Messi and Iniesta send coded messages to Syrian militia
You might imagine Lionel Messi becoming Barcelona’s all-time record goalscorer was the most astonishing thing to come out of the 2012 Clasico with Real Madrid. You’d be wrong. It was during this game, claimed Syrian state television, that Leo and friends sent coded messages to rebels in the war-torn middle-eastern country, revealing the best way to smuggle guns into Syria via their pretty passing patterns.
“Here we see the first stage where arms are loaded from Lebanon,” began the report on Al Dunya TV, complete with graphics showing a map of Syria and a passing move between Messi, Andres Iniesta and Pedro.
The 1958 World Cup never happened
Konspiration 58, a film released in 2002, claimed the 1958 World Cup took place in a Los Angeles recording studio, not Sweden, as part of a CIA experiment to test the power of televised propaganda.
The proof? Suspicious buildings in the background of games, doctored photos of boots and player shadows that couldn’t have been produced by Scandinavian summertime sun.
But as the credits rolled, a statement revealed that director Johan Lofstedt’s film was an attempt to explore the pitfalls of history revisionism, especially Holocaust denial, and everyone had been in on it.
Wenger signs Bergkamp from Japan
Unveiled as an Arsenal player in May 1995, Dennis Bergkamp was the signing who helped Arsenal shed the “boring” image and morph into something easier on the eye.
New Gunners manager Bruce Rioch claimed: “I hope that Dennis’s arrival shows all supporters that Arsenal are planning an ambitious future for themselves.” That’s assuming, of course, that Rioch actually had any involvement in Bergkamp’s arrival whatsoever.
It’s since emerged that none other than Arsene Wenger, then Grampus Eight manager, advised the Gunners to bring the Dutchman to Highbury. Does that mean Wenger was already de facto Arsenal boss before he officially took charge a year later? Quite possibly.
Cantona signed to sell shirts. Joel Cantona, that is...
Having spent most of his footballing career underachieving at an assortment of French clubs, defender Joel Cantona – younger sibling of Manchester United’s Eric – proceeded to rock up at both Stockport and Peterborough for trials in 1993, while his more famous sibling strutted his stuff at Old Trafford.
Sadly, Joel failed to make his mark in England. Peterborough supporters suggested he’d been bought so that their commercial department could shift a few club shirts with ‘Cantona’ emblazoned on the back. Unfortunately for Posh, no sooner had the shirts been made up than Joel headed back across the Channel, without making a single first-team appearance.
Argentina spike Brazil’s drinks
A World Cup game between Brazil and Argentina is always going to be laced with hatred, passion and no little flair – but tranquilisers?
That’s what Seleção left-back Branco is convinced happened after Argentina physio Miguel Di Lorenzo, while attending to a stricken Albiceleste player, gave him a water bottle. Two days later, Branco complained of feeling dizzy and sick after drinking from what he believed to be tranquiliser-laced water intended just for him.
In 2005 Diego Maradona implied the story’s truth in a TV interview. “Look, I’m not saying it didn’t happen,” sighed coach Carlos Bilardo soon after, his face contorting as if trying not to smile. Football had its own Watergate.
Highfield Road’s 15 minutes of shame
While the Sex Pistols filled May 1977 by plotting the overthrow of one “fascist regime”, Sunderland fans directed their ire towards Coventry chairman Jimmy Hill instead.
With the Black Cats, Sky Blues and Bristol City fighting to avoid relegation on the final day of the season, the latter two met at Highfield Road in a match that was delayed by 15 minutes because of crowd congestion.
As soon as the final whistle blew on Sunderland’s 2-0 defeat by Everton, meaning Coventry and Bristol City’s 2-2 draw would see both teams survive, the situation was immediately announced over the tannoy. Cue 22 relieved players indulging in 15 minutes of keep-ball.
‘Cruyff, Champagne and Naked Girls’
Few deny there was a naked pool party comprising the Dutch squad that had just reached the 1974 World Cup final and a bevy of German beauties. Speak to the wife of any player and they’ll say “my husband wasn’t there”.
German tabloid Bild ran the story the day before the final against the hosts, under the sensational headline ‘Cruyff, champagne and naked girls’.
