luz didn't help, nor did Eusebio literally praying to it before the 1990 European Cup final.

Leeds' Elland Road curse

Don Revie at Elland Road

Don Revie was, as most people know, meticulously superstitious. He could not entertain wearing anything to a game besides his lucky suit, or taking a different route to the dugout.

In fact, he was so convinced bird imagery was a bad omen that he made the club remove the peacock from the Leeds United crest.

There had long been a rumour that Elland Road was built on cursed gypsy land, and that was preventing them from becoming a force.

Revie decided to take no chances and, in 1971, hired someone to exorcise the land and lift the curse. Later that season, they lost the league title to Derby by a solitary point.

Of course, Leeds then went on to enjoy an trophy-laden era under Revie and won the league title again in 1992, so perhaps the lifting of the curse was successful after all.

Don't touch the cup!

Champions League trophy

This one is probably more superstition than a genuine curse, although where major European finals are concerned it is probably a good one to have. It may just be folklore too, but if it is it's folklore that UEFA are happy to promote on their website.

Players walk past the trophy on their way onto the pitch in the final, yet almost all of them don't dare touch it until they have won it.

Four players have defied superstition and touched it before the game. Ludovic Giuly did it in the 2004 Champions League final, as did Milan's Gennaro Gattuso in the famous Istanbul final. The last player to do it in the Champions League was Bayern Munich's Anatoliy Tymoshchuk in 2012. All of them lost.

The curse may well extend to the Europa League too, with Dimitri Payet touching the cup before Marseille's 2018 defeat to Atletico Madrid.

Whether it's an actual curse or not, it's probably best to play it safe. Hands by your sides.

America De Cali and the curse of Garabato

America De Cali fans

When leaders of America de Cali met in 1948 about plans to make the club professional, it was generally a well-supported idea.

One man was not happy about it, though, a gentleman and former player by the name of Benjamin Urrea and known as El Garabato. He argued bitterly against the move, but was ultimately unable to convince anyone to follow him.

Eventually, defeated and furious, Urrea stormed out of the meeting with the parting words: "They can do whatever they want with the team, but I swear to God they will never be champions."

They did eventually, in 1979, a few months before an exorcism was performed on the pitch. After that, they won five successive titles. America de Cali have been regular champions ever since.

There is, therefore, cause to suggest the curse was either lifted or never existed in the first place, but their continued inability to win the Copa Liberatores keeps the story alive.

Hammerfest and the curse of Nils Mikkel Sara

We all love to have a go at the referee, right? It's the preserve and right of all football fans. You might want to rethink that position the next time you are tempted, though.

In 1999, Norwegian second-tier club Hammerfest, which is definitely not a DIY convention, felt referee Nils Mikkel Sara was responsible for their 2-1 defeat to rivals Alta.

Sara demanded an apology and when it didn't materialise, he placed a 'gande' (a term used for Sami curses) that Hammerfest would lose all their remaining games and be relegated.

"At first the Hammerfest coach assumed they were just unlucky, but then the players started to believe in the curse," an expert on the story told the Guardian. "After talking to some old locals, the coach tried lifting the curse by sacrificing herring at a sacrificial stone in the area, but it didn't help."

Hammerfest were eventually relegated and Sara had made his point: "I won't curse a team for a whole season again," he said. "But maybe for a match or two, who knows?"

Barry Fry's desperate measures at Birmingham

Barry Fry at St Andrews

Birmingham City were another club to fall foul of the Gypsy curse. When they moved to St Andrews in 1906, the site of the new ground was previously occupied by Roma people and they placed a 100-year curse on it.

It was something that other managers had been aware of and attempted to fix, with a variety of solutions attempted such as painting players' boots red and hanging crucifixes from the floodlights.

Barry Fry, ever the innovator, had a different solution. During a long run of games without a win, he urinated in all four corners of the ground in an attempt to lift the curse. "We were desperate, so I p***ed in all four corners, holding it in while I waddled round the pitch," he recalled.

"Did it work? Well, we started to win and I thought it had, then they f***ing sacked me, so probably not."

Derby and the curse of the Baseball Ground

Baseball Ground Derby County

Another club who fell foul of Romany Gypsies were Derby. They moved to the Baseball Ground in 1895, evicting the former residents to do it.

Those residents were not best pleased, and placed a curse on the club, supposedly ensuring they would never win the then supremely coveted FA Cup.

In the following eight years, Derby reached three FA Cup finals - losing them all.

It took them 42 years to get back to an FA Cup final and then-manager Jack Nicholson paid Gypsies to remove the curse. With the scores level after 90 minutes against Charlton, the ball burst, which many took to be symbolic of the curse being broken. They went on to win 4-1.

Pep Guardiola Champions League curse

Pep Guardiola and Yaya Toure

"He [Guardiola] turned all Africa against himself, many African fans turned away from Manchester City," said Yaya Toure's agent Dimtry Seluk in 2018 when discussing the Spaniard's decision to bench the player for his final year at Manchester City.

"And I'm sure that many African shamans in the future will not allow Guardiola to win the Champions League.

"This will be for Guardiola an African curse. Life will show whether I am right or not."

You have to wonder whether those words have gone through Guardiola's mind following Real Madrid's astonishing comeback against Man City in the Champions League semi-final.

Guardiola has now lost six Champions League semi-finals and it is 11 years since he has won the competition.

How much of that is down to a 'curse' is questionable, of course. All but two of those semi-final defeats came before he even arrived at the Etihad, although he has also lost a final with the Citizens too.

READ MORE: Champions League: Have Real Madrid done the neutrals a favour by preventing all-English final?

Latest news