Words: Josh Millar
Images: Offside Sports Photography
Pre-match superstitions. They can be anything.
You put a certain sock on first, get those lucky pants out, anything that makes you feel like something is on your side. Something to hold on to, if you’re playing or watching football. There’s always something you can do to get the good vibes a little more firmly on your side.
Players up and down the country every weekend for their Saturday and Sunday teams, every weeknight for their fives, sixes and sevens matches will have something. The professionals are no different and, down at Kingsmeadow, AFC Wimbledon are preparing for the next biggest match in their history in the FA Cup 5th Round.
One of their players, Anthony Wordsworth, has been at Wimbledon since the start of this season. His superstition is slightly unusual. His brother passed away last year, and during a difficult time, a friend told him to try going to a crystal healer. “Anyone that knows me,” he says, “when I start pulling these stones out, they just laugh and they're not having it at all because they know what I'm like. If I saw somebody else do it a few years ago, I'd be the first one to hammer them.” But now he feels like they work for him, they’re good for bringing positivity into his life. “I just carry them with me all the time. If they can bring me a bit of luck and a bit of positive energy, that might be nice.” Although Wimbledon are flying in the Cup, the stones might not have done much for their fortunes in the league so far this season according to Wordsworth. “I bring them out on the pitch before games, and the lads have been putting them in the goalmouth hoping they'll help us score more goals, but obviously that hasn't been working...”
Fourth Round hero Scott Wagstaff has his little things too. “I know that Woody has his magic stones that he likes to keep with him,” he says, “a couple of the boys give him stick for it, but if it’s something that works for him then that’s alright.” He used to have a routine, but now he’s more aware of what he eats, he’d much rather have a delicious slice of toast with Nutella and banana on it than stick to any superstition (although he has dyed his beard in AFC colours for the match v Millwall).
Scott’s old teammate at Charlton was different, though. “Chris Solly couldn’t put his boots on until one of his teammates had put their boots on first,” laughs Wagstaff. “Even if he was ready to go, he’d still have to wait to put his boots on, and the lads knew about it so they’d wait a bit longer to put their boots on.”
AFC manager Wally Downes knows this club. He was here in the ‘80s, and he knows what the FA Cup means to Wimbledon. He was in the Crazy Gang, even sometimes credited with starting the whole thing, but did they have any superstitions in the dressing room while they were playing? “Derek French, our physio, would do a line from Blazing Saddles,” says Downes. “Before we went out onto the pitch, we’d be quite hyped up, so Derek would shout in this high voice and just say ‘Good luck!’” It would calm them down among all of the aggression in the changing room pre-match, especially after one of manager Harry Bassett’s speeches that would get them all riled up. “It wasn’t a superstition as such, but it was a little funny thing that would help us because we’d be so hyped up.”
Even though he wasn’t superstitious as a player, does that change how he is as a manager? “There’s nothing that I do as a manager that’s a superstition, but I’ve worn this jumper that’s smart and I quite like in the last two rounds,” adds Downes. “So I might have to wear that on Saturday.”
Wally is looking forward to playing Millwall; he’s even hoping a football match is going to break out at some point in the 90 minutes. Whatever happens, before the match the players will be going through their routines, doing those little things that put them into a positive mind-set. Wally with his smart-casual wardrobe and Wordsworth with his crystals. And if that doesn’t work, maybe the next one will... or the next one... or the next one... or the next...