Most accept that Johan Cruyff wasn’t there, but his attempts to placate his furious wife lasted long into the night. The day after the story was printed, he played “like a dishrag” according to his brother Hennie. The Netherlands lost the final 2-1.
Goalie chucks one in for Wales
It’s one thing that Dan Lewis is remembered for making one of the biggest balls-ups in FA Cup final history; it’s quite another that some say he did it on purpose.
The Arsenal goalkeeper, a proud Welshman who had made his international debut just two months earlier, watched agonisingly as the ball squirmed under his arm for the only goal of the 1927 showpiece to allow Cardiff City to take the trophy across the Severn Bridge for the only time in the competition’s history.
Iranian government order team to ‘take it easy’
Needing victory against a mediocre Bahrain side to secure an automatic qualifying spot for the 2002 World Cup, Iran slumped to a shock 1-0 defeat. A few days later, a storm broke after investigative journalists alleged that the team had been ordered to “take it easy” – by their own hard-line Islamic government.
A section of a supposedly “off the record” conversation between a journalist and a government minister said: “The government of Iran believes it undesirable for large numbers of youths to congregate on the streets of Tehran. This occurred during the last soccer World Cup after Iran triumphed against the USA. There were some regrettable instances of drunkenness.”
Tapped-up European Cup referee robs the Rams
As Brian Clough’s Derby travelled to Turin for their 1973 European Cup semi-final, Juventus legend John Charles warned Old Big ’Ead that the Old Lady’s German midfielder Helmut Haller “had the ear” of referee Gerhard Schulenberg.
So, when Derby assistant Peter Taylor saw Haller accompanying his compatriot into the official’s dressing room at half-time, he hurried after them. “Haller jabbed me in the ribs and while I was gasping for air, some heavies grabbed hold of me,” Taylor later huffed.
The Rams lost 3-1, thanks to what The Sun described as “some of the most amazing refereeing ever seen”.
The Franco regime threatened Barcelona
In strolling to a 3-0 Copa del Generalisimo win over Real Madrid in 1943’s semi-final first-leg, Barcelona were odds-on to meet Athletic Bilbao in the final at their fierce rivals’ expense. But trouble was brewing.
Keen to stamp his authority on the domestic cup that bore his name, General Franco fined the Catalans for the whistling of Real Madrid and over-exuberant celebrations. Before the return leg in Madrid, Jose Finat – Franco’s Director General of National Security – ‘reminded’ the Barcelona team: “You’re only playing thanks to the generosity of the regime, who have pardoned your lack of patriotism in the first leg.” Madrid won 11-1.
FIFA betray Maradona
Long cursed with an overactive thyroid, Diego Maradona was struggling to shift a few pounds before the 1994 World Cup. Some would claim an overactive imagination, too, especially after the Argentina international tested positive for ephedrine midway through the tournament.
Maradona claimed FIFA had promised to turn a blind eye to his attempts at weight loss, because they needed his marketability to sell tickets. When they remembered it was a World Cup and so would probably manage all right, they “persecuted” poor Diego. Scoundrels.
Refs conspire against British sides
In the 1960s, legendary football writer Brian Glanville had often alluded to the “golden fix” – the “arrangement” which leading big-city clubs in Italy had with match officials to ensure their teams prospered in both Serie A and European competition.
In 1965, with Liverpool leading 3-1 from the first leg at Anfield, Bill Shankly’s side were beaten 3-0 by Inter at the San Siro, prompting one Liverpool director to claim: “They’re never going to let a British team win the European Cup.”
Ian St John had what appeared to be a legitimate goal chalked off, while the Spanish referee allowed two suspect Inter strikes to stand.
Ref denies Revie’s Leeds in 1973
“Johnny Giles, who wasn’t playing that night due to injury, told us at lunch time the word was we couldn’t win, no matter how well we played.” The words of Leeds legend Peter Lorimer. And looking at the footage of the 1973 European Cup Winners’ Cup Final, it’s hard to disagree.
Milan’s fifth-minute winner was scored directly from an indirect free-kick, Leeds had several stonewall penalty appeals turned down and Norman Hunter was harshly sent off, amid accusations referee Christos Michas had been bribed. Leeds tried and failed to get the match replayed, and Michas was later banned for life by UEFA for unrelated match-fixing.
