What does the success of a sports team depend upon? You may be tempted to think it’s skill, fitness and a sprinkling of good luck. According to many fans, however, you would be wrong.
It all boils down to whether your mate’s wife pops into the kitchen in the 31st minute of a match; not cutting your toenails until defeat; and smashing that all-important rendition of Three Lions in the shower.
That is, the pre-match ritual.
BBC pundits and former players Jürgen Klinsmann, Alan Shearer and Rio Ferdinand all had their specific routines before they retired.
Klinsmann would have a cup of espresso made with the German team’s own machine. Less sophisticatedly, Shearer would eat a plateful of chicken and beans.
And Ferdinand had so many there is not time to mention them all – but they included having the same breakfast, pouring water over his head in the tunnel, and doing something twice with Paul Scholes.
Ferdinand has even continued with some of his rituals as a supporter rather than player – a pre-match coffee is now an essential element. But he’s not the only one doing his bit for England.
Keep it clean
Paul Ashley from Doncaster has carried out the same detailed routine before every game.
“I have a morning shower (as opposed to my usual night time clean) with a hair shampoo and a separate beard shampoo.
“I spend a large chunk of the day pacing the house. About 15 minutes before kick off I don my replica ’66 shirt with 10 on the back, then about five minutes before kick-off I put an England flag bandana on my dog.
“It’s worked so far, apart from Belgium, but I think I may have forgot to shampoo the beard that day.”
Coals and calls
Steve Hance from Buckhurst Hill in Essex is taking no risks and is cooking the same barbeque menu as for every single other England game.
He says his family is getting a bit bored having to eat the same food every three days.
Mr Hance adds: “I’m wearing the same shirt (washed because that’s lucky), same shorts (not washed, because that’s lucky).
“I also ring my mate Tom at work from at least 20 different numbers in the building (so that he answers) and then whisper “it’s coming home” and then hang up. Every single day.
“I’m certain that this keeps us in the running.”
Suit and slides
Jeremy Chapman, from Tring in Hertfordshire, donned his lucky suit – previously worn at his wedding – on Saturday as a paean to the smartly-dressed England manager Gareth Southgate.
Mr Chapman’s wife Meredith Hepner says the ensemble is hanging up and ready in preparation for Wednesday’s clash with Croatia.
But it’s not all the superstitious fan does. He also paints his toenails in patriotic colours (and for all we know, beneath his shiny, sensible lace-ups Southgate does the same) and the “slides and painted toes are now part of the England luck ritual”.
Sofa, so good
Meanwhile, in Chesham, Buckinghamshire, it’s all in the seating arrangements.
Simon Pinnell and his mates know the only way to keep England in the tournament is by sitting in the same places on his friend Mark’s sofa for every single game.
“Despite invitations from a number of people to gather at theirs or suggestions to go to the pub, having watched all the other games at Mark’s and got the result we wanted – including losing to Belgium – we are not going to risk anything other than watching it in the same room, sitting in the same positions,” says Simon.
Mark’s wife Kate could find herself watching the game solo after having the audacity to leave the room during England’s match against Sweden.
“During the match, she [went] to get a drink when Harry Maguire scored. We were tempted to banish her to the kitchen for the rest of the game,” Simon added.
The real fear, however, is if Joe Solo from Scarborough fails to purchase the same cut-price dinner he enjoyed on Saturday.
Here is his confession and apology to the England team, just in case.
“From the quarter final onwards I obviously had to switch up a gear and pile the pressure on the opposition, not just with my lucky shorts and my t-shirt on backwards (to obviously blindside their full-backs), or my slippers on the wrong feet (to stop their forwards shooting straight), but with the pre-match meal.
“And this is where I have made a fatal error.
“Prior to the Sweden game I made the mistake of buying my dinner from the ‘reduced’ counter. It was proper nice, a stale tomato bread and a slightly overripe cheddar with chilli and lime, and obviously, with the 2-0 win it did the trick.
“Problem is, I have been back to the same ‘reduced’ counter three times now and haven’t seen the same food available.
“This is a potential crisis for the Croatia game and I would urge you not to be put off by it, and to give the game your all, regardless. For my part I will wait by the counter as late as I can before kick off just in case we get lucky.
“Oh, and one last thing. If you do happen to lose, please don’t tell anyone it was because of me. Everyone here is so excited about #ItsComingHome and I wouldn’t want news of my bread/cheese failure to be made public if at all possible.”
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