CURSING A BLUE STREAK.
Newcastle’s loss at Broadhall Way on Saturday has been met by many Magpies developing a superstitious theory. They say the blue kit is cursed.
The number thirteen. Knocking on wood. Walking under ladders. These superstitions have been followed by many people for many years. Superstition is essentially the belief that a certain object or ritual can alter the outcome of a future event. Nowhere is it more prevalent than in the world of sport. Just ask Paul the Octopus.
To the individual their superstitious idiosyncrasy is usually seen as perfectly normal and rational, but for those looking upon them it often seems ridiculous. Take Malvin Kamara, currently playing for Stafford Rangers. Before every game he has to watch Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. A twenty-seven-year-old man who believes the future of his teams football match rests on seeing a multi-directional glass elevator fly through a ceiling. Yet for him, this makes sense. He may think it’s irrational and silly too, but I bet he won’t risk not watching it before a game. Why risk it? His team may lose. All because of him, a few green-haired men and Gene Wilder
These superstitions can relate to performance. If you believe by doing a specific ritual it will make you perform better, you usually will. Sports stars are incredibly competitive and under a huge level of pressure to succeed. This combination means many look for any edge possible.
It is no surprise superstition is so prevalent in football as it is a game which involves a fair amount of ‘luck’. The best team doesn’t always win and games can be decided on lucky deflections. However, players aren’t paid thousands pounds a week due to their ability to get the best out of a lucky sock, and these ‘magical influences’ are largely a mix up between cause and effect. They’re talented individuals and by ascribing magical properties to objects and rituals they’re undermining their own gift and hard work. Not only does it show they lack faith in their own ability but also their other teammates. However in a job with so much uncertainty and pressure it is not surprising superstition is so prevalent, as it is in the fishing and gambling industries.
For fans, they are helpless. The only way they can influence what happens on the pitch is by economic means (ticket sales, shirt sales etc.) meaning better players can be bought, and by shouting at a match, although this has a minimal effect as an individual and will rely on others to shout too, especially for larger clubs.
Despite this, most fans have superstitions and feel by following them they can affect a game, or future game, which is taking place miles away. I wouldn’t classify myself as superstitious at all yet at times this season, in the back of my head, I’ve felt personally responsible to some extent for Newcastle’s results and ill fortune. The only games I’ve had tickets for this season have been Blackburn and West Brom (our two worst performances this season) and Birmingham (cancelled due to the snow). I know this is due to no fault of my own and that the universe does not revolve around me but there’s always that small, aching feeling it’s your fault.
Superstitions involving items of clothing are the most popular, especially in football. Many managers have worn ‘lucky’ items of clothing. Ties worn by Carlos Bilardo and Felix Magath, Schellas Hyndman’s jacket, suits worn by Don Revie and Chris Hughton, and more recently Avram Grant’s scarf. Players have also made the connection between clothing and success. For instance, John Terry and his shinpads and Gary Neville and his boots.
The kit is the most important item of clothing in football so it is no surprise that they are seen to hold magical powers. Stripy and green shirts are usually seen as unlucky, whilst red shirts are seen as lucky. I have a mate who believes strongly in the theory that if a team wears white socks, they will win.
Many kits throughout history have been deemed unlucky. When Brazil lost the World Cup final against Uruguay in 1950, many people blamed it on their all white kit. A competition was held to design a new strip and it was eventually, strangely, won by a Uruguayan. It was the birth of Brazil’s yellow, blue, green and white kit. They’ve since gone on to win five World Cups…
In 1996, it was the turn for Manchester United’s grey kit to be cursed. They’d picked up one point in their last twelve wearing it and then found themselves 3-0 down against Southampton at half-time with their title winning chances slipping away. Lee Sharp recently said that the first words out of Alex Ferguson when they returned to the dressing room was, “get that kit off, you’re getting changed”. Makes a difference to the hair dryer I guess… They did change kit, and although they didn’t turn it around that day, they pipped Newcastle to the league title. Fergie has claimed that it wasn’t dropped due to ‘being unlucky’, but that the players couldn’t see one another when they lifted their heads to pass. Only he knows if this is what he really believed.
Last season it was Wigan’s orange away kit. They never won a single game wearing it, including a heavy 9-1 defeat to Tottenham. After the defeat, Wigan manager Roberto Martinez wanted to get rid of it but Premier League rules didn’t allow him to. They then lost 8-0 to Chelsea on the final day of the season. Speaking at the beginning of the 2010/2011 season about the kit Martinez said:
“I guarantee with our new black kit, we will never repeat the experiences of the orange one”.
This is all of course nonsense as, despite the significant meaning of shirts, ultimately they are just cloth. They hold the same amount of supernatural power as a scarf, a pair of socks or a suit; none.
Superstitions are not 100% reliable so each time they fail they must be adapted to explain the failings and successes. That’s how they get weirder and more idiosyncratic. At first it’s just your ‘lucky socks’. It works for a while, maybe, but then your team loses. Something must be wrong. Something must have been done differently to usual. I washed them the other day didn’t I? I’ve never done that before. It must be that.
There is another solution to adaptation. When the superstition doesn’t work it must be ignored or forgotten. That’s the thing with superstitions, you only remember them when they work. English philosopher Francis Bacon once said; ‘the root of all superstition is that men observe when a thing hits, but not when it misses’. This is very true.
England’s red away shirt is seen as lucky, they won the World Cup wearing it after all. But they also wore red against Germany in their 4-1 loss in this years World Cup. Which result will be remembered? The positive emotions of the World Cup final win over West Germany, or the negative emotions of a last sixteen trouncing by the same opponent? You believe what you want to believe when superstition is concerned, in order for it to fit into your theory.
Currently it is Newcastle’s blue kit which is deemed to be unlucky, after losing games against Norwich, Bolton, West Brom, Tottenham and Stevenage. If you compare the percentage of games won in the black and white kit (42.85%) to the blue kit (16.66%) it looks unlucky. Yet, they won at Accrington Stanley in the Carling Cup wearing it. This shows the theory is faulty, but this victory will be ignored. If you look closer, all the games in the blue kit have been away from home, which is not the case for the home kit. Usually fewer away games are won than home games and this is the case for Newcastle. Football games are decided on a range of factors, for example; the quality of players, tactics, fitness, desire and luck. Never colour of football shirts. Everyone knows this, but that doesn’t stop you from believing in superstitious objects and rituals.
In an advanced society it is surprising such superstition exists. However, studies have showed in times of uncertainty, especially economically, superstition increases. The use of superstition is essentially an attempt to control the uncontrollable. A method to manage anxiety. There’s no bigger time to feel anxious as a Newcastle fan because this weekend we play Sunderland and, although we will probably play in black and white, there is fear of the possibility we may play in blue. Superstition is rife before the Magpies and Black Cats meet once more.