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A Brief History of the Number 13 in Sport

A fear of the number 13 is not uncommon in sport, yet there are some bold individuals who have actively embraced the number, carrying it into battle like a badge of honour. Here, we meet the brave souls who have stuck two fingers up at fate.

by Jim Weeks
13 January 2017, 3:35pm

Photo: PA

Today is Friday the 13th. You probably don't need to be told that, because if you possess a single shred of sense you'll be reading this from a small but secure bed-based fort. And you'll be doing so tomorrow, on Saturday the 14th, because powering up your laptop on such a fundamentally unlucky day could well result in a fiery explosion, disastrous given your apparently secure but actually highly flammable citadel of pillows.

In reality, of course, Friday the 13th is simply a day like any other – but why is the number 13 considered to be so unlucky? There are various reasons, none of them especially convincing. It's often explained by the idea that there were 13 people at the Last Supper; legend has it that Judas Iscariot was the 13th man to take his seat that night, though there's no mention of this in the Bible and it's likely to be a modern invention. In Norse mythology, meanwhile, it is said that Loki was the 13th god; he was believed to have engineered the murder of fellow god Balder, and was the 13th guest to arrive at the ensuing funeral. More logically, there were 13 steps leading up to the gallows – not a lucky place to be – though finding yourself there was generally the result of severe misdeeds, not ill fortune.

Baseless as it may be, a fear of the number 13 is not uncommon. It has a catchy name – "triskaidekaphobia" – and plenty of adherents, many of them in the world of sport. Competitors, teams and even leagues have shied away from the number, fearing it to be a harbinger of bad luck and, potentially, harmful to revenue. On the other hand, there are some brave individuals who have actively embraced the number 13, carrying it into battle like a badge of honour, waving a red rag at the raging bull that is fate, and emerging victorious.

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