Australia’s Most Haunted by M J Steel Collins

In the town of Junee, New South Wales, Australia lies an extravagant Victorian pile called the Monte Cristo Homestead. It has quite a chequered history – from its origins as the grandest home in the area to its fall to, and eventual rescue from, dilapidation, accompanied by a cavalcade of ghosts and strange experiences. Monte Cristo, unsurprisingly, has the reputation as the most haunted house in Australia.

The homestead was built by prosperous farmer Christopher William Crawley between 1884 and 1885. A lot of money was invested in its construction, and it played host to several balls, with golf and tennis played by guests in the grounds .Crawley had been farming in the area for a couple of years when he had the foresight to obtain a licence to build a hotel on land opposite what would eventually become the railway station in Junee. The arrival of the railway was good for Crawley and he soon cashed in on travellers passing through the station. Crawley became a rich man and pillar of the local community. He donated land for the local church and contributed financially to its construction.

Crawley was married to Elizabeth. They are described as a typical, stern Victorian couple, who were quite strict with their servants. The couple had ten children, seven of whom survived into childhood. One son died mysteriously, his cause of death lost somewhere in the midst of time. A baby daughter died after falling from her nanny’s arms on the main staircase of Monte Cristo; the nanny claimed that a strange force seemed to pull the child from her arms. Another daughter died from severe burns after her nightgown caught fire. The surviving children, said to be musically gifted, were privately educated and went on to lead successful lives.

Christopher William Crawley died from blood poisoning caught from an infected neck boil at the age of 69 in 1910. Elizabeth survived him for a further 23 years. She hardly left the homestead in that time, apart from two occasions. A very religious woman, she built her own chapel in an upstairs room. She died in 1933 at the age of 92 from heart failure and appendicitis. The Crawley family left the house in 1948, and in the years that followed, much of its grand facade was destroyed by vandals.

Monte Cristo was eventually saved by Reg Ryan when he purchased it in 1963. A tailor from Wagga Wagga, a city near Junee, he worked hard to buy the property and applied the same work ethic to its restoration back to its original condition. Reg and his wife Olive raised their family in the house. It wasn’t long after they moved in that they realised it might be haunted in a well documented incident.

Three days after the move, Reg and Olive were returning home from a shopping trip, when they saw light pouring from every window of the house as they approached the driveway. Olive wondered if it may have been burglars, but Reg doubted it, as there was no electricity connected to the house. The only light source was a then unlit kerosene lamp and various battery operated lights the family had brought with them. As they drove down the driveway, the lights went back out. The strange event was to repeat itself in 1981, when the Ryans’ son Lawrence arrived home – the rest of the family were out.

Over the years, the Ryans discovered several spooky, eerie things about the house. They established a bed and breakfast, restaurant and ghost tour there and found that certain people reacted in strange ways. Some folk fainted or burst into tears, whilst children are prone to have tantrums by the staircase, where the Crawley’s young daughter died. A council workman once entered the hallway, only to turn heel and walk right back out again. On being questioned, he said he didn’t like the homestead and wouldn’t be back.

One of the most dominant ghosts is believed to be that of Elizabeth Crawley. Her apparition has been seen regularly, mainly by women, while Reg Ryan has heard her footsteps walking the balcony of the second floor. One of her favourite things to do is tell women to get out. One girl was found wandering outside rather than participating in the ghost tour after an elderly lady, thought to be Mrs Crawley’s ghost, told her to leave. The spirit has even ordered Olive Ryan to move out.

Balls are held at Monte Cristo every year, with a Victorian dress code. One year, a woman was leaving after the event when she saw what looked like a woman wearing a Victorian dress walk the balcony. Initially she thought it was another guest, but realised it wasn’t when her car headlights shone through the figure. Some sources state that it was the ghost of Mrs Crawley, but others have it that a maid jumped to her death from the balcony, and that the resulting bloodstain on the stairs below stubbornly refuses to be washed away.

There are a number of child ghosts at the homestead, most of who are believed to be the Crawley children who didn’t make it to adulthood. The ghost of a young stable hand is sometimes seen in the yard outside. He is identified as Morris, who died after his boss cruelly set fire to his bedclothes after not believing Morris was too ill to get out of bed and work. Children visiting the homestead with their family often ask their parents why the other children won’t talk to them or play with them – other children that presumably adults can’t see.

The ghost of Mr Crawley has occasionally been seen, though he isn’t as dominant as that of his wife. One night, a guest staying over in the bed and breakfast woke up to see what appeared to be the ghosts of Mr and Mrs Crawley and the three children…

* Sadly Reg Ryan passed away in July 2014
More information can be found on the official web page of the Monte Cristo Homestead .


