Fortean London: Football Superstitions and Psychogeography

By Scott Wood Last edited 167 months ago

Last Updated 10 June 2010

Fortean London: Football Superstitions and Psychogeography

The evil eye of Selhurst Park captured by Homemade

Look at all the fluttering flags out there: Londoners are working themselves up to the World Cup like a painted Pictish hoard getting ready to do battle. As pointed out in the new book Football Voodoo, football fans, including fans of London teams, have as many rituals, superstitions and magical lore as any witch, crystal healer or astrologer. Though football fans in full cry probably drink more than your average pagan or Mystic Meg and are more likely to urinate on your front garden. Most witches will only do that once a quarter or, at most, during a full moon.

When Arsenal moved to their new ground in 2007 their fans felt the need to create the ‘clock end’ of the old ground by draping a banner over an upper tier while a rival group produced a banner reading ‘this is the Clock End”. Arsenal football club has previously recreated the space it inhabits: when the team migrated from Woolwich Arsenal to Highbury it arranged for the local tube station, Gillespie Road, to be renamed Arsenal to create a sense of place for the team and fans.

The hidden insult is a popular piece of folklore. One story tells of then-Chelsea player Joe Cole having his wedding suit made by a fan of his former team West Ham. The loyal Hammers tailor chalked West Ham insignia and ‘Judas’ into the lining of Cole’s suit. Another version of this urban legend is told about Prince Charles and Alexander McQueen. Wembley has been similarly vandalised in secret, with the home of English football having several tartan scarves hidden under the turf by Scottish construction workers.

The main stand at Crystal Palace’s ground Selhurst Park is haunted by the ghost of Billy Callender, a Palace goalie who hung himself from a crossbar in 1932. There have also been reports of an “unpleasant presence in the staff room” and chairs moving by themselves. Stewards have heard ghostly footsteps and in 1989 eight schoolgirls spent a night in the dressing room for Comic Relief (is that the safest place to leave unattended girls?) and reportedly heard “strange noises in the night”. Selhurst Park itself is apparently built on an orchard cursed by gypsies - the gypsies were harshly punished for stealing apples and took it out on the orchard itself. So in 1977 then manager Malcolm Allison employed celebrity psychic Romark to lift the club's luck. Romark once claimed he could drive through London blind-folded, only to crash into a parked police car whilst trying. However after an argument about money with Allison Romark put another curse on the luckless club which perhaps lingers to this day.

Or maybe all the other teams have been better at kicking the ball than Crystal Palace. Football is like any other activity involving more than one person doing physical things over time. Like war, sex and amateur dramatics the skill and intentions of those involved are not the only deciders of outcome; chance, luck and countless other unknowable factors all play a part. And people colonise the unknown with magic and the supernatural.