Football is a very superstitious sport, full of time-honoured traditions that are often unique to one club.
Naysayers will tell you ‘it’s just a game’, but we know it is so much more than that. Whether they’re spiritual, inspirational or just downright bizarre, football is littered with quirky traditions and rituals that are a must for fans of that club, but that will leave supporters of other clubs scratching their heads.
Here are 12 football traditions that fans of other clubs won’t get.
1. Everton – the Toffee Lady
16 August 1969 – Everton Toffee Lady, Catherine Dunn, at Goodison Park pic.twitter.com/PVYeSt5I2h
— Everton Heritage (@EvertonHeritage) September 27, 2017
It seems fitting that we kick off our list with one of England’s oldest clubs. Founder members of the Football League and around since 1878, Everton were one of the pioneers of early football and with that history comes a lot of heritage.
One of the quirkiest and most charming traditions to take place at Goodison Park, one of the most unique stadiums in English football, is that of the Toffee Lady.
Everton got their nickname from the Everton toffee which was originally made by a shop owner near Goodison Park. The shop owner was called Mrs Noblett and was adopted by the football club as their mascot. Mrs Noblett is long gone, but a girl dressed in traditional clothes now walks around the pitch before kick-off at Everton matches and tosses toffees into the crowd before kick-off at Goodison Park. How ‘sweet’.
2. Portland Timbers – Timber Joey
OK, so the clue is well and truly in the name with this one, but it’s still a pretty bonkers tradition.
Portland Timbers’ mascot Joey Webber, better known as Timber Joey, saws a piece of wood from a 12ft log every time the side score a goal during home games. The sawn piece is then passed around the Providence Park stadium for fans to touch, before being presented to the goalscorer at the end of the game.
It’s unique and really, really American, but we love it, especially when Joey *thinks* the Timbers are about to score and revs up his chainsaw, only to have to sit back down when the chance goes begging.
3. West Ham United – Bubbles
It is one of the most recognisable songs in English football, perhaps only outdone by Liverpool’s ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ anthem, but the story of how West Ham United adopted ‘I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles’ is an interesting one.
The song was introduced to the club in the last 1920s by former manager Charlie Paynter. Former West Ham player Billy J. Murray apparently bore a striking resemblance to a boy in the ‘Bubbles’ painting by Millais, used in a soap commercial at the time. Murray’s school headmaster, a friend of Paynter, began singing the song when Park School players performed well and, as the two were good friends, passed the song onto Paynter.
Slowly but surely the song moved into West Ham fan culture to the point where it is sung before each West Ham home game, bubble machine and all.
4. Benfica – the Eagles
With 36 league titles and two European Cups among their 82 trophies, Benfica are Portugal’s most successful club. However, the one thing that is more famous and celebrated than the players by the club’s fans is the mascot – or should we say, mascots.
Two eagles, named Victory and Glory, sweep around the 65,000 capacity Estadio da Luz before every home game. The birds are symbolic of the club’s eagle crest and the pair actually live inside the stadium, resting on special perches behind one of the goals when the crowd empties.
Before a game against Vitoria back in April 2018, one of the eagles actually escaped, flying straight out of the stadium and leaving its handler terrified of where his feathered friend may go. The eagle, however, returned to the stadium 24 hours later.
5. Botafogo – Dog
— Sou Botafogo (@soubotafogobfr) November 17, 2018
Some traditions are quirky – the Toffee Lady – while some have a regional charm to them – Timber Joey – but some club traditions are just mental. Botafogo’s dog is definitely one that falls into that category.
The story has it that former club owner Carlito Rocha’s dog broke free inside the stadium, chasing the ball into the opposition goal in the process. ‘Biriba’ was then inducted as the club’s mascot.
A further tale tells that before an important game in 1948, Biriba peed on a player’s leg. Botafogo went on to win the game, prompting Rocha and the player to make sure this process was repeated for every game. The club went on to win the 1948 state championship and the tradition has stuck ever since.
6. Chelsea – the Liquidator
Ever wondered about that chirpy little tune that Chelsea walk out to at every home game? ‘The Liquidator’ is an early reggae instrumental track, released by the Harry J Allstars in 1969. How did it become associated with Chelsea? It was one of the songs regularly played in stadiums before the game started and Chelsea fans just loved it!
It became the club’s ‘official’ anthem in 1970 and the players have been walking out to it for years with the fans joining in with clapping and shouting the club’s name.
Chelsea also have the whacky tradition of throwing celery at trophy parades and matches, but we’d rather not explore the chant associated with that particular tradition.