A Haunting Trip Doon the Watter by M J Steel Collins

The Glasgow Fair isn’t quite the event it used to be. Nowadays, it means only a few days off for Glasgow workers from the daily grind. But a few short decades ago, it saw thousands of happy workers leave the city in droves to enjoy what was for most the only proper holiday they got all year. And a holiday, in the days before the package trip abroad, meant catching a boat from the Broomielaw and sailing down the Clyde to one of several towns and villages dotting the islands and mainland coast of the Clyde estuary as it opens out into the sea.
In many cases, several families would head off to the likes of Dunoon or Arran for the entire summer, and were joined at the weekends by the workers in the family, who couldn’t afford to take the entire summer off. The Glasgow Fair and going ‘doon the watter’ really took off; benefitting working class families in the late 19th century when workers were given paid holidays. The exodus from Glasgow each July became a huge event, with the city train stations and docks bustling with several excited families armed with everything they needed for a wee break by the sea.
By the 1970s, air travel became more accessible and affordable, with many opting to take in the delights of Benidorm rather than Rothesay. The steamers down the Clyde eventually were phased out. The only one left plying the old routes today is the Waverley paddle steamer. Whilst the holidaying Glaswegian might be a lesser spotted creature in the Clyde estuary, denizens of another worldly nature are plentiful, as the following shows…
Greenock, Inverclyde
In 2012, the then Strathclyde Fire and Rescue Service (now the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service) received a request from a paranormal group, Darkside Paranormal, to investigate the Service’s heritage centre, a disused Victorian fire station in Greenock. Strange stories abound of the old station, with some trades people refusing to work alone in certain rooms.
The museum, in Wallace Place is reputedly haunted by the ghost of a small boy who died during the 1920s after falling from the fire master’s flat.
Gourock, Inverclyde
The Kempock Stone, at 49 Kempock St in Gourock has long been linked to superstition and witchcraft. The land on which it stands has a permanent ban on any building being erected there. Standing at 7 feet tall, the stone looks something like an old woman and is believed to be an old altar to the god Baal, or ancient battle memorial.
There was a tradition amongst sailors and other folk who worked at sea that Granny Kempock controlled the elements, and fishermen used to leave the stone offerings to ensure good weather.
In 1662, several women, including 18 year old Mary Lamont, were the main characters in a witchcraft case involving the stone. They were accused of trying to throw the stone into the Clyde to endanger shipping and attempting to use magic to pilfer milk. Lamont herself apparently confessed to dancing with Auld Nick himself round the stone. Needless to say, they were all executed.
Ghosts are still believed to dance around the stone on some evenings.
Millport, Isle of Cumbrae
A reliable source has it that staff at the Lady Margaret Hospital in Millport on the Isle of Cumbrae has had some interesting ghostly encounters, mainly of the apparitions of elderly ladies in their nighties. One in particular seems fond of the toilet. The hospital, founded in 1900, was once a fever hospital, where patients with infectious diseases were sent.
The Garrison in Millport was the site of a public ghost hunt in 2011, carried out by the Scottish and UK Paranormal Association. The Garrison, built in 1745, today it operates as a community venue, incorporating the GP surgery, museum, library and cafe. A newspaper report at the time states that some interesting phenomena had already been recorded on prior paranormal investigations carried out by the Scottish and UK Paranormal Association, and that it was hoped ghost walks could be operated in the building in future. The Garrison, located in the centre of Millport was the former home of the Earl of Glasgow.
Ardentinny, Cowal
One of the rooms in the Ardentinny Hotel is reputedly haunted by children who have woken occupants during the night.
Gairloch, Wester Ross
The site of some interesting cryptozoology; a monster which sounds like Nessie’s bad tempered cousin was reported by fishermen in 1918. They encountered a beast rising 30 feet out of the water, which then charged at them. Prior to this, circa 1527, sources have it that a rather angry creature emerged from the loch, attacking a hunting party and killing three of them.
Helensburgh, Argyll and Bute
Another Scottish water beastie, this time seen traipsing across the beach by a dog walker in 1962, before disappearing into the sea, leaving footprints, a malodorous scent and a traumatised dog.
The Isle of Arran, Firth of Clyde

The largest island on the Firth of Clyde, which is heaving with the ethereal:

