The world of soccer is full of quirky tails, interesting stories and wonderful trivia. However, it is important that one can decipher between the fact and fiction of what is reported. So much that is said of players, managers, teams and owners is simply made up. Yet once the lie is out there, it will often snowball, with most people taking little time to actually check up the facts or find any concrete evidence for said claims or accusations.
Jonathan Swift once wrote that, “Falsehood flies, and the Truth comes limping after it,” planting the seeds for the phrase ‘a lie can travel halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to put its pants on’. In the case of these myths that is certainly the case. Many are widely believed and regularly repeated by commentators, pundits and analysts, all of whom are expected to be figures of knowledge within the game.
The myths on this list range from those that are over a century old to those which originated this season or in the last few campaigns. Included are stories about players, teams and countries, as well as expressions or sentiments that are regularly remarked within the game despite having next to no truth to them. Here are the top 15 soccer myths:
15. Chelsea Were Mid-table Before Roman Abramovich
Chelsea supporters have become accustomed to accusations that their club was ‘founded’ in 2003, the year in which Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich acquired the club from former owner Ken Bates. Whilst the Blues have certainly become more of a force since the Russians arrival, they had previously won a league title, three FA Cups, two League Cups, two UEFA Cup Winners’ Cups and a UEFA Super Cup. The claim that Chelsea were a mid table club before 2003 is simply untrue, having finished 4th, 6th, 6th, 5th, 3rd, 4th and 6th in the seven seasons prior to Abramovich’s arrival.
14. Arthur Conan Doyle Was Portsmouth FC’s First Goalkeeper
It is a widely-held belief that legendary crime fiction writer and physician Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was the first goalkeeper in the history of the 2008 FA Cup winners Portsmouth. While it is true that Doyle was a keen sportsman and a goalkeeper, he in fact only played at amateur level for Portsmouth AFC, a team which disbanded in 1886 and has no connection to modern day Portsmouth FC who were founded in 1888.
13. Mario Balotelli
There are too many myths about Mario Balotelli to include them individually, so we’ve bundled them all up into one entry at 13th. The fact is, the majority of what you’ve heard about the Italy international probably isn’t true. He never dressed as Santa handing out wads of cash to the public, he never set his bathroom on fire (a friend of his did), he never took a kid who was being bullied into school, he never received DJ’ing lessons from Tim Westwood, he never went into a petrol station and bought everyone’s petrol and he never gave £1,000 to a homeless man outside a casino.
12. AC Milan Wanted John Barnes, Not Luther Blissett
Ever since Luther Blissett flopped in his solitary season in Serie A, scoring 5 goals in 30 games and being promptly returned to England, rumours have persisted that AC Milan had signed the striker by accident, thinking they were signing fellow Watford star John Barnes. There is zero evidence to suggest this was the case and whole heaps to suggest it was not. Aside from the fact that the pair look almost nothing alike, Milan were looking for a striker, something Blissett was and Barnes was not. Ultimately, the Hornets legends style simply did not suit Serie A, but he remains Watford’s all time record scorer with 186 goals.
11. Manchester City Ruined Football
The accusation that Manchester City ‘ruined’ football is one centred around the lucrative sums of money the Citizens started throwing about post-September 2008, when UAE billionaire Sheikh Mansour became involved with the club. In truth, City changed very little about the landscape of the transfer market, other than having to pay over the odds for some players themselves with everyone now aware of their new-found wealth. Many clubs had already distorted the market before Man City’s millions, and even today the Champions League semi-finalists have only made two of the 15 most expensive signings in history, less than Real Madrid (6), Barcelona (3) and PSG (3).
10. India Turned Down 1950 World Cup Due To Barefoot Ban
India is not a country steeped in footballing tradition or accomplishment. They have never played in a World Cup, and the one World Cup they did qualify for – 1950 – was due to all their scheduled opponents withdrawing. Yet India turned down the opportunity. Urban legend has it that FIFA’s ruling that players could no longer play barefoot was the reason for India’s lack of participation, while others claimed they could not afford it. Both are myths. The truth was that India simply did not understand the value of the World Cup, believing Olympic football to be of far greater value.
9. Ian Rush Never Described Italy as ‘Like Living in a Foreign Country’
Despite the fact that this story is not actually true, Ian Rush will never live down claims that he described playing for Juventus in Turin as ‘like living in a foreign country’. Footballers are so often the butt of jokes regarding a perceived lack of intelligence or saying comically stupid things, but this legendary quote was sadly fiction, and Rush believes it was his Liverpool teammates who made it up. A Liverpool legend, Rush spent only a single season in Turin, scoring 14 goals in 39 games for Juventus.
8. Roy Keane Ended Alf-Inge Haaland’s Career
Firstly, lets be clear here; we are in no way excusing Roy Keane’s horror tackle on Alf-Inge Haaland in April 2001. The challenge, in which Keane set out to exact revenge and hurt Haaland, saw the Manchester United captain receive a straight red, while Haaland played out the rest of the match, even playing 45 minutes for Norway a few days later. Ultimately, Haaland did retire in July 2003 due to injury problems, but it was actually his left knee that caused this, rather than the right knee which Keane had gone for.
