There are certain football stories which seem to be endlessly trotted out, whether online, in interviews or during conversations with friends. The fact that they have been recounted hundreds if not thousands of times have made them niche pieces of footballing knowledge that exhibit the weird and wonderful side of the sport we all love...but some of them are urban myths.
However, some of them have a habit of being exaggerated, skirting around or completely ignoring the truth. Here are five popular football urban myths which you might have heard of at some point but have a story that doesn’t quite add up. The next time you hear them you can correct their misinformation (although you may find that you are called a spoilsport more often…)
1. Brian Clough Tried to Sign Dean Saunders When He Was Very, Very Drunk
The story: In an interview with TalkSport – which has since been put on YouTube and racked up over half a million views – former Liverpool striker Dean Saunders mentioned meeting Nottingham Forest manager Brian Clough at assistant Alan Hill’s house in June 1991 to discuss a potential transfer from Derby County.
What followed was a bizarre encounter in which Clough, who turned up with 'blotchy cheeks', called Saunders’ agent 'fatso', crawled on all fours, ripped flowers out of Hill’s garden as a present for Saunders and impersonated Frank Sinatra. To top it off, when Saunders returned home 'head still spinning', Clough was sat in his living room with his arm round his mother-in-law. The reason for Clough’s bizarre behaviour is clear; as Saunders put it: “I started to work out he might be drunk.”
The truth: It’s unclear exactly how much of the story is true but the answer seems to be a minimal amount at best. “Brian wasn’t drunk, he wasn’t crawling on his hands and knees and there was no flowerpot,” said Hill in 2016. “Brian liked a drink and we all know he had a situation towards the end but he wasn’t drunk that day at all.”
Indeed, the following season Clough led Forest to eighth in the First Division and the League Cup final and won the Full Members’ Cup, suggesting that he wasn’t in the habit of manically building his squad under the influence of drink.
2. India Withdrew From the 1950 World Cup Because They Weren’t Allowed to Play in Bare Feet
The story: India qualified for the 1950 World Cup in Brazil (for the first and still only time in their history) after Burma, Indonesia and the Philippines all resigned from the Asian qualifying group. The team’s tendency to play matches in bare feet was highlighted to the world after their defeat against France at the London Olympics two years earlier.
Their unusual attire intrigued the British crowd and became folklore when their captain Talimeren Ao famously exclaimed, "Well you see, we play football in India, whereas you play bootball!"
However, FIFA failed to see the funny side and demanded that India play their matches in full kit, otherwise they would not be allowed at the World Cup. The Indian FA was annoyed by the ruling, particularly because they felt it would harm the team’s chances and not wearing boots did not constitute cheating. A series of heated debates later, India pulled out of the tournament.
The truth: There were several reasons behind India’s withdrawal from the 1950 World Cup but according to their captain at the time, Sailen Manna, disputes over boots was not one of them.
Instead, the logistics and costs of travelling to Brazil, a lack of time to get a decent and integrated squad together and the Indian FA’s preference to focus on the following Olympics in Helsinki meant that the Blue Tigers felt it best to give up their place. Hindsight is a wonderful thing but maybe they got their priorities wrong; at the Helsinki Olympics they were thrashed 10-1 by Yugoslavia in the first round.
3. Paul Scholes Once Embarrassed Cristiano Ronaldo by Hitting a Tree From 50 Metres
The story: In the most popular version of this tale which appears to do the rounds on social media every few months, the five-time Ballon d’Or winner paid tribute to Paul Scholes by saying: "When we were in training, I used to do a lot of tricks which hardly any players at the club could do.
"Once I was showing my skills to Scholes. After I finished, Scholes took the ball and pointed to a tree which was about 50 metres from where we were standing. He said 'I'm going to hit it in one shot.' He kicked the ball and hit the tree. He asked me to do the same; I tried about 10 times but couldn't hit it. He smiled and left."
The truth: Cristiano Ronaldo never said this. The quote can actually be originally attributed to Rio Ferdinand and his version of events certainly didn’t involve the Portuguese superstar showing off. When he was asked who he thought was the best player in Manchester United’s squad in 2008, Ferdinand responded" “For me, it's Paul Scholes. He'll do ridiculous things in training like say 'You see that tree over there?' – it'll be 40 yards away – 'I'm going to hit it.' And he'll do it. Everyone at the club considers him the best.”
It’s unknown if somebody decided down the line that the story would seem more impressive if it came from Ronaldo or they injected him being humiliated into the tale in a thinly veiled bid to reinforce the suggestion that Scholes was world class. Either way, as humorous as this quote from Ronaldo may be, it is simply and sadly not true.
4. Roy Keane Ended Alf-Inge Håland’s Career With *That* Tackle
The story: Towards the end of a Manchester derby in April 2001, Keane violently chopped down Manchester City defender Håland with a huge hit on his right knee, immediately receiving a red card.
The tackle became more controversial when Keane released his autobiography in August 2002, which admitted that the tackle was pre-calculated and deliberately intended to injure the Norwegian. He was punished with a £150,000 fine and five match ban, whilst the tackle injured Håland so badly that it forced him into early retirement.
The truth: Håland actually finished the derby in which he received the tackle and started matches for both Norway and City within the following week. It was in fact his left knee which had been suffering from recurring problems, and he required surgery on it that summer which reduced him to just four substitute appearances the following season.
At the time of his retirement in July 2003, Håland stated on his personal website that he had been playing with the injury to his left knee for a few months at the time of the derby and Keane’s tackle did not exacerbate it further. His lunge was nasty and ill-intended, but the suggestion that it cut short Håland’s career is somewhat overdramatic.
5. Zinedine Zidane Was Never Caught Offside in His Career
The story: A fact often brought up to highlight Zidane’s world class talent, intelligence and finesse is that the France and Real Madrid legend was literally never caught offside once during his career.
Such was his ability to read the game combined with his perfect timing, he never fell foul of the linesman’s flag. The attribute made him an impeccable asset at starting and finishing off attacks and caused permanent hassle for defenders.
The truth: There isn’t much that can be said for this other than...well, yes, he was. Matches in which Zidane was caught offside include Juventus and Manchester United’s epic Champions League encounter in April 1999, France and Spain’s round of 16 clash at the 2006 World Cup and a Clasico in November 2005.
There were probably more. The rise of this suggestion and its gradual acceptance as fact is a lesson that if a football fact sounds too extraordinary to be real then it probably is.
However, the similar myth that Gary Lineker never received a yellow or red card throughout his 17-year career is true, remarkably.
Here are 5 popular football urban myths which you might have heard of at some point but have a story that doesn’t quite add up involving Cristiano Ronaldo, Zinedine Zidane, Brian Clough... and bare feet!.