Lochranza is at the northern tip of the Isle of Arran, replete with a loch with a small island and a ruined castle. The area is reputed to be where Robert the Bruce landed in 1306 when he arrived in Arran during his quest to win back the Scottish crown.
Lochranza also has fairy legends attached to it. In one, a local midwife was collecting the harvest with her neighbours when they came across a yellow frog. Someone was about to kill it when the midwife stopped them, feeling the frog was supernatural. Later, a young boy on a grey horse appeared to the midwife, informing her that she had saved the life of the Queen of the Fairies, who was in the habit of disguising herself as a yellow frog. The midwife was offered safe passage to fairy land and ended up as the Queen’s personal midwife.
Many legends are associated with the Machrie Moor Stone Circle, which rates with Stonehenge as one of the best in the UK. One of the many origin myths behind the circle is that it was created by a group of fairies flicking pebbles onto the moor below from the summit of Durra-na-each. There are several other stone circles to be found on the Isle of Arran.
Brodick Castlesits on a prominent spot on Arran and has an extensive history, and was in the Hamilton family for hundreds of years. It was occupied by Cromwell’s troops during the 1650s and has been attacked several times down the years. The castle has been added to over the years, and in 1958, became the property of the National Trust for Scotland. There are three supernatural tales associated with the castle.  The Grey Lady is believed to be the ghost of a plague victim, when it struck Brodick Castle. Peter Underwood writes that she has been seen by several staff members, presumably in the days before the castle was owned by the NTFS. She was seen on several occasions by ‘a psychic house keeper’ and a butler reported seeing her apparently stopping to talk to a tradesman one morning as he worked in the castle. The Grey Lady haunts the older part of the building.
Another ghost is of a man clad in green and wearing a wig, who haunts the library. A white stag has also been seen on several occasions when a member of the Hamilton family dies.
Rothesay, Isle of Bute
Rothesay Castle is a medieval castle, starting life as a wooden Norse stronghold, when the area formed part of the Norse Kingdom. Like many self respecting Scottish castles, it’s seen a fair few skirmishes, including several sieges by the English. The castle was restored by the Third Marquess of Bute in 1872 and 1879. It came under state control in the 1950s, and these days is operated by Historic Scotland, though still owned by the Stuart family.
The castle is haunted by a Green Lady, who dates back to the castle’s Norse days, when it was attacked by Vikings in the 13thcentury. A Lady Isobel, sheltering there saw her entire family slaughtered by the invading forces. One of the Vikings wanted her as his wife. But she was having none of it and killed herself.  Her greenish figure has been spotted several times on the castle tower and parapet.

Curiously, the Isle of Bute is the subject of a curse. The graveyard in Rothesay has a gravestone, which tells of a man who brought his family to the island to escape from a Cholera outbreak in Glasgow during 1900. Unfortunately, the entire family succumbed to Cholera on Bute and as a result, the man cursed the island.

Special thanks to Dr Patricia Barton, Claire Collins, Alex Henderson and James Campbell for their help in the compilation of this article.


Hallowe’en Ghosts on the Kent Railway 1893 by David Saunderson

Reporting ghost stories in the popular press is nothing new.
Today’s tabloids will seem to run any blurry photograph of an alleged apparition providing it attracts the ghost-hungry Most Haunted crowd. But it seems newspapers of yore were also pretty happy to run creepy column inches too. – especially at Halloween!
On 30th October 1893, the Yorkshire Evening Post and other English newspapers that day ran a syndicated yarn titled: “A Haunted Railway, A Ghost at a Railway Station” about the spooky choo-choo trains in Kent, in the south of England.
The article goes: “Some sensation has been aroused among the residents of locality intersected by the main line of the London, Chatham, and Dover Railway at Sittingbourne by the strange story that level crossing that spot is haunted ghosts.
“The tale goes that at the witching hour midnight a person has appeared on the line, where the apparition is said to take its ghostly walk, heedless of passing trains.
” Of recent years the level crossing which used to exist at the spot has proved veritable deathtrap to several persons, and in consequence of the numerous fatalities a foot-bridge has replaced tbe crossing.
“It is actually alleged that the spirit of one of the victims now haunts the crossing, and numbers of people who reside in the immediate vicinity may seen out of doors at night time, waiting for the apparition.
“The rumours arise, no doubt, from the fact that a few days since, as a goods train was passing the spot, at about 2 a.m., the driver thought he saw someone on the line, and he believed that he had run over the person.
“The train was brought a standstill and search made, but no one was to be found. The driver is credited with the belief that the apparition foretells impending danger.”
All newspaper cynicism aside, the Halloween story is pretty creepy. Sittingbourne’s railway station still exists and maybe worth a look and an investigation one day to see if this Kent ghost from over 100 years ago is still haunting commuters.
David Saunderson is the editor and founder of, a London-based website dedicated to paranormal, horror and dark history in the UK and Ireland.

