Ghostly Tales From The World Of Sport!

1. The haunted house of English cricket

When it comes to ghosts and sports we normally think along the lines of the apparitions of seasons past. It might be teams or players struggling to overcome hoodoos and curses; the currse of the Bambino; the Chicago Cubs’ curse of the billy goat; Hawthorn’s Kennett curse; the Madden cover curse; or the Socceroos’ witch doctor curse. Put simply, sports fans are a superstitious lot, but that’s not what we’re talking about here. We’re talking about actual ghosts, if such things exist.

This week we learned it’s not just metaphorical ghosts that are haunting English cricket. Such is the laundry list of the ills to have befallen Alastair Cook’s side in the past two years, even the poltergeist community has decided to sink the boots. News emerged this week that strapping young fast bowlers of the ilk of Stuart Broad and Ben Stokes were fleeing level three of the Langham Hotel in London on account of a paranormal presence, bringing to mind a host of other sporting ghost stories.

“I’m telling you, something weird is going on,” Broad told the Daily Mail.

Opened in 1865, the Langham has seen its fair share of premature deaths in the time since thus the unwelcome imposition of many former guests on the cream of English cricket.

“I’ve slept OK during the current Test [against India] but the Sri Lanka Test was not great,” Broad said. “One night I woke up in the middle of the night, around 1.30am and I was convinced there was a presence in the room. It was the weirdest feeling.”

On that occasion Broad absconded to the room of teammate Matt Prior, who had also been kept awake by the unwelcome room guests. Neither player is likely to live it down any time soon, especially while the side continues to struggle.

2. Shane Watson at Lumley Castle

What do you get when you combine the hulking figure of Australian all-rounder Shane Watson curled into the foetal position on Brett Lee’s hotel room floor at Lumley Castle and the haunting spectre of a 14th century ghost? One of cricket’s greatest mental images, that’s what. Oh for some Blair Witch-style shaky video recorder footage of the Aussie cricketer delivering a teeth-chattering monologue direct to camera with night-vision illuminating his petrified stare.

“Scare dinkum – Aussies caught by the ghoulies at ‘haunted’ hotel,” squealed a predictably-restrained back-page headline in the Sun after the 2005 incident. The castle was said by locals to be haunted by Lily of Lumley, a 14th century aristocrat who was murdered by Catholic priests and, to be fair, no amount of John Buchanan boot camps can prepare you for that. Even worse for Watson was that he was being egged on in his panicked state by the team bus driver, who regaled the rookie tourist with tales of Lily’s gruesome murder.

As befits such a bizarre tale, there is some conjecture as to whether Watson stayed in Room 46 (where Lily had allegedly been tortured by the priests before being thrown down a nearby well) from the start, or was mischievously shifted there after his midnight crisis and flight to Lee’s room. Either way he slept like a light on his final two nights, but that didn’t save him from the wrath of opponents in the press. In the day-night match at Chester-le-Street that followed, English paceman Darren Gough allegedly mocked Watson mercilessly, telling the Aussie, “Don’t worry, you can sleep in my bed tonight.”

In his 2011 autobiography, Watson speaks of his love of history, but sadly that didn’t extend to the Lumley Castle incident, which was noticeably absent in a brief stroll through that 2005 ODI tour. Watson wasn’t the only one to be spooked, either.

“I saw ghosts. I swear I’m telling the truth,” said Australia’s media officer Belinda Dennett. “Several of the players were uneasy although a lot of them in the morning said they were fine … but maybe they were just trying to be brave.”

Five years earlier, several members of the West Indies touring side, including captain Jimmy Adams, had gone as far as to check out of the hotel on account of the unsettling feeling.

In summary: don’t sit near Shane Watson at a horror movie.

3. Effie, the Oklahoma City ghost

If you were crafting a power-rankings system for gauging the toughest-looking athletes, NBA basketballers would place fairly high on the list, though none appear immune from the terrifying supernatural occurrences at Oklahoma City’s 103-year-old Skirvin Hilton Hotel.

A regular stop-off for teams travelling to play the Thunder in road games, the five-star hotel has fast gained a reputation for providing guests with a terrifying stay. This is thanks entirely to Effie the housekeeper, the hotel’s resident ghost and bane of 7ft, 250-pound power forwards who could crush cantaloupes with their bare hands.

Often short on sleep and battling punishing playing schedules, visiting players have reported instances of unexplained door slams, bathtubs mysteriously filled with water and groans and screams from a woman and a baby, turning the hotel into a defensive weapon for the home-town Thunder.

“Everyone in the league knows about her,” OKC veteran Caron Butler told the New York Times. “Hopefully she’ll haunt all the teams that come for the play-offs.”

Though the facts of the matter barely pass the sniff test, legend has it that WB Skirvin, the hotel’s owner in the 1930s, had impregnated Effie and then locked her in a room in the hotel’s upper reaches for so long that the woman was forced to make a despairing leap from a balcony with baby in tow.