7. NASL Was a Retirement League
The North American Soccer League (NASL) in its original incarnation (1968-1984) is a league which seems to have been rewritten by history. It is talked about today as a ‘retirement’ league, often-mocked and considered to be of poor quality. The truth is far from that; the NASL featured a number of world class players, many of whom were in fact in their prime at that time. Upon their arrival in the NASL, here are the ages of some footballing stars; Giorgio Chinaglia – 29, Hugo Sanchez – 21, Trevor Francis – 23, Peter Beardsley – 20.
Even the NASL’s older arrivals were still far from past-it. Johan Cruyff was 32, Pele was 34, Gerd Muller was 33 and Franz Beckenbauer was 31, all still good enough to grace any team on the planet at those ages. Beckenbauer is someone who has spoken out against this rewriting of history, commenting “We had players from 14 nations in New York, but we weren’t a circus troupe. We played highly technical and successful soccer. We beat Hamburg, Lazio and Atlético Madrid.”
6. Denis Law Relegated Manchester United
While it makes for an interesting story that Manchester United legend Denis Law sent his old club down to the Second Division while playing for their crosstown rivals Manchester City, this simply is not the case. It is true of course that Law scored the only goal of the game in a 1-0 win on the day in which the Red Devils relegation was confirmed, but the results of Birmingham and West Ham elsewhere meant even victory for United would have seen them relegated that day.
5. 2-0 – The Most Dangerous Scoreline In Football
Picture the scene; through a bright start to the game, quick, incisive build up play and an eye for goal, your team marauds into a 2-0 lead. Only for the commentator to ominously remind you that 2-0 is “the most dangerous scoreline in football”, but is it? There’s really no reason to believe it is the case. The theory goes that with a 1-0 lead you will always go for a second goal, but with a 2-0 lead a team is unsure whether to go for a third or hold on to what they’ve got, thus making them vulnerable.
Clearly, however, this is flawed logic. Every week less fancied teams who take the lead in a game cling desperately on to a 1-0 lead, rather than pushing for a second. Meanwhile, many teams who take a 2-0 lead push on and score more. The fact is, if you ask any manager whether they’d rather lead 1-0 or 2-0 you know their answer, there is no reason to believe 2-0 is a particularly ‘dangerous’ scoreline.
4. Serie A is a Defensive League
Serie A went from being considered the best league in the world throughout the late 80s and almost the entirety of the 90s to being considered a dull, defensive and relatively poor league for roughly a decade now, further weakened by accusations of corruption. While it is true that the quality of the Serie A has dropped (three Italian Champions League finalists between 2006 and 2016 compared to nine between 1988 and 1998), the other claims are largely made-up.
Serie A has led the way in goals scored and red cards over the last couple of seasons, and has the fewest 0-0 draws of Europe’s top 5 divisions this season.
3. Ryan Giggs Could Have Played For England
England’s ‘Golden Generation’ of Seaman, Neville, Ferdinand, Terry, Cole, Beckham, Gerrard, Lampard, Scholes, Owen and Rooney were a team blessed with genuine quality all over the park. All except the left flank of course, where central midfielders such as Scholes and Gerrard were often pushed out to. One man could have fixed all this; Ryan Giggs, but the Manchester United star had the nerve to be Welsh. Born in Wales to Welsh parents, the idea that Giggs snubbed England for Wales is nonsense.
2. Decisions Even Themselves Out
When a ref fails to award a stonewall penalty to your team or spot that the oppositions striker was 5 yards offside before sending the ball into the roof of the net, we are constantly reminded that these decisions “even themselves out of the course of the season”. But do they? Of course not, and why should they? There is such a thing as luck and misfortune.
Just because a decision goes against you one week, there is no reason to think it will go for you the following Saturday. Anyone who has supported a ‘lesser’ or ‘smaller’ Premier League team will tell you that the decisions do not even themselves out, with referees often nervous to give big decisions against the big teams. So next time the referee makes a shocker of a decision, a note to commentators, “these things” as they so often claim, do not “even themselves out”.
1. Red Card for Being the ‘Last Man’
Another footballing myth which belongs largely, but not exclusively, to the commentator. When a risky foul is committed you will often hear a commentator enquire to his co-commentator, “was he the last man there?”. Likewise, supporters will often exclaim that the offender was the last man in a desperate plea to see the referee brandish his red card. The fact is, whether or not he was the last man is frankly meaningless. Being the last man is not and has never been a red card offence.
A red card is awarded if a player ‘prevents a clear goalscoring opportunity’. While it is often the ‘last man’ (so-to-speak) who prevents a goal scoring opportunity, this does not make the two things synonymous or interchangeable. The furthest man back and hence the ‘last man’ could commit a foul on the half way line, but he is unlikely to see red. Similarly, one could not be the furthest player back but taking away the legs of a striker one-on-one with the goalkeeper, 8 yards from his goal, will almost always be deemed a sending off offence despite no foul being made by the ‘last man’.
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