The Nature of The Scottish Ghost Story by M J Steel Collins

Anyone who’s looked at ghost stories will notice after a while that they are of a finicky nature. Once you think you’ve got the tale pinned down, you discover it has at least one other version, or more. It certainly keeps the folklorist busy, but it is important to document the differing accounts as they arise, mainly as it shows how the story has developed over time. One thing I have learned to do, which is perhaps similar to what a paranormal investigator does, is not to accept a story at face value. The one thing where investigating ghosts and documenting their tales diverges is that when it comes to the story, the question of whether or not ghosts exist goes out the window. It is the story that matters.

Scotland has been described as the most haunted country in the world; truth be told, it is probably an even tie with Japan, but it can’t be denied that the ghost story is an important part of Scottish culture. This became clear to me back in university whilst doing my dissertation on ghosts and hauntings. The one thing that stood out was the story and the way in which it could change.

This sent me on an investigation on how ghost stories came about in Scotland. One of the key things that stuck out was the storytelling tradition. Before literacy became widespread, and obviously in an age when much of the population wasn’t glued to a flat screen TV, laptop, or such similar device, storytelling was the main form of entertainment. In fact, even getting caught up on current affairs was done by way of the ballad. It goes even deeper, if we take social theorist Walter Benjamin. Storytelling to him was a way of sharing experience, each teller putting their own impression with each recounting of a tale, giving it the various quirks and asides as the story was passed down. However, following the First World War, the increased dissemination of information meant that storytelling declined to be replaced by media.

Now we need to side step a little and have a look at legendary novelist, Sir Walter Scott. Some credit him with creating the modern Scottish ghost story. It is down to him that we have this romanticized view of the misty highlands, the ruined Scottish castle, and more importantly, the wistful, occasionally malevolent ghost. It has been said that Scott found the present ever so slightly dull, so he jazzed things up a little. In doing so, he also gave us the romanticised Scottish past. A little of Scott adding a part of himself to the telling of the Scottish experience a la Benjamin? Perhaps.

Taking Scott’s romantic notion of Scotland out of the equation and just looking at Scottish history in general, it’s fair to say that the Scots did make a habit out of doing nasty things to each other, just as the Scots and English appeared to hack chunks out of each other during their various skirmishes. This has given rise to the vast majority of Scottish ghost stories. The many ghost stories accredited to Glamis and Edinburgh Castles testify to this. It may be safe to say that ghost stories play a huge role in bringing Scottish history alive. Much of the Edinburgh Ghost Tour is made up of a huge slice of history, and the ghost story doesn’t make much sense without the historical context.

Benjamin is right in that the large dissemination by media has reduced oral storytelling – the main way in which we learn about ghost stories is via websites, blogs, podcasts, books, magazines, newspapers and TV shows. It’s no wonder we are saturated and that several ghost stories have umpteen different versions! The stories, like Chinese whispers, also change with each retelling; perhaps it’s the one thing from Benjamin’s theory that survived into the modern era. Scotland is an absolute minefield for the modern ghost story too. Edinburgh is arguably the main hive of Scottish tales, as seen by the healthy industry it has in ghost tours. That’s not to say other Scottish towns and cities aren’t coming out from under Auld Reekie’s shadow; Glasgow is starting to be given more recognition for haunting stories, and Dundee, Aberdeen and Paisley aren’t short of a few. Some of these places are beginning to spawn their own ghost tours. Mostly Ghostly in Dumfries and Galloway also do a sterling job running ghost tours around the area.

On a final note, Walter Benjamin would probably be heartened to know that traditional storytelling has been making a comeback in recent years, probably part of the wider scene of people getting back to their cultural roots. Storytelling in particular is rather important; it was after all the original means of sharing knowledge when culture was based on the oral, rather than written word. It also helps to bring places alive to people who may not otherwise engage with them. A castle on its own is just a castle, but throw in a few stories, it becomes so much more. An example of this can be seen in the Storyteller in Residence project at Crookston Castle in Glasgow, the ghost stories of which incidentally are scarcely recognised. Perhaps ghost tours can be viewed as a modern development of traditional storytelling?