7. Rangers – the Loving Cup
The Directors of Rangers and Aberdeen will take part in the traditional Loving Cup ceremony in the Blue Room ahead of tonight's match.
— Rangers Football Club (@RangersFC) January 24, 2018
Rangers and Celtic are two clubs in the same city, but they couldn’t be more different.
One thing that makes Rangers unique is their love for the British monarch, a love that they toast at every first home game of the New Year. Boardroom members and players alike will convene at Ibrox and dedicate a toast to the reigning monarch, with the club chairman taking a drink from the ‘Loving Cup’, a gift from Stoke City in 1937, given to the club on the condition that they continue the tradition every year.
8. Deportivo de La Coruna – garlic
They’re a superstitious lot in Spain and nowhere is that more prevalent than in the Northwest city of A Coruna.
Before each home game, Deportivo La Coruna spread garlic cloves around the side of the pitch at their Abanca-Riazor stadium, believing it will fend off bad spirits. The results have been mixed, with Branquiazuis winning the La Liga title in 2000, as well as going unbeaten at home against Real Madrid from 1991 to 2010, a quite remarkable record.
However, the club did suffer relegation from La Liga in 2011 and 2013, bouncing straight back on both occasions.
9. Union Berlin – Christmas Carols
One football stadium, 28,000 fans, 90 minutes of singing but not one football in sight…
This is Christmas at Union Berlin.
— BBC Sport (@BBCSport) December 23, 2017
The way German football is run is the envy of almost Every English football fan – the supporters get a huge say and ownership in everything the club does. Union Berlin, however, take that to a whole new level.
In 2008, the club was in desperate need of a new ground. With money a little tight, the Union fans clubbed in and built the ground themselves, with around 2,000 supporters putting in a combined 140,000 hours of manpower to complete the 22,000-seater.
Every Christmas Eve, the fans meet at their stadium to sing Christmas Carols. When the tradition began back in 2003, only 89 people turned up. In 2013, however, over 27,000 people attended, including players and supporters of other teams from around Germany and Europe. Fans drink mulled wine while waving candles, lighting flares and singing Christmas carols and football chants.
10. FC Koln – Hennes the goat
— 1. FC Köln (@fckoeln) March 10, 2018
Staying in Germany, we have FC Koln’s dashing mascot, Hennes the goat. A real-life goat.
In 1950, when the club were celebrating their second anniversary, the director of the local circus, Carola Williams, presented the team with a goat as a lucky charm. The coach at the time, Hennes Weisweiller, adopted the goat and named it after himself, as you do.
The fans took to Hennes like a house on fire and the image of the goat became ingrained in the club’s kits, crests and fan culture. Nowadays, Hennes VIII (yes, Koln are on their eighth goat), who has been with the club since 2008, lives a cushy life at Koln zoo, showing up for the club’s home games, as well as occasionally appearing in commercials and even his own TV series.
The real G.O.A.T!
11. You’ll Never Walk Alone
How does a 1945 show tune become the anthem of a multitude of massive clubs from the UK and Europe? Well, in 1963, Merseybeat band Gerry and the Pacemakers covered the song and presented a recording of the track to then-Liverpool manager Bill Shankly, who was left in awe of what he heard.
From then, it didn’t take long for supporters to take the song as their own and nowadays, it is belted out on the Kop before every Liverpool home game, being particularly loud on European nights.
The song was also adopted by Celtic after a 1966 European Cup Winners Cup semi-final against Liverpool at Anfield, with the Bhoys now singing their rendition before every home European tie. The song, and the atmosphere it creates has had such a profound effect on travelling supporters that German clubs Borussia Dortmund, Mainz 05 and TSV 1860 Munich, as well as Dutch giants Feyenoord, have all taken the song on.
12. Atlanta United – the Golden Spike
— Atlanta United FC (@ATLUTD) November 11, 2018
In a nod to the City’s railroad heritage, Atlanta United take part in the Golden Spike ritual before each home game.
Prior to a game, players and fans alike will sign a large, golden railroad spike before marching into the stadium by supporters. A local VIP will then hammer the spike into a platform, with the Atlanta Man of the Match also hammering the spike after the game.
Notable participants of this tradition include Dutch international Edgar Davids, as well as boxing icon Evander Holyfield. Fans much prefer this part of the club’s railroad heritage, as opposed to the infernal train horn that sounds every time Atlanta score a goal – many supporters have described the sound as ‘annoying’, claiming it offers nothing to the atmosphere.