This week's sportstalk community topic is #legends of sport and while I thought long and hard about all the amazing athletes I've watched and in some cases even met over the years, I decided that rather than writing about them as the undoubted legends that they are, that I would go down a slightly different route and instead look at a few of the greatest urban legends that exist in sport, specifically football.
For those who haven't come across the term "urban legend" before let's start off with a brief dictionary definition
a modern story of obscure origin and with little or no supporting evidence that spreads spontaneously in varying forms and often has elements of humor, moralizing, or horror.
An urban legend then is a bit of a tall tale that you probably heard from an unreliable source (if it's a football urban legend then it was probably some random bloke at the pub) and goes on to become common knowledge despite it having little or no corroborating evidence.
In this blog, we'll consider 3 of the greatest urban legends in football, how they came about and whether there is any evidence for them being true or not.
Chelsea paid £50million for Fernando Torres' twin brother
Let's start with the best and most ridiculous urban legend going around a few years back about Fernando Torres and his secret retirement from professional football!
The story goes that not long after the 2010 World Cup, Torres decided to take a holiday to Tenerife to get away from the media and their constant criticism of his performances for Spain in a tournament which they ultimately won without their star striker contributing a single goal.
On said holiday, he had a chance encounter with his long lost identical twin brother, Alberto who worked in Madrid as an accountant but had always held an ambition to one day be a professional footballer.
The pair, initially amazed by the physical likeness to one another, got talking and ultimately drinking during which time each man confessed to how dissatisfied they were with their lives and how they wished they could live like the other. Alberto desired the fame and fortune of a Premier League footballer while Fernando craved the quite life away from the media spotlight.
It is then alleged that the pair came up with a plan that would see one of the world's top strikers secretly retire from professional football to take up a boring 9-5 office job in Madrid while his doppelgänger, Alberto, would get to fulfil his dream of becoming a professional footballer.
Not long after the switch was completed, Chelsea decided to splash out £50 million on a player who they thought had scored 65 goals in 102 Premier League appearances for Liverpool but instead wound up getting an accountant from Madrid who was better suited to balancing the books than banging in the goals.
Is this Urban Legend true? I mean you only have to look at Torres' performance from 2011 onwards to see that he wasn't the player he had been before. In 3 and a half seasons with Liverpool, Torres scored 81 goals in all competitions. In the decade that followed he only just managed to equal this total and that included 2 years playing in Japan's J-League where I reckon I could get on the scoresheet a couple of times!
Or maybe, just maybe, it's one of the all-time best trolls of Chelski and their poor record when it comes to signing centre-forwards. Read here
The Zaire national team that qualified for the 1974 World Cup didn't understand the rules of football
We've all seen the footage right? Zaire, a team that has just been battered 9-0 by Yugoslavia in the group stages of the 1974 World Cup are up against the greatest footballing nation the world has ever seen, Brazil. The Samba boys have a free kick on the edge of the Zaire penalty area, the wall is set, the ref blows his whistle and at that precise moment, one of the Zaire defenders (Mwepu Ilunga) streaks from the defensive line and hoofs the ball miles down field.
It's comedy gold! If you were being ultra-critical you might say that Mwepu Ilunga missed the opportunity for a few extra laughs by simultaneously shouting "'ave it" at the top of his voice while punting the ball, à la Peter Kaye in the old John Smith's beer adverts.
And as a joke, is the way that for the most part the Zaire Team of 1974 have been portrayed ever since especially by Western media.
We all like international sporting events to be inclusive but surely this was a step too far. I mean even Eric the Eel knew he couldn't use the lane ropes to pull himself along!
So could this urban legend really be true? How did a team that don't understand the basic rules of the game manage to get into the most watched sporting event on the planet?
Firstly let's establish one important fact, that this Zaire team weren't at the 74 World Cup by chance, they had qualified for it and in fact were the only African side to do so not to mention the reigning AFCON champions which suggests they had a pretty decent understanding of the game. So what the hell happened?
The answer is simple, they did understand the rules but they choose to break them anyway.
To fully comprehend why Mwepu Ilunga did what he did, you have to consider the current political state of things in Zaire where after a bloody civil war and unrest following the collapse of the Belgian Congo, President Mobutu had begun to consolidate power and was looking to build the modern state of Zaire as a true African power. Sport played a big part in his plans for projecting that power and in 1971, Mobutu had already arranged the famous Rubble in the Jungle fight between George Foreman and Muhammad Ali to take place in Zaire.