More information:

The Cultural Vortex – American Ghosts by M J Steel Collins

As someone who writes a lot on Scottish ghosts, one of the things that interest me is how they are viewed by people from other countries. One group in particular that seems to be fascinated by hauntings in Scotland are the Americans, judging from the number of US documentaries made on the subject and the awe in which US ghost enthusiasts have for Scotland’s ghosts.

But to turn things around, one thing which fascinates me is the American ghost story. There are a number of factors that make US ghosts stand out. First, historically, America is almost like a teenager in comparison to Scotland. There are some ghosts in Scotland that were already creaking with the centuries by time the USA came into existence as a country in its own right. The way in which the States is crawling with ghosts, boasting in some cases, ‘the most haunted house in the world’ – Villisca Axe Murder House, kind of creepy, but I raise you Glamis Castle, my friends – is rather intriguing in such a young country.

I wonder if American sense of history comes into it. I admire the way in which Stateside buildings newer than my tenement block are granted historical protection, are cared for and loved, whilst over here it seems de rigueur to demolish what are frankly, brilliant 300 year old buildings for the sake of another bloody car park or office block that is probably going to lie empty. Ghosts seem to play a huge factor in this. Quite a few of America’s old haunted places boast ghosts, which seem to be the centre piece – take The Whaley House in San Diego for example. Then there are the numerous prisons and asylums, such as Moundsville Penitentiary and Waverly Hills Sanatorium, which are lovingly preserved and restored, whilst over here in Glasgow, the asylum section of the old Govan Poorhouse, now the Southern General, has been demolished in the name of development. We Scots could probably learn a thing or two from the States on protecting our built heritage.

But the thing that stands out the most when it comes to America’s spooky stories is the way in which they have been influenced by the cultures of those who have emigrated there and the indigenous cultures. For instance, Chris Woodyard, in his book The Ghost Wore Black describes the tale of a banshee heralding a death in Indiana, whilst Michael Norman in his ‘Haunted America’ series features the odd tale of a Wendigo, of First Nation folklore. Then there are the ways in which African cultures have permeated that of America; in terms of the supernatural, just take one look at the development of Voodoo in Louisiana.

At the same time, there are ghost stories which can probably be classed as pure American, with little to do with imported memes from different cultures, other than the fact that a ghost is something that gets around. Take, for example, the stories of miners killed in hideous accidents, of which there are many throughout the States, ghosts of the Civil War, and rather glamorously, ghosts of famous Hollywood actors and actresses, such as Marilyn Monroe in the Roosevelt Hotel in Los Angeles. Presidents aren’t shy about getting in on the act. Abraham Lincoln famously haunts the White House, while more recently, the ghost of Ronald Reagan is reportedly haunting his old ranch in California (or perhaps it was just Obama he was haunting in the 2012 Presidential Election campaign!).

Still, the cultural syncretism of American ghost stories is worthy of note, yet it doesn’t seem to get much mention in collections. Troy Taylor and Jeff Belanger don’t appear to consider it; Michael Norman pays little heed to it, being more interested in just telling the tale. Chris Woodyard is the only person I have seen really comment on it. In The Ghost That Wore Black, he goes into great detail of where in the world the ghostly influence of the story at hand comes from. He mentions the Black Shuck, banshees of course (Irish, not Scots), Springheel Jack, and Native American entities to name a few. American paranormal writers would do well to take heed. One of the things I think is important in recounting Scottish ghost stories is to look at where it comes from, be it a folkloric entity, such as a fairy, or some nasty character from the past, like ‘Bluidy’ George Mackenzie. Given the cultural tapestry that makes up the country, I’d say this is vital in America. Then we can see where a ghost may have come from, rather than just accepting its existence (or not) at face value. There is probably far too much emphasis on gaining scientific evidence to prove a haunting, whilst the cultural origins that have led to the development of the story are equally as fascinating.


Benfica and the Curse of Bela by Michael S Collins

For someone who has been dead thirty-three years, Bela Guttman is a very bitter man.

Jon Arnold

Benfica are one of the most successful football clubs in the world. They have won their domestic Portuguese league thirty-three times, and the Portuguese Cup twenty-four times. Alongside European success in the distant past, it stands as one of the most glittering trophy cabinets in Europe, and many are jealous of that success. Yet, if you ask folk who work for the club, a sinister shadow lurks over them, which prevents greater success on a continental stage. For Benfica, they claim, are cursed.

But to get to the curse, we need to go back to the start. No, not as far as 1904, when a bunch of students formed this club. In the 1950s, Benfica had risen from that humble beginning to become a sporting institution (they have teams in many sports, includibg basketball and hockey, not just football) in the background of Salazar’s Portugal. They had high hopes of winning the European Cup, but come short against unstoppable Real Madrid in 1957.

