With Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe admitting this weekend that he is a Chelsea fan, we take a look at the despots who have – or had – a soft spot for a football team.
Mugabe’s revelation came at the weekend when he told Benjani Mwaruwari that he was a Blues fan at the player’s testimonial. ” I watched you but I’m a Chelsea fan and always want them to score,” Mugabe said.
Here’s our pick of some other dictators and tyrants and the teams they supported:
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Adolf Hitler – Schalke: The Fuhrer was reputedly a fan of Schalke, who won the German title six times while Hitler was in charge of Germany. The club later disputed this claim after it was repeated in The Times a few years ago, with a brilliant statement puncturing once and for all the myth that Germans struggle to master humour: “We were very curious to find out what made the well respected Times claim this as a fact. So we checked and double-checked whether the club board between 1933 and 1945 had named a stand the ‘Führer Stand’, for example, and we watched every episode of ‘Allo ‘Allo in a bid to find a clue. Nothing.”
Idi Amin – Hayes FC: The Ugandan dictator became a fan of Hayes as a result of his years spent in the British army (in which he served for 15 years) where he was deeply impressed by a colleague who constantly talked up the achievements of the non-league West London club.
Colonel Gaddafi – Liverpool: Among the artefacts found after the fall of the Libyan leader was a Liverpool mug, leading some to claim that Gaddafi was a fan of the Reds. The idea isn’t actually all that far-fetched: One of Gaddafi’s sons, Al-Saadi Gaddafi, spent years trying to make it as a professional footballer before investing so much in Juventus that he was given a place on the board of directors in 2002 (he resigned from the board a year later). Al-Saadi also considered buying a stake in Liverpool at the same time, though the move never came to fruition.
Radovan Karadzic – Inter Milan: The Bosnian Serb war criminal was a fan of the Serie A giants due to their signing of Serbian players Sinisa Mihajlovi? and Dejan Stankovi?. His nephew told an Italian paper recently that while Karadzic was still a fugitive he risked arrest by going to watch matches.
Osama Bin Laden – Arsenal: Rumours claim that the Al Qaeda chief and mastermind of the 9/11 attacks became a fan of the north London club after watching matches at Highbury several times while visiting Britain as a teenager in the 1970s. He is also said to have bought one of his sons an Ian Wright replica shirt at one point, and Gunners fans took his supposed fandom well by creating a special chant: “Osama, woah-oh / Osama, woah-woah-woah-woah / He’s hiding in Kabul / He loves the Arsenal.”
General Franco – Real Madrid: The Spanish fascist leader was renowned as a fan of the Madrid club, so much so that the club came to be regarded by many almost as the official side of the regime and were referred to openly as ‘Franco’s pet team’. Yet it didn’t start out that way: Franco originally supported Real’s arch-rivals Atletico Madrid, originally an army side, and in fact his later support of Real was as much a case of the dictator jumping on the bandwagon to bask in the club’s glory in the early days of the European Cup, which they won the first five times it was played from 1956-1960.
Benito Mussolini – Bologna: The Italian fascist dictator was a staunch Bologna fan from the time they were formed in 1909; the side thrived after he came to power in 1922, winning the Italian title in 1925, 1929, 1936, 1937, 1939 and 1941. Indeed, the club’s neo-medieval stadium was heralded by Il Duce as a symbol of his beliefs, calling it, “a shining example of what can be done with the will and tenacity of Fascism.”
Josef Stalin – Dynamo Moscow: The club was set up by one of Stalin’s most loyal (and feared) henchmen, KGB chief Lavrenty Beria, and was effectively KGB United for several decades. Football was a big deal to Uncle Joe: when the USSR lost an Olympic match to Yugoslavia in 1952, a furious Stalin ordered the army’s CSKA Moscow team (which had supplied most of the players) to be disbanded.
Nicolae Ceausescu – Steaua Bucharest: The Romanian side was actually owned by the national army prior to the 1989 revolution, and Ceausescu supported and enabled the enforced transfer of players – among them Gheorghe Hagi and Gheorghe Popescu – to the club without the agreement of either the player or his original club. It was a policy that helped Steaua win the league for six consecutive seasons in the 1980s, collect the European Cup in 1986, and set a European record of 104 matches unbeaten in the league.