“Suddenly, it dawned on me that I wasn’t alone,” said ESPN columnist Bill Simmons on his own brush with Effie and child during a night at the Skirvin. “I had an overpowering sensation that someone else was in the room. Until you’ve experienced that feeling, you can’t understand what it’s like. Your blood is swishing through your veins at 200 miles an hour, only you don’t understand why – your body reacts a few seconds before your brain does.

“I kept the lights on. And the television. And that’s how I spent the next three and a half hours – half-asleep, half-awake and totally spooked. The words ‘man up’ did not enter the equation.”

4. The ghost of Eddie Plank. Sort of

There can’t be many neighbourhood sounds more maddening than the regular thud of baseballs into your fence, especially when the offender is not a local kid, but a professional ball player who has been dead for 70 years. That’s the fate that seemed to have befallen the unfortunate souls who bought the former home of World Series-winning hall of fame pitcher Eddie Plank in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. It does seem apt that a sport as myth-laden as America’s pastime should have its own dedicated roster of ghosts, but this one seemed a little too good to be true.

Back in 1996, in the middle of the night exactly 70 years since Plank’s death, Gettysburg College professor Peter Stitt, his wife and the family dog Roscoe Tanner (it would be a crime to leave out that last detail, right?) claimed they had heard something strange. The owners of the house in which Plank had died apparently started hearing grunting noises and a series of footsteps consistent with a pitcher’s routine. Then, just as suddenly as the mysterious pitcher’s training regime had begun, a little over a month later it stopped just shy of that MLB season’s opening day. It seemed as though Plank was satisfied with his pre-season preparation for the coming campaign and never returned again.

In 2005, ESPN sent columnist Don Barone to the house in the hope that he could coax Gettysburg Eddie out of retirement one more time. That mission was unsuccessful, but with the help of a psychic Barone did manage to have a “conversation” with the pitcher in which Plank intimated that the 1914 World Series was fixed. It appears unlikely that the details of that unconventional interview will be added to Plank’s hall of fame biography, especially when the entire story, from the original 1996 incident on, was revealed to have been an elaborate hoax.

5. The Estadio Hernando Siles ‘ghost’

I’m really neither here nor there on the issue of ghosts, generally finding more fun in the knickers-in-a-knottedness of the I Fucking Love Science types than any strict adherence to the complete and irrefutable truth. On that note, I do have to admit there was something a little unsettling about the sight of an unidentified, ghost-like figure appearing to run through the crowd at Hernando Siles Stadium in April.

The venue was long thought (by superstitious Bolivians, mainly) to be haunted, and many Venezuelans sincerely accept that the ghost of president Hugo Chavez was responsible for saving a goal during an international against Colombia. Based on that theory, Australians would want to hope that former prime minister John Howard doesn’t one day return to the crease during a Test and roll his arm over for a spell of leg-spin.

The other great thing about the Hernando Siles ‘ghost’ was that, having been caught on broadcast cameras and having gone viral around the world, the incident immediately drew quite brilliantly detailed myth-busting posts on forums and blogs, making it this year’s low-rent Zapruder film. If those amateur scientists are to be believed, the footage simply showed a man running along an empty row of seats. In the spirit of all those comments section arguments, I’m going to hypothesise that it was a piece of evil viral marketing genius. Why else would we ever want to discuss a game between The Strongest and Defensor Sporting of Uruguay?

Let’s just chalk this up as a win for the under-appreciated Copa Libertadores.

6. Frontier Field – baseball’s haunted stadium

If you were lucky, it would be entirely possible to completely navigate your way around the entire 50 states of the USA via baseball stadiums, places that often overflow with local customs and traditions. None has a unique selling proposition quite like Rochester’s Frontier Field, though. If the ghost experts of Rochester Paranormal are to be believed (and why should they not be, right? Right?), then Frontier Field is America’s only 100 per cent bona fide haunted stadium.

Home to the Rochester Red Wings of the International League (we really could fill an entire Joy of Six post with things that Americans call “International” and “World” that aren’t), the 10,840-seat park was upgraded by its current tenants in 2005. That was when staff noticed some disconcerting piles of human bones as digging was being carried out. Cometh the hour, cometh the local ghostbusters; the Rochester Paranormal investigators found that not only did the ghosts of some deceased locals wander the park’s grounds, but many were happy that the stadium stood where it did.

All of this raises my suspicions that the people of Rochester Paranormal might be massive baseball fans. This isn’t beyond the realms of possibility; entire books have been devoted to the paranormal qualities of baseball diamonds and clubhouses. Fans are even getting in on the act, with diehards such as Red Sox devotee Gino Castignoli going as far as burying a David Ortiz jersey under wet cement at the new Yankees stadium. The reaction of the Yankees brass? At an estimated expense of $50,000, send in a crew of workers with jack-hammers to pull the jersey back out again.

Related stat: David Ortiz would have been the highest paid living ghost of all-time.


About Andrew

Co-founder & lead investigator of Paranormal Encounters. I've experienced the paranormal all my life, having encountered ghosts, angels and demons. I live in a haunted house and when not exploring and researching the unknown, I enjoy single malt Scotch whisky & potato chips (though not necessarily at the same time).