Enter, in 1959, Bela Guttman. A Hungarian Jew who had won the Hungarian league title either side of a Second World War in which he spent hidden away from Hitler so well people still aren’t sure where he got to, Guttman had already gained a reputation at that point for mercurial success and a history of relationships souring. A man who had gained and lost a fortune in the Wall Street Crash, after leaving his native Hungary earlier due to an anti-Semitic leader. He also was not unknown for his random moments of eccentricism; as early as 1924, he responded to his own view that the Olympics hotel was not suitable, by hanging dead rats from the rooms of the Olympics officials. When people would ask his age – he was near 60 when he took over at Benfica – he would reply “24”. And his method of scouting players might not pass modern scrutiny; he discovered Eusebio, Benfica’s finest player, after a discussion at the local barber shop with a retired Brazilian international! He had a belief in the supremacy of the manager which has signs in the modern day Jose Mourinho, and installed a clause in all future contracts that he couldn’t be sacked if his club were top of the league, after that happened in Milan.

I never minded if the opposition scored, because I always thought we could score another.”
Bela Guttman

Not wary of courting controversy, he had even moved to Benfica from their bitter rivals Porto!

Some while ago, he said, Lucchese, then for a brief while a Serie A team from the beautiful Tuscan city of Lucca, were on their way by train to play the mighty Juventus in Turin. On the journey their manager, poor fellow died. The directors were thrown into a panic. How could any Italian team take the field without a manager on the bench? In desperation, they phoned all over the peninsula until they had found a manager, who arrived just in time to sit on the bench. Lucchese then proceeded against all the odds to hold Juventus to a draw, and the players carried the new coach off the field on their shoulders.”
Guttman’s anecdote about managing, told by Brian Glanville

Guttman was to lead Benfica to great success, but their greatest success together came in Europe. In 1961, they became the first side to win the European Cup not named Real Madrid. (Though not the first team to beat Real, that honour fell to their long time political, philosophical, theological, sociological and footballing nemesis, Barcelona.) In 1962, in the final they came up against Real themselves, and beat them to make it two European Cups. With a fine manager, and some great players – Eusebio and Mario Coluna, Benfica and Portugal captain to name but two – the future looked rosy for Benfica.

And so Bela Guttman asked for a pay raise. To be fair, he had every right to given his success, and had he been managing in the modern game, he’d have been making millions before you could say “Special One”. [And unlike Mourinho, Guttman was a proponent of the Danubian School of football philosophy, so maintained a healthy 4-2-4 attacking formation throughout his career…]

The Benfica board turned him down, and Guttman left the club.

And at this point, he is alleged to have put a curse on the club.

Never in a hundred years will Benfica ever be a European champion.”

Now, an alleged curse is one thing. What does it take for people to begin believing in it?

In 1963, they got to the European Cup final again. Despite taking the lead, they fell behind 2-1 and lost to AC Milan. Another final in 1965, and this time the loss was to Milan’s city and stadium sharing rivals, Inter. In 1968, another final, and in extra time at Wembley, and believing certain referee decisions had gone against them, Benfica went down 4-1 to Matt Busby’s Manchester United, undone by the majestic talents of George Best and Bobby Charlton. Famously, despite having the dogged Nobby Stiles marking him, Eusebio broke free of the United defence to find himself one on one with the goalkeeper… and the most natural goal scorer in Europe missed the most gilt edged chance of his career. It was 1-1 then, would have won the game. So three European finals in quick succession, and the manner of the third turned some minds.

Then in 1983, a UEFA Cup final. Hey, Guttman didn’t specify the smaller European trophies, just a European Cup. Benfica had manager Sven Goran-Eriksson, already with a fine reputation (though he was later to win the Italian title and manage England) and a great team. They are facing Anderlecht, with all due respect, not one of Europes shining lights. (Forever eccentric, Anderlecht of Brussels in Belgium are one of the handful of teams who have both won a European group stage 100% and lost one 100% in their history!) A nice way to take the pressure off, but Anderlecht won 1-0 at home, and drew the game in Portugal, and suddenly it was 4 lost finals.

In 1988, another European Cup final, against novices PSV Eindhoven of Holland. This time surely. Goalless game after a sterile match in which Benfica, perhaps done in by the ideas of curses and player suspensions, played ultra defensively. Every penalty was scored, so sudden death in the shootout came into play, and it was Benfica who missed. Five lost finals.