Therefore the 1974 World Cup was another great opportunity for Mobutu to show just how far his nation had come post-colonial rule and he invited the squad to visit him at the Presidential palace ahead of their departure promising them who knows what in return for a successful tournament.
So the Zaire side travelled to Germany with high hopes and were commended for a spirited performance against Scotland in their opening game which they lost 2-0. However, in between that match and their second game, it soon became apparent that there was no money to pay them and that in fact most of the funds set aside for the team had been embezzled by various officials who had travelled with them.
The Zaire players who were not earning the kind of big bucks that modern day footballers do were incensed that they had had their wages stolen from them and threatened not to play in their match against Yugoslavia. FIFA, fearing that this situation could become embarrassing, stepped in and managed to convince the team to at least take to the pitch but it would be fair to say that their hearts weren't in it as they succumbed to a 9-0 thrashing.
Humiliated by this Mobutu then made several threats to the players including that if they were beaten by a significant margin in their final match (some reports suggest anything worse than 3 goals) then they wouldn't be allowed back in the country!
Zaire's players then did just enough to ensure that they could at least travel home by only losing 3-0 to Brazil but Ilunga's kick in the same match which has been portrayed as a comedy moment for many generations was in fact a final protest against the players' treatment at the 1974 World Cup with the defender later confirming that he was hoping his actions would see him sent off.
Every 4 years, this piece of footage is replayed with no mention of the treatment Zaire's players suffered. At least when it is done so later this year for the 2022 World Cup, you'll know the full significance of it!
Spencer Prior fell out with Cardiff City fans because he didn't have sex with a sheep
There is an element of truth to this urban legend and if you aren't already aware, there is a cultural stereotype that the Welsh shag sheep!
Upon leaving Man City for Cardiff in a £700k deal in 2001, English defender Prior found some interesting clauses waiting for him in his new contract to join the South Wales club.
That Prior must have "a physical liaison" with a sheep. He was given a choice between a pair of sheep - Dolly who had black wool and Mimi who had white wool. He choose Dolly
That Prior must eat a pair of sheep's testicles. Was this the shame sheep? I don't know...
The insertion of these clauses in Prior's contract wasn't his idea! They were instead the brain child of then Cardiff chairman Sam Hammam who before his time in South Wales had been the CEO of Wimbledon football club AKA "The Crazy Gang". During his stint with Wimbledon, Hammam had made a habit of giving both strange threats and incentives to his players in a bid to motivate them so this kind of clause wasn't anything out of the ordinary as far as he was concerned.
Hammam's rationale was that the English Prior would need to prove himself to the Welsh fans on joining the club for what was at the time one of the biggest transfers in their history. However, it didn't have the desired effect (shock horror) and by the end of the first season the relationship between Spencer Prior and the supporters was increasingly frosty.
We have to assume that Prior didn't honour his contractual obligation to shag a sheep, besides not wanting to do it, it is in fact illegal to have sex with farm yard animals in the UK (these are the kind of quality facts and lifestyle tips you can always hope to find on my blog). Equally, we also have to assume that despite the stereotype, most Welsh people don't enjoy "physical liaisons" with sheep and therefore won't find Prior's refusal to engage in the act an offence.
There are a number of reasons for the deterioration of the relationship between Prior and the Cardiff fans with many reports pointing to an incident in 2002 where following the death of the Queen Mother, a minutes silence was interrupted by jeers from certain sections of the Cardiff crowd, an act that as an Englishman, Prior found in very poor taste.
In fact, upon leaving the club 3 years later, Prior gave an interview in which he accused the Cardiff fans of hating all English players while the Cardiff Supporters club strongly denied this, stating that it was Prior's poor performances on the pitch and bad attitude towards them that had lead to them booing at certain points throughout his career.
A bonus urban legend in this story is that by the end of his stay at Cardiff, Prior was so fed up with the Welsh fans that he used to cut the Welsh flag off his shirt. I've tried to look for footage from those seasons to see if I can find any evidence that a piece of Prior's shirt was missing but unfortunately the video quality is either too poor or doesn't get the right angle.
One thing that is notable is that for part of his time at Cardiff, a small Welsh flag could be found on the right waist of the shirt. While wearing this kit, Prior appeared to favour tucking his shirt into his shorts which is a change of style from his time at Man City or Leicester (see below).
shirt out, shirt out, shirt in! source
In any normal situation this would deemed circumstantial evidence but when talking about urban legends we can consider it as hard proof! So there you go, Spencer Prior may not have shagged a sheep but he did hate the Welsh, he did cut their flag off his shirts and then he hid the fact by tucking it into his shorts!