11 bizarre facts about legendary footballers you've probably never heard

Kevin Stewart looks at a handful of colourful characters who left behind riveting tales to tell

1. Garrincha

Having been born malformed as a result of polio and deprivation, he went on to become an alcoholic and a womaniser, as well as a phenomenal player

Brazil has produced an incredible array of world-class footballers over the years, from Pelé, Zico and Romário to Ronaldo, Ronaldinho and Neymar. Not all of the Seleção's icons are clean-cut, however, with Garrincha one of the more controversial legends.

Manuel Francisco dos Santos, to give him his full name, was a skilful winger who lived a rather strange life. Having been born malformed as a result of polio and deprivation (one of his legs was six centimetres shorter than the other and he suffered from curvature of the spine), he went on to become an alcoholic and a womaniser, as well as a phenomenal player.

There are many remarkable tales about the wing wizard, but none are more bizarre than the one in which he ended up losing his virginity to a goat at the age of 14, possibly while intoxicated.

2. George Best

The police received a phone call from someone purporting to be a member of the IRA, who claimed that Best would be shot at St James' Park that very same day

Northern Ireland's history isn't exactly teaming with footballing legends, but Best was definitely one of them. An incredibly talented forward, the ex-Manchester United man was just as well known as a sex symbol and binge drinker – but many aren't aware that he was once a terrorist target too.

During a First Division match between Newcastle and Manchester United in October 1971, the police received a phone call from someone purporting to be a member of the IRA, who claimed that Best would be shot at St James' Park that very same day.

The Ulsterman was given the chance to pull out off the game but, with security heightened, opted to play; on the basis that it's far harder to hit a moving target, he later admitted he'd never run around as much in his life.

George Best

Best was a supposed target for the IRA

3. Harald Bohr

Bohr enjoyed a long career with Akademisk Boldklub in his native Denmark, where he played alongside his brother, Nobel Prize-winning physicist Niels Bohr

Bohr enjoyed a long career with Akademisk Boldklub in his native Denmark, where he played alongside his brother, the Nobel Prize-winning physicist Niels Bohr. He was also a member of the Danish side at the 1908 Summer Olympics, as well as being an accomplished mathematician.

Whenever a mathematician produces a doctoral thesis for his or her studies, they have to defend it – which essentially means explaining it out loud to a gathered group. Bohr, however, was such a popular footballer that, when he was invited to defend his, the audience had more football fans than mathematicians in it. Naturally, he gave 110%.

Niels Bohr

Niels Bohr pictured with his team in Denmark in 1921

4. Lev Yashin

Yashin was able to make 326 league appearances for Dynamo Moscow and 74 appearances for his national team while smoking four packets of cigarettes every day

Soviet Union goalkeeper Yashin is widely considered to be one of the most talented men to have ever played between the posts. He's the only net-minder to have won the Ballon d'Or for a start, and was also voted the best goalkeeper of the 20th century by the International Federation of Football History and Statistics.

Remarkably, Yashin was able to make 326 league appearances for Dynamo Moscow and 74 appearances for his national team while smoking four packets of cigarettes every day. He never went anywhere without his fags - during a trip to India before the 1956 Olympics, Yashin had a packet stolen by an elephant - but his addiction eventually led to him developing a stomach ulcer. As a result, he was forced to carry baking soda with him at all times to help ease the pain.

Lev Yashin

Yashin (right) was partial to a cigarette or 10