In 1990, Benfica reached another European Cup final, against Arrigo Sacchi’s Milan side, one of the finest regarded in Europe. This time, Benfica were underdogs. (And owed a fortuitous handball to eliminating the much more fancied Marseille side in the Semifinals!) Benfica’s manager at this point was their previous tormenter, Sven-Goran.

But the words of Guttman hung in the air. Eusebio, long retired but still an ambassador for Benfica and Portuguese football, went to the grave of Bela Guttman (who had died in 1981) and prayed to Guttman for mercy, kneeling before his grave in Austria.

Well, for a while, it might have seemed it had worked. Benfica had all the pressing against Milan, their keeper held Marco Van Basten (Milans scorer extraordinaire) at bay, and had a number of chances but just couldn’t get the ball in the net. Then, Frank Rijkaard scored midway through the second half, and it was 1-0 Milan. That was the score at full time.

Guttman had not been appeased, clearly.

In 2013 and 2014 they have reached two more European finals, in the Europa League. In 2013, they took on Chelsea, dominated the proceedings, and lost 2-1 with the final goal coming in the last seconds of injury time. On the 14th May 2014, they took on Sevilla, overwhelming favourites to finally end the Curse of Bela, and yet couldn’t find a way past the Spanish defence and crumbled in the penalty shootout.

The current score, if you are keeping count at home, is Bela Guttman 8, Benfica 0.

Football curses aren’t unique to Benfica. Derby County removed a Romani settlement to build their new stadium in 1896. A curse on the FA Cup was allegedly placed on Derby, which enough folk began to believe in after they reached three finals (and six semifinals) in quick succession, losing each time. Before their FA Cup final in 1946, officials from Derby County met with the descendents of the removed people to beg forgiveness. During the final, at 1-1, the ball burst. A sign from elsewhere they’d been forgiven? Derby went onto win 4-1, the curse broken, and rarely spoken of again.

A similar curse in similar circumstances was alleged to have fallen on Birmingham City from 1906 to 2006. Manager Barry Fry once even peed in all four sections of the ground to try and ward off the curse. One might equally state though, that is more likely Birmingham City failed to win anything, because they were rubbish. Hibernian of Edinburgh, one of Scotlands biggest football clubs, have failed to win the Scottish Cup since 1902, and no one seriously claims they are cursed, except by the continued laughter of other football fans.

Though with Hibs, and more talk of Romani curses (were they walking around the countryside, randomly placing curses on football teams they found had interesting names in their Sports Almanac?) as they lost 10 Scottish Cup finals since that 1902 victory, the event seems psychological in nature. That said, they even got some nuns to wash their strips before the 2012 final, hoping for some Holy intervention, and lost 5-1. Clearly God was busy, has a great sense of humour, or was a Hearts fan.

I don’t really believe in curses. I do however believe that people who believe in being cursed are likely to fall into self-prophecy. And to be honest, I kind of get the impression Guttman knew that too. Benfica wont continue to lose because they are cursed. They will continue to lose because they think a long dead manager is cursing them. As seen by their finest player praying at the grave, and them mentioning it each European final, Benfica football club seem to believe in the curse. And that trickles down into each successive manager and player. Benfica have even unveiled a statue to their former manager outside their stadium, to no avail on the curse front.

“”Every year when Benfica plays in the Europe they try to get rid of the curse. Any time that Benfica play near Guttmann’s grave, somebody will take flowers. It hasn’t worked.”

Jose Carlos Soares (journalist) to CNN

Ah, but the devils in the detail. For Guttman was also to have claimed “no Portugese side would win two European Cups” in the same hundred years. Porto, clearly not caring for curses, won the European Cup in 1987 and 2004. Rather than the ghostly influence of a bitter Hungarian, one might suggest the ghastly influence of a well placed mind game.

Guttman died, aged 82, in 1981. Both Eusebio and Mario Coluna died the year this was written (2014).

In the last decade (barring 2009) Benfica have been one of the most recurringly successful sides in Europe not to win a European trophy. Barring the aforementioned 2009 debacle, they have reached the last 16 at worst in European competition since 2004. They have reached seven quarterfinals, three semifinals and two finals. They keep meeting a final roadblock, the fates seeming against them. Maybe it’s psychological.

Maybe it’s the ghost of Bela Guttman making sure his old score is settled, even now.

But if so they shouldn’t worry too much.

