Off The Ball

Big promises: From sex to Slaven

Promises, promises, promises...In the uncertain and high-pressure world that is top-level football, giving your word is a risky business - not that it stops players or coaches from doing just that. takes a look at some of the better-known and most curious examples of this very public phenomenon.

The irony of Bayern Munich's 4-0 UEFA Champions League first-leg defeat to Barcelona will not be lost on the club's Italian striker Luca Toni after the player's brash pre-match promise to dance naked in Munich's main square, the Marienplatz, should Bayern win this season's competition. Yet even prior to 8 April's humbling in the Camp Nou, Toni was clearly having second thoughts, saying he would now be keeping his underwear firmly on for any potential jig and would only appear on a nice warm day in the Bavarian capital...

Deportivo La Coruna's Julian de Guzman, meanwhile, also made a somewhat saucy promise ahead of the Real Madrid's visit to the Riazor in March 2008. "If I score against Madrid again, I'll go a year without sex," vowed the Canadian midfielder, who had notched the opener in a 3-1 win over Los Blancos in October 2005. This time around, however, De Guzman failed to get the better of Iker Casillas. Whether this was due to wayward finishing or a subliminal desire not to endure a year of abstinence, we will never know.

Paying their dues
Throughout the years there have been many who have tried to explain the particularly close links between football and religion. Indeed, those flocking to their team's ground are often said to be attending a place of worship, star players past and present are hailed as modern-day saints, and it is routine to see a prayer room in a stadium or Catholic footballers making the sign of the cross upon entering or leaving the field of play.

We have to give thanks to the Apostle Santiago for the divine power that, combined with the players' efforts, helped us knock out Milan. But next time I'll just bet a meal or something.

As a result, it should come as no surprise that promises of pilgrimages are a recurring theme. In Spain, this invariably means the road to Santiago de Compostela. Among the many to have uttered this vow was former Deportivo coach Javier Irureta, in this case after his side had crashed 4-1 at AC Milan in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League quarter-final in 2003/04. "If we can turn the tie around, I'll walk all the way to Santiago," said the supremo, with his charges promptly trouncing the Italian giants 4-0 in the second leg to reach the semi-finals. "We have to give thanks to the Apostle Santiago for the divine power that, combined with the players' efforts, helped us knock out Milan. But next time I'll just bet a meal or something," added Irureta who stuck to his word by pounding out the required 70km over just two days.

Crossing the Atlantic to Argentinian capital of Buenos Aires, the pilgrimage of choice has to be the Church of Lujan, which was descended upon by a host of San Lorenzo de Almagro supporters back in 1995. It had been 21 years since El Ciclón, historically one of the country's biggest clubs, had won a league title and at that point they lay in second spot with one game remaining.

Journalist and San Lorenzo supporter Marcelo Tinelli subsequently promised to organise a pilgrimage to Lujan if his beloved team managed to win away at Rosario Central and leaders Gimnasia y Esgrima la Plata fell at home against struggling Independiente. Against all the odds, that is exactly what took place, with thousands of fans joining Tinelli to cover the 67 kilometres on foot and give thanks for their 'miraculous' conquest.

Hair loss and other tales
Middlesbrough's former Irish goal-getter Bernie Slaven, a genuine idol to fans of the Teesside outfit, was thrust back into the limelight in late 1998 after a remarkable public promise. His beloved Boro were about to take on Manchester United at Old Trafford, where they had not won for 68 years. Slaven, commentating on the match for local radio, vowed to flash his bare backside in the shop window of one of Middlesbrough's biggest department stores if his side won the game. Cue a 3-2 victory and the sight of Slaven's derriere alongside the Christmas decorations in Binns' window display. "It's 68 years since we beat them last, so I thought it was pretty safe. It's a bit embarrassing, but nobody's ever done it before. It was worth it for the win," he said at the time.

A common target of these kinds of wagers is hair, with many pros offering to have their head shaved or their hair bleached as either a forfeit for failure or as a 'payment' for success. The River Plate players who won the 2002 Clausura were a case in point, with the likes of Esteban Cambiasso, Andres D'Alessandro and Martin Demichelis all dyeing their hair dazzling blond for the title celebrations while striker Fernando Cavenaghi instead opted for a vivid green.

Another notable practice among superstitious sportsmen is the non-shaving of beards during a cup run, such as by Sheffield United's Alan Cork during the Blades' charge to the FA Cup semi-finals in 1992/93, while conversely Mario Kempes ended his goalless start to the 1978 FIFA World Cup Argentina™ only after shaving off his beard and moustache.

Staying on facial hair and we have Marseille President Pape Diouf, who recently offered to shave off his trademark moustache should OM win a title this season, be it the league or UEFA Cup. With the club lying second in Ligue 1 and in the last eight in European competition, could Diouf's upper lip be revealed in the not-too-distant future?

Have your say
These are just a few examples of the risky promises that have come to light in the world of football. If you know of any more, why not share your stories with other readers? Just click on "Add your comment" to get your voice heard.

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