Strange but true
© AFP

The former England international Jimmy Greaves has a saying for which he is famous in the UK, namely: "Football - it's a funny old game". Perhaps Greaves first used the phrase in Vina del Mar, Chile during the 1962 FIFA World Cup™. During England's 3-1 defeat to Brazil, a dog ran on to the pitch, giving players and ball boys the slip as it charged across the turf. It even swerved past the legendary Garrincha. Only when the quick thinking Greaves went down on all fours was order restored. He looked the dog firmly in the eye, scooped him up and handed it to a steward.

However, in doing so, Greaves felt a steady dribble of something hot and wet soaking his England jersey - and it wasn't his perspiration. The spectators were much amused, as was Garrincha, who adopted it as his lucky mascot. "I smelt so bad, it was awful," recalled Greaves. "I should have won the game for England, because no Brazilian defenders came near me!"

A dog also played a key role for England four years later, when the Jules Rimet Trophy was stolen from the Central Hall in Westminster during the Stanley Gibbons 'Stampex' exhibition. A week later, David Corbett's dog Pickles pulled the missing trophy out of a holly hedge in south London - and in doing so claimed a £5,000 reward for his owner; five times as much as the bonus paid to each of the England players for winning the FIFA World Cup just four months later!

The Scottish FA assumed Switzerland was cold because it had mountains
Tommy Docherty explains his country's strange choice of kit in 1954.

A hole in the wall
One team who were in no danger of winning the FIFA World Cup in 1974 were Zaire. After losing 2-0 to Scotland and 9-0 to Yugoslavia in their opening two games, they had to face the mighty Brazil in Gelsenkirchen. Facing the Auriverde for any player can be a nerve-wracking experience, but particularly in the case of Ilunga Mwepu. Lining up in the wall to face a free-kick, he had a brainwave. He decided to break ranks, charge at the ball and whack it upfield before looking innocently at the referee. Understandably, he was booked for his efforts.

Whereas Brazil-Zaire might have been a bit of a mis-match in terms of talent, the Scotland-Uruguay fixture at Switzerland 1954 should have been a bit more even. However, it ended in a 7-0 rout for the Uruguayans. Scotland, FIFA World Cup debutants, seemed to be caught out by the weather in Basel, which reached temperatures of over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. However, they were wearing old-fashioned think woollen jerseys with long sleeves and buttoned collars.

"The Scottish FA assumed Switzerland was cold because it had mountains," explained midfielder and former Manchester United manager Tommy Docherty. "You'd have thought we were going on an expedition to the Antarctic. The Uruguayans wore light V-necked shirts with short sleeves. No wonder we lost 7-0."

Uruguay was the scene of the FIFA World Cup's first strange incident back in 1930. During the semi-final between Argentina and USA, the USA physio Jack Coll ran on to treat an injured player, but had to be helped off the field himself! An untimely trip caused him to inhale the contents of a bottle of chloroform which had spilled in his bag.

A bolt from the blue
However, the injuries sustained to 11 players during a match between Jomo Cosmos and Moroka Swallows in South Africa in 1998 were not self-inflicted. A bolt of lightning struck the ground, leaving several players writhing on the ground in agony. Fortunately, everyone survived.

It wasn't the weather that stopped a game in Argentina in 1990, but the fans. During a game between San Lorenzo and Velez Sarsfield, referee Juan Bava was forced to abandon the match because the fans stole every single ball. Every time the ball went into the stands, it was never returned to the pitch. When the San Lorenzo ran out of balls, the match ended.

It was also in Argentina that a very strange coincidence occurred. While the players, officials and supporters of Racing Club celebrated their Intercontinental Cup win over Celtic in Uruguay back in 1967, fans of their arch-rivals Independiente buried seven black cats under the turf of their stadium, El Cilindro de Avellaneda. In the 34 years that followed, they failed to win another league title. However, when the skeletons of the cats were dug up and destroyed during the reconstruction of the stadium in 2001, Racing Club were crowned Apertura champions the very same year.

More recently, in 2006, during a Copa Paulista tie between Santacruzense and Atletico Sorocaba in Brazil, something truly exceptional occurred in an unexceptional match. With Sorocaba, the away side, leading 1-0, Santacruzense were pushing for an equaliser. In the final minute, the home team flashed a shot just wide of goal - and then a prank by a ballboy changed the course of the game. Instead of handing the ball back for a goal kick, he tapped it right past the keeper and into the net. With the sight of the Sorocoba's No1 picking the ball out of his goal, the referee, who hadn't seen the incident, awarded a goal - to the disbelief of the Sorocaba fans and players. However, there was a happy ending for both sides as they both qualified from the group stage and into the next round.

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