In the sports world, a second can mean the difference between a loss and a win. Perhaps that’s why individual players and entire teams alike clutch good luck charms ahead of games. These charms range from the famous to the feline, such as Tiger Wood’s red shirts or the San Jose Shark’s lucky black cat, respectively. Sometimes they’re even fragrant, like that of the Spanish soccer team Deportivo de la Coruña: At their home stadium in Galicia, called Riazor, fans often line the pitch with whole garlic cloves.

The garlic is ostensibly there for good luck. But it’s also thought to banish sorcerers and evil spirits. In 2016, a fan site for the team attempted to explain the garlic. Fans toss it to ward off malicious bad luck caused by meigas, the Galician word for “witch.” In the past, that bad luck might have concerned withered crops. But soccer fans want to thwart the possibility of the opposing team scoring a goal, so they arm themselves with garlic. Some fans even draw Deportivo’s characteristic blue and white stripes on their cloves.

This old superstition involving witches has somehow persisted, though. A common Galician saying these days nods towards the incongruity of modern-day witches: “I don’t believe in meigas, but they exist.” So fans figure they might as well protect against any hexes, which is where the garlic comes in.

<em>Estadio Riazor</em>, but garlic-free.
Estadio Riazor, but garlic-free. Albert galiza/(CC BY-SA 3.0)

While most people are more familiar with garlic as vampire-be-gone, it’s long been considered to counter evil in general. The ancient Romans believed that garlic warded off witches. (And since what’s now known as Galicia was part of the Roman empire for centuries, it makes sense that this belief carried over). In many cultures, garlic is also considered a way to deflect the evil eye, or the gazes of jealousy that can cause bad luck.

For a time, the garlic charm might have even worked: From 1992 to 2010, Deportivo never lost a home game to powerhouse Real Madrid when cloves were on the field. (Fans of Real Madrid considered it a curse.) But Deportivo’s luck ran out when they lost to Madrid at Riazor in January 2010. Perhaps witches have come around to garlic these days.

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