When it comes to sports, it’s all well and good to be talented or part of the best team in any given league. But, sometimes you need luck, and that can often come in the form of superstitions.

A fine example of a bit of luck in sport is Leicester City winning the Premier League. Before the season started they were 5000/1 to win the league, taking nothing away from their performance that season but the favourites just didn’t live up to expectations, luck was on their side and the rest is history.

Today, it isn’t good luck that I’d like to talk about. I’m going to take an in-depth look at some of what I believe are the most superstitious moments in sports. Where players or fans did everything they could to fix their bad luck, or what they believed to be a curse, to end the superstition around their teams!

Two of the best superstition stories in sports

A cartoon highlighting superstions in sports

The Curse of the Colonel

To begin with, we’re heading to Japan, a team called the Hanshin Tigers in the Nippon Professional Baseball League. The Hanshin Tigers aren’t the most successful team in Nippon League history by any stretch, they won Central League Pennants in the 1962 and 1964 seasons, but it was the 1985 season in particular that sets this superstition story up.

Now, the Hanshin Tigers are considered to be the eternal underdogs of the Nippon League, due to the incredible success of the Yomiuri Giants, but no matter how badly the Tigers play, they will always fill their stadium. In 1985, the Tigers won their third Central League Pennant and pushed on into the Japan Series, carried heavily by American star slugger Randy Bass.

The fan base lost their minds and the party raged into the night, they had people who looked like Tigers players jump into the Dōtonbori Canal in Osaka. However, given the fact they had no caucasian men who resembled Randy Bass, the crowd grabbed a large plastic statue of Colonel Sanders, basically because the Colonel wasn’t Japanese and had a beard.

They tossed it over the bridge into the canal like some sort of effigy, celebrating the efforts of Randy Bass. Now, according to urban legend, this cost the Tigers massively, beginning a superstition that soon became known as the Curse of the Colonel which says that the Tigers will not win again until the Statue is recovered.

Following this superstition, the Tigers went on an 18-year losing streak, however, they went on to win another Central League Pennant in 2003. Many believed the curse to be over and to celebrate they repeated the celebratory leap into the Dōtonbori Canal, unfortunately for 24-year-old Masaya Shitababa, he ended up drowning in the canal. Some say he was shoved into the canal involuntarily. But this death caused the Osaka City Council to construct a new bridge beginning in 2004. After this work was done, the statue was eventually recovered in 2009. 

Divers initially mistook the statue for a large barrel, then a human corpse, but Tigers fans quickly identified it as the long-lost Colonel. The statue was returned to KFC Japan, unfortunately, the restaurant the statue belonged to no longer exists, but a cardboard cut-out of the Colonel was placed near the Koisen Stadium branch during the 2023 playoff run. The 2023 playoff run ended in the Tigers lifting their first Japan Series title in the NPB since 1985. No more superstition, the has been well and truly broken now!

The Curse of the Colonel - The statue after having been removed from the canal
The statue of Colonel Sanders was removed from the river 24 years later.

Bruce Grobelaar & the Anfield Curse

Liverpool were once the most dominant team in the English Football League. Before their 2019-20 title win, they had won 18 league titles, prior to that their last league title was in the 1989-90 season. Liverpool have still had solid teams in that gap with some great managers and have come close to lifting a league title a few times in that gap too, most notably when they came second with Brendan Rodgers at the helm. However, something just didn’t sit right with fans and former players alike. How can a team that was so dominant through the 70s and 80s winning 11 league titles in those 2 decades, fall off so heavily? 

In 1992 Bruce Grobbelaar had a testimonial match, he was sponsored by a lager company in Zimbabwe at the time called Zambezi Lager, for his testimonial match they sent a Witch Doctor. Bruce didn’t know if the Witch Doctor was real, but the man got his mushanga and began to splash it on the posts, he grabbed hold of the microphone and began to speak to the Anfield crowd. In front of 33000 scousers he said “If you don’t have Bruce Grobbelaar the Jungle Man here at Anfield, you won’t win the League again.”.

Bruce believes the curse is real and decides he has to figure out how to break the curse. In Africa, he was told that to fix the curse, he would have to pee on the posts, given that it was his testimonial. So one night he stayed late after an evening game, he went down onto the pitch and started to pee on the posts at the Kop End.

A Steward quickly grabbed him and asked him what he was doing! Bruce said he had to quickly go pee on the posts at the Anfield Road end, but the Steward chucked him out! After that, Steven Gerrard slipped and Liverpool ended up finishing second, he had failed to break the curse!

For the next few years, while Bruce was coaching in Canada, he couldn’t stop thinking about the slip and the curse with Liverpool finishing second in the league yet again in the 18/19 season. Then, Bruce was at Anfield for a corporate game with his friend for a hotel company, he had spoken of the curse to his friend before the game, and his friend told him that he had to do the business when he returned. Bruce replied, “Of course, I’ll try to play well!”. His friend said no you’re going to have to finish what you started! Now he would never get away with peeing on the posts in public, so what he did next was genius!

In the changing rooms, Bruce peed in his water bottle, and when he went out onto the pitch, he sprayed pee on the posts and the crossbar, the game went on and they went in at halftime 1-1. After half time they swapped ends and he splashed the goalposts and the crossbar again, the game went to penalties and Bruce saved the winning penalty. After that game, Liverpool went on an incredible 68-game unbeaten run at Anfield which saw them winning the league in the 2019-20 season! Was this superstition real?

Former Liverpool keeper, Bruce Grobelaar, who had a superstition about a curse preventing Liverpool from winning the league.
Did Bruce really help Klopp’s Liverpool win the league or is it all just superstition?

Now those are just two of my favourite stories about curses or superstition in sports, there are countless more stories and we could talk about this forever, but I’d like to know, what are your favourite sports curses or superstitions? It could be a superstition you have or a story you’ve heard and have become fond of. Leave a comment below and let us know!

For even more general sporting posts like this one about superstitions in sports, click right here.