Messina funded by The Mob
After bankruptcy in the early 1990s, Sicilian club Messina were bought out by local construction magnate Pietro Franza in 1997. His team enjoyed five promotions in eight seasons, and in 2004 they won their golden ticket to Serie A.
Fans of Sicilian rivals Palermo immediately besieged local radio stations, claiming Franza had bribed referees with mafia assistance. After a police investigation, the whole thing was discovered to be a hoax.
Inadvertently, Franza himself had actually been a victim of mob meddling. Messina moved into their gleaming new San Filippo stadium, with its capacity approaching a whopping 38,000, no less than 14 years late after money disappeared, almost certainly into mob hands.
Blades striker sold to make a stand
“It seemed that everyone apart from me knew I was on my way to Leeds,” shrugged former Sheffield United striker Mick Jones. In March 1967 the Bramall Lane outfit flogged their star striker to their arch-rivals.
For years, rumours persisted that Jones was sold so the club could afford to square off their freakish three-sided ground, which they shared with Yorkshire County Cricket Club. The board strenuously denied the charge, but just two years after Jones’s sale, the Blades announced that Bramall Lane would be used for football only and that a new stand would be built.
Ronaldo plays at Nike’s behest
Waving around a piece of paper with the veracity of Neville Chamberlain proclaiming “peace for our time”, commentator John Motson reflected the maelstrom that surrounded Brazil striker Ronaldo’s absence, then re-emergence, from the team sheet for the 1998 World Cup Final at the Stade de France.
Looking and playing like a ghost, Ronaldo’s pallid performance soon raised suspicion that Brazil sponsors Nike had forced O Fenomeno to appear against his will, after the striker had suffered an unexplained fit in the morning. There was even a fudged parliamentary inquiry set up to investigate the sportswear giants’ close relationship with football.
Mussolini makes Monti an offer he can’t refuse
This conspiracy alleges that secret agents travelled to the 1930 World Cup to act as Italian dictator Benito Mussolini’s personal recruiter. Il Duce wanted to ‘persuade’ Argentina midfielder Luis Monti to switch his allegiance to the Azzurri for the next edition of the tournament, which Mussolini was determined to host.
Death threats were issued through his Italian mother, and legend has it Monti was in tears at half-time of the final. Argentina were beating Uruguay 2-1 and eventually lost 4-2. Monti made the move later that year and went on to win the 1934 World Cup as a nationalised Italian.
Bobby Moore’s bracelet and Colombia’s secret police
It was the scandal that rocked England’s defence of the World Cup in 1970, but the one question nobody can answer is: why was Bobby Moore accused of stealing an emerald bracelet from a jewellers in Colombia?
The West Ham defender was placed under house arrest for four days until his release was secured by pressure from Prime Minister Harold Wilson and a lack of any, you know, evidence.
Two years later, leaked documents suggested it was a deliberate sting by the Colombian secret service, potentially to extract money or as part of a South American plot to destabilise the defending champions’ most important player.
Neymar wasn’t really injured at the World Cup
According to keyboard warriors with nothing better to do, Neymar didn’t injure his back in the 2014 World Cup quarter-final and would’ve been fit for the final, if eventual champions Germany hadn’t owned Brazil 7-1 in the last four.
The Illuminati who came up with this theory had ‘evidence’ too. As the Brazilian was stretchered into hospital following a knee to his back from Colombia’s Juan Zuniga, Neymar covered his face with a cloth (“It might not be him!”), photos of him were missing a prominent tattoo (“No Photoshopping here!!”) and his medical notes were destroyed to protect his ‘privacy’ (“OMG, IT’S DEFFO A FAKE NEYMAR!!!”).
Paul the Octopus’s fake death
JFK, Elvis, Paul the Octopus: you’ve got to be seriously famous to have a conspiracy theory surrounding your death. When the psychic cephalopod snuffed it at the ripe old age of two in October 2010, Chinese film-maker Jiang Xiao claimed to be “60 to 70% sure” Paul had died halfway through the World Cup.
Jiang thought it was “kind of strange” the aquarium had offered their support for her movie a matter of weeks before the mollusc’s death. “The movie is about unveiling the inside story behind the octopus miracle,” she huffed, “so they felt nervous.” Of course they did.
Peru lie down for Argentine grain
When hosts Argentina beat already-eliminated Peru by two goals more than the required four to reach the 1978 World Cup final at Brazil’s expense, it didn’t take long for cries of foul play to hang around the eventual winners.
