Benfica curse strikes again: will Arsenal suffer a similar fate?

May 15, 2014
Jonathan Harwood

After Bela Guttmann, six other famous sporting curses that have haunted teams and stars

Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

BENFICA'S European curse struck yet again as they lost the final of the Europa League to Sevilla on penalties last night, extending their barren run on the continent to 52 years and eight final defeats.

Although the Portuguese team had their Spanish opponents under pressure for most of the match it finished 0-0 after extra time and Sevilla went on to win the penalty shoot-out as unlucky Benfica players Oscar Cardozo and Rodrigo had their spot kicks saved.

The unhappy outcome for Benfica lends support to the legend of Bela Guttmann's curse. The club's fabled Hungarian coach led them to back-to-back European Cup wins in 1961 and 1962, but after being denied a bonus by the board stormed out and vowed that the club would not win again in Europe for 100 years.

His 52-year-old curse is one of the most enduring myths in sport. Here are six others:

The Curse of Bambino - Boston Red Sox 
In the world of American major league sports, where curses come thick and fast, perhaps the most well known outside of the US is that which afflicted the Boston Red Sox. The American baseball team was one of the most successful in the early days of the World Series, winning four titles in seven years before 1918. But luck deserted them after they traded Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees in 1920. While the Yankees went from strength to strength, the Red Sox had to wait 86 years before they won the World Series again, in 2004. Although the idea that the Red Sox had been cursed only gained widespread currency in the 1990s, by the time the spell was broken it had spawned a cottage industry and had become one of the most celebrated curses in sport.

The Curse of St Andrew's - Birmingham City 
English football is littered with curses, many delivered by Romany gypsies who cursed the land on which clubs built their stadiums. The most famous is possibly the hex placed on Birmingham City when they moved to their new home in 1906. During the 100 years of the curse there were several attempts to break it. In the 1970s manager Ron Saunders reportedly hung crucifixes from the floodlights and painted his players' boots red. In the 1990s another manager, Barry Fry, was told that urinating in all four corners of the ground would break the spell. During the course of the curse the only significant trophy the Blues won was the League Cup in 1963. Unfortunately the Blues fortunes have not improved since the curse supposedly expired, and they narrowly avoided relegation from the Championship this season.

Other football clubs to be cursed by gypsies include Derby County, Leeds United and Middlesbrough. None of them have prospered in recent years.

The Curse of 51 - Mayo 
In 1951 Mayo won their second successive All-Ireland gaelic football title but, according to legend, on their way back from the final the rowdy team bus passed a funeral without showing due respect. The priest conducting the service was so incensed he vowed that the county would not win the Sam Maguire Cup again until every member of the 1951 team had died. Since then Mayo have lost seven finals. Only three of the 1951 team remain alive, but their influence seems as strong as ever: Mayo have been beaten in the final for the last two seasons.

The Curse of the Sponsor - assorted sports stars 
Be it with Nike, Sports Illustrated or the Madden NFL video game, certain associations bring only bad luck for sportsmen and women. Nike's roll-call includes serial love cheat Tiger Woods, along with drugs cheats Lance Armstrong and Marion Jones, Kobe Bryant (accused of sexual assault), Oscar Pistorius (accused of murder), Franck Ribery (accused of underage sex) and Michael Vick (jailed for dog-fighting). Sports stars appearing on the front of Sports Illustrated magazine have rarely prospered afterwards. Most recently the Denver Broncos made the cover, shortly before being roundly beaten in the Super Bowl by the Seattle Seahawks. Sticking with the NFL the honour of appearing on the cover of the Madden NFL computer game is a dubious one, given the track record of most of those who have appeared.

The Par Three Curse - The US Masters 
The Masters at Augusta has, since 1960, begun with an informal par three competition over nine holes at the iconic course. It was soon noted that whoever won the opening event failed to prosper once the action got underway. This year Rory McIlroy's girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki acted as his caddy and even took a few shots, in the hope that the golfing gods would turn on her rather than him. In the end it didn't matter as Australian Ryan Moore won the event... and failed to make the cut.

The Curse of the Emirates - Arsenal 
Perhaps not as well-known as the others, it is nonetheless undeniable that since the Gunners moved to their impressive new home they have failed to win any silverware. Since quitting Highbury for The Emirates the Gunners have never finished higher than third in the Premier League, have lost two League Cup finals and been beaten in three other semi-finals in various competitions. But all that could change on Saturday when they play Hull in the FA Cup final.

Sign up for our daily newsletter