Football is no stranger to curses. There’s the Benfica curse, cast by former coach Belá Guttman, blamed for the fact that the Portuguese team hasn’t won any European trophies since 1962. If legends are to be believed, Australia could also set its 32-year absence from the World Cup at the feet of debt with a Mozambican sorcerer.
However, few football curses have the comings and goings of Racing Club’s cursed goal. This is the story of sports heartbreak and the legend of seven black cats buried in one of the country’s most famous stadiums.
Seven black cats, 35 years of heartbreak
As with most legends, the story of the seven black cats buried at Racing Club’s Presidente Perón Stadium has many versions. They vary in detail, but the overall gist of the story, however, goes as follows.
Racing Club was a powerhouse in Argentine football at the beginning of the 20th century. The club was even nicknamed La Academia, (The Academy) for its sporting excellence. Racing has won the First Division title 18 times, including a record seven consecutive championships between 1913 and 1919, five of which they won undefeated.
After what was, by comparison, a relatively barren spell between the 1920s and 50s, Racing achieved another iconic success in 1967 when it became the first Argentine team to lift the Intercontinental Cup after beating European Cup winners Celtic.
Not all Argentines celebrated a local side becoming virtual world champions — supports of historic rival Independiente boiled with rage. Their neighbor’s victory (both clubs are from Avellaneda) was made all the more bitter by the Diablos Rojos themselves failing to win the Intercontinental Cup in 1965 and 1966, losing both times to Italian side Internazionale.
Here’s where we enter the realm of the mythological.
Legend has it that some Independiente fans didn’t settle for cheering from the stands and decided to try their hand at esoteric solutions.
Allegedly encouraged by a local witch, they took advantage of the fact that the night watchman who worked at Racing Stadium was an Independiente supporter. The fans broke in to bury seven dead black cats to jinx Racing. Six of them were buried under one of the goals, with the final cat being placed in a secret location suggested by the night watchman.
Scoff all you want, but come December 1967, Independiente beat Racing 4-0 in the last game of the season and won the Primera Division title. That might sound like a minor consequence of a gruesome rite but for things were about to get a lot worse for La Academia.
In 1980, with Racing trophy-less since 1967 and Independiente luxuriating in their golden age, coach Juan Carlos Lorenzo allegedly decided enough was enough and called for the cats to be dug up. The club, however, only found six. Racing resorted to countermeasures such as burying frogs — supposedly associated with cleansing and rebirth — in the spots where the cats were found but to no avail.
Racing played the last game of the 1983 season away at Independiente on December 22. The Diablos Rojos won 2-0, becoming Primera Division champions, but that was not all. By beating Racing, they got their historic rivals relegated for the first time in their history.
Days before that fateful game, Racing had lost 4-3 at home and police repressed a group of fans who started rioting in the stadium. As chance would have it, they were standing behind the cursed goal where the six cats were found.
Blessings, bankruptcy, and belief
Back in the realm of certainties, on February 14, 1998, the club settled for a different course of action. A procession was called, with 15,000 fans led by the Virgin of Luján walking from the Plaza de Mayo Cathedral to the Presidente Perón Stadium, where Father Jorge Della Barca threw holy water onto the pitch.
“This is not an exorcism but an act of faith,” said then-Racing Club president Daniel Lalín. “The Racing fans deserve all the good times that they have not received for a long time.”
Admittedly, the event concluded with an act by comedian Alfredo Casero and a rock concert by the band Vox Dei, composers of an album called (and inspired by) the Bible, with famous fans and former legends invited.
That act of faith, which reportedly cost over US$30,000, was rewarded with Racing losing the next game 2-0. This sort of spending may explain why, just a year later, the club filed for bankruptcy on March 4, 1999.
However, it was from these ashes that the alleged curse was finally broken.
In 2000, Racing hired Reinaldo “Mostaza” Merlo. In many ways, Merlo was the ideal candidate for coach. On the sporting side, he was tactically shrewd and a natural motivator. On the “mystical” side, he was a deep believer in cábalas, superstitious rituals applied for good luck. He would infamously a cuernitos gesture, making little horns with his hand to jinx whoever had to kick a penalty against his team. Legend has it that Merlo insisted the seventh cat be found — and the club finally had success once a section behind the goal, covered in concrete, was torn down and dug up.
Be that as it may, Merlo put together a solid team with good signings, and on December 27, 2001, Racing was crowned champion of Argentine football after 35 years of drought.
The real story?
Was there ever anything buried under the Presidente Perón Stadium? Common sense and evidence say no.
For one, the story changes every time you read it. The exact moment when the cats were buried varies between 1967 and as late as the 1970s. In some versions, it’s not even buried cats, but frogs.
The first coach to demand the digging up also changes. Some say Lorenzo, but others say the supernatural excavation happened under Racing legend Alfio Basile. Basile had three stints as head of the club — so it could be 1977, 1985, or 1996 — and won the 1988 Supercopa Sudamericana with Racing long before Merlo allegedly ordered the seventh cat to be found in the early 2000s.
The only quote to be found on the matter supposedly comes from José Raúl “Toti” Iglesias, who played for Racing in 1987 and 1989, scoring 19 goals in 44 games and becoming a cult figure at the club. Several media outlets have quoted Iglesias as saying “One of my teammates spoke about the haunted goal and he insisted so much that Basile ordered to dig it up, but they found nothing.”
However, when and to whom this quote was given is never specified.
Contacted by the Herald about it, Iglesias was very clear it’s all a fabrication. “There is no truth to that quote, nor do I remember it. Some things go around for years, but it’s not true, or at least I never saw it.”
When it comes to Racing’s misfortunes and the cursed goal — yes, it was indeed where Luis Rueda missed the same penalty twice in the 2003 Copa Libertadores, booting the club from the competition, among many other mishaps. But it’s also where Claudio “Turco” García scored a handball to send alleged cat-buriers Independiente out of the 1992 Supercopa Sudamericana. It would seem, as Father Della Barca pointed out to Racing fans in 1998, that the best blessing is simply to play football well.