Before the game, dictator Jorge Videla, believing a home World Cup triumph would cleanse the country’s toxic image, offered the Peruvian government 35,000 tonnes of grain, $50m of assets to be unfrozen and the chance for a few of their South American cousins’ political prisoners “to disappear” in return for the necessary tennis score. In 2012, former Peruvian senator Genaro Ledesma finally admitted the fix in open court.
The Nazis killed Matthias Sindelar
Ever since Austrian playmaker Matthias Sindelar’s brace humiliated Nazi Germany in a 1938 ‘friendly’ to ease integration after the annexation of Austria, the so-called Mozart of Football’s card was marked.
Within a year, the 35-year-old was dead. Depending on who you believe, Sindelar and his girlfriend Camilla Castagnola committed suicide, were the unfortunate victims of a faulty chimney or were murdered by the Gestapo for their pro-Jewish beliefs and the waspish star’s refusal to toe the Nazi line. It’s unlikely the whole truth will ever come out.
Anderlecht bribe UEFA Cup semi-final referee
Anderlecht officials were seen scurrying in and out of referee Emilio Guruceta’s dressing room before the second leg of their 1983/84 UEFA Cup last-four tie with Nottingham Forest, who were 2-0 up from the City Ground. The Spanish official presided over a 3-0 Anderlecht victory which included a dodgy penalty and one ruled-out Forest goal.
Guruceta took a six-month break from football after the tie, amid rumours of receiving a £20,000 “loan” from the Belgians. In 1997, ten years after the official’s death in a car accident, UEFA suspended Anderlecht for a season after evidence of the bribe was finally found.
The 1966 and 1974 World Cups were fixed
Any window-licking conspiracist can come up with a theory, but when a former FIFA president claims the 1966 and 1974 World Cups were fixed, you should probably take notice.
“It was planned for the host countries to win,” parped Joao Havelange in 2008. Who did the Brazilian think were most hard done by? Er, Brazil, obviously. “We were the best in the world, with the same teams that won the World Cup in 1962 in Chile and 1970 in Mexico.”
Havelange’s proof? British or German referees allowed roughhouse tactics to disrupt jogo bonito. And that’s it. Not quite a smoking gun, Joao.
Spurs ‘Lasagna-gate’ down to Gooner chef
The Marriott Hotel in Canary Wharf once claimed to “satisfy the most discerning palates with its fresh approach”. Then, the night before the final day of the 2005/06 season, sickness tore through the Tottenham squad like a tsunami, effectively costing Martin Jol’s team a place in the Champions League at the expense of Arsenal and setting tongues wagging across the north London divide.
Although the hotel was cleared of any wrongdoing, it didn’t stop mischief-makers suggesting an Arsenal-loving chef had tampered with the lasagna that floored 10 of the Spurs squad. One even claimed Arsene Wenger himself was behind the flawed Italian favourite.
Denmark and Sweden conspire at Euro 2004
“Italians might like to think in a Machiavellian way,” said flat-batted Sweden coach Lars Lagerback as his side prepared to face Denmark in Euro 2004’s final group games, knowing 2-2 would be the only result to ensure both Scandinavians progressed at the Azzurri’s expense, “but it would not be possible to play for a 2-2 draw. That’s a very unusual result.”
Denmark manager Morten Olsen was just as incredulous. “That’s ridiculous,” spat the bespectacled boss. “We’re honest people.”
The final score? Of course it was. “2-2!” screamed the front page of one Swedish newspaper. “Congratulations, Italy, you tipped correctly.”
World Cup, Derby County, Juventus, Brian Clough, Peru, Argentina, Denmark, Italy, Sweden, Real Madrid, Barcelona, Coventry City, Sunderland, Bristol City, Ronaldo, Brazil, Lionel Messi, Messina, Andrés Iniesta, Diego Maradona, England, Colombia, Johan Cruyff, Netherlands, West Germany, Bahrain, Anderlecht, Nottingham Forest, Austria, Arsenal, Cardiff City, Manchester United, Stockport County, Peterborough United, Tottenham Hotspur, West Ham United, Leeds United, Sheffield United, Neymar, Dennis Bergkamp, Arsene Wenger