After all, only forty-eight years left to go…


Glasgow’s Haunted Hospitals by Amy Van De Casteele

Glasgow is an ancient city, which lies on the banks of the River Clyde, in the West Central Lowlands of Scotland. The land it rests on has been inhabited for millennia, and the city itself first came to prominence during medieval times, so it’s fair to say that Glasgow has witnessed its fair share of human life and all that it brings. Within the old buildings, the city’s foundations and the soil it lies on, there are countless memories and echoes of love, hope, despair, anger, suffering, violence, sickness, ecstasy and death.

The city is home to many fascinating old buildings and many of them are haunted.  Its hospitals are no different. Of course, it isn’t surprising that hospitals should become home to restless spirits, as these buildings are no stranger to death. But for the people who work there it must sometimes be a little daunting, to work in a place where you know you might turn a corner into an echoing fluorescent-lit corridor one night and come face to face with a former patient or a nurse who never wanted to leave her station…

The Glasgow Royal Infirmary, established in 1792, is just one of these haunted hospitals. Among its many ghostly inhabitants is the apparition of a former nurse, who strolls the corridors looking just like any other nurse – except that she is missing her legs below the knee. Meanwhile an old man named Archie lingers in Ward 27 and has been known to hold conversations with dying patients – and the surgical block of the hospital is said to play host to the spirit of a woman, supposedly a nun, who fell down a staircase as she tried to prevent someone committing suicide. Last but not least, another spooky story from the hospital recounts how a doctor had just received notification of a cardiac arrest on one of the wards and was hurrying to respond when he was stopped by a patient asking directions to the hospital exit. The doctor showed him the way and then hastened on to his patient – but when he arrived, it was too late. Most horrifying of all, the dead patient was the same man who had just asked him if he could show him the way out…

Meanwhile, in Stobhill Hospital, there is a well-known story of a helpful ghost who once helped a student nurse to save a patient’s life. The student nurse spotted a woman – who she thought was another nurse – slip into a side ward. Wanting to ask her something, the student followed – but when she entered the ward, she found that the nurse had vanished and the only person there was a patient who had fallen unconscious and needed urgent medical attention. Who, then, was the mysterious woman who had just vanished into thin air? Could she have been the ghost of a former nurse, trying to draw attention to the plight of a critically ill patient? No one will ever know.

Another well-documented hospital haunting is that of nurse Mary McLellan. In 1975, she was working in Glasgow’s Western Infirmary, and was preparing some equipment in a room just off a brightly lit corridor when she became aware of a silver-haired man wearing a blue dressing gown, who was standing in the corridor near the door to the opposite ward. He stood there for a few seconds, watching her, then disappeared. Mary wasn’t alarmed or suspicious in any way, thinking he was an ordinary patient. But a moment later a ward sister, who worked in that ward opposite the room where Mary was, came rushing up to her in a very distressed state because she too had seen the spirit – and knew him to be the ghost of a patient who had passed away two days ago.

Another famous ghost to haunt the Western Infirmary is the spirit of Sir William MacEwen, an eminent brain surgeon, who died in 1924. Shortly before his death, Sir MacEwen allegedly refused to operate on a young artist who had been admitted to the hospital suffering violent headaches. Shortly after, the artist fell down four flights of stairs in the hospital during one of his headaches and died. Sir William MacEwen is said to walk the hospital, regretting not performing the operation.

At the Victoria Infirmary in the city’s South Side, a strange shadow was seen by a member of staff taking a quick break outside. What appears to be the apparition of a disfigured dog, complete with green gunge was seen slinking about a ward by staff and a patient.

In the former building of the Paisley Royal Alexandra Infirmary, just outside Glasgow, staff reported all manner of things when it became a nursing home. Disembodied footsteps in the padlocked loft, beds being lifted and moved, the sound of running water and whispers in rooms with sleeping patients, and most eerily, the apparition of a man dragging a body bag! Though, it is possible the tales dated back to when the building operated as a hospital before it’s closure in 1988, when it was replaced by the Royal Alexandra Hospital on another site in Paisley.

These kinds of stories might make the hair on the back of your neck stand up, and make you reluctant to be admitted to hospital – but none of the ghosts involved in these hauntings are malicious or evil, merely the spirits of former nurses and patients who have not moved on. Perhaps, when you next visit your local hospital, you should take a minute to reflect on the spirits who may still wander those echoing corridors. Who were they? Why do they remain? Whoever they are, they probably deserve your compassion more than fright or horror. For once, they were patients too… or perhaps they were a nurse, or a doctor, who still likes to check in on patients now and again, from force of habit or genuine care…