The Certainty Of Chance

2 Jan

For many of us, a new year brings with it the promise of new beginnings. Fresh challenges are there to be overcome. Old habits are consigned to the receding memory of the year that has gone as we try to re-mould and re-shape our personalities and foibles in the hope that the coming year will make us better people in some capacity. It just so happens that this particular year ends in a ‘one’. Fans of Tottenham Hotspur are particularly well-versed in the significance of that number and over the coming months, commentators and pundits will take every available opportunity to remind us all that whenever the year ends in a one, ‘it’s lucky for Spurs’. Watch out everybody, I can already hear the conversation taking place as Chas gives Dave a ring and says “Let’s get the band back together, for old time’s sake”.

Here’s a quick history lesson. Pay attention. By May, you’ll know this off by heart. During the twentieth century, years ending in the number one garnered two League Championships, five FA Cups and one League Cup for the north London club. Not only that but they also produced moments in the club’s folklore which have become mythological in their re-telling over the years: the only non-league side ever to win the FA Cup in 1901, the first club in the twentieth century to achieve the League and Cup Double in 1961, Ricky Villa’s stupendously outrageous dribble in the 1981 Cup Final and in 1991, Gazza, simply Gazza.

With such a roll-call of honours, it’s no surprise that the media will gain a lot of mileage out of the coming year when writing about Spurs, producing puff pieces involving soothsayers and charlatans looking into crystal balls and reading tarot cards as they predict glory and success for Harry Redknapp’s side. There’s phone calls with Russell Grant’s and Mystic Meg’s names on it too… everybody gets paid when the year ends in a one.

While I understand that essentially, it’s all a bit of fun for the media, I find it bemusing that there will be people out there who genuinely will attach meaning and significance to this year for Spurs. Of course, the omens seem good. Spurs are enjoying the best season they have had for nearly a generation and are purveyors of the kind of cavalier football that many regulars at White Hart Lane have been raised to believe is the club’s natural inclination. In Gareth Bale, a true superstar has emerged but throughout the squad from the all-action style of Rafael van der Vaart to the subtlety of Luka Modric or the leadership of Michael Dawson and William Gallas, Spurs fans are witnessing a truly great team being moulded before us. They have already provided us with the stuff of myth as they humiliated Inter Milan and overturned Arsenal at the Emirates with such style. However, I don’t believe this has anything to do with any particular alignment of the stars as some might have you think.

Even the greatest players are pre-disposed to attaching meaning to seemingly insignificant and random gestures. Apparently, Johan Cruyff used to slap his goalkeeper Gert Bals in the stomach and spit chewing gum into the opposition’s half before kick-off while he was at Ajax. When he forgot his gum, Ajax lost the 1969 European Cup final to Milan, 4-1. And Pelé ordered a friend to track down a fan to whom he’d given one of his shirts, believing this had been the reason that he had suffered a dip in form. Having been given it back, Pelé’s potency returned, though unbeknownst to him that his friend had been unable to track the fan down and merely gave him a replica.

As a human race, we tend to use superstitions in order to make sense of the chaos that surrounds us all. Believing that a simple shirt will enhance your performance has about as much relevance as thinking that the clumsiness of breaking a mirror will unleash upon you seven years of trial and tribulation or that happening to see a solitary magpie will be the harbinger of woe in your life.

The same can be said of course, for putting too much stock in statistics. We may all love a bit of trivia from John Motson and his ilk but as the word suggests, it’s just trivia. If we believed in statistics, Wolves may as well not have turned up at Anfield, seeing as they hadn’t beaten Liverpool for twenty-seven years prior to Wednesday’s game. Chelsea fans used to derive much ‘hilarity’ from labelling Spurs’ ground ‘Three Point Lane’ during the period when a win against our West London rivals was a nigh-on impossibility. But as recent results suggest, times change and statistics are there to be overturned.

Life on earth is really just a series of happy accidents amidst a chaotic framework. The same goes for football. A run of bad results has nothing to do with whether or not you play your matches on a Sunday or a Saturday. It is entirely dependent upon the quality of players that a manager has at his disposal, the organisational tactics employed to achieve the result, the luck of having an injury-free treatment room and the personal chemistry that exists among the disparate personalities within a squad. And luck. There can be no allowances for that most unmeasurable and unquantifiable of qualities.

What, if anything, Tottenham achieve by May, will be the culmination of the foundations laid in place by Martin Jol and nurtured under the wily and experienced tenure of Harry Redknapp. Brimming with confidence, it is a team that is growing in stature and beginning to believe in its ability. No statistics or superstitions are required this year. But for the sheer fun of it, I can’t wait to hear the strains of “Spurs are on their way to Wembley”, climbing up the charts with Chas n’ Dave’s impending reunion.

In Bale we trust.

 

This post was originally published as Its Lucky For Spurs on the excellent Upper90 Magazine website.

Dispatches From A Football Sofa was included in The Guardian’s 100 Football Blogs To Follow In 2011 – take  a peek at some of the excellent football writing on offer elsewhere.

Follow Dispatches on Twitter @gregtheoharis


2 Responses to “The Certainty Of Chance”

  1. Kevin McDougall January 3, 2011 at 21:46 #

    I think it probably has something to do with Spurs being the second biggest spenders in the league over the last few seasons which makes them probable to win an honour 2011. Although hats off to Redknapp, throwing money at a team doesn’t always result in a good team and he seems to have created a good spirit and level of belief in the squad which I’d say at that level is the defining factor between wining and losing around 90% of the games played.

    Also, it will always be known as ‘three point’ lane for Chelsea fans of a certain age 😉

  2. Steve HUghes January 13, 2011 at 17:36 #

    Hmmmm. I seem to recall a certain Spurs fan I know putting a lot of faith in the old “year ends in a one” superstition 10 years ago. This was especially prevalent in the FA Cup semi-final between the old north London rivals. “But it happened in 1991, surely it will happen again……”

    Superstitions are silly, but I think they hold more relevance than you suggest. The pre-match rituals of Cruyff and Pele didn’t provide them with any more talent. However it may have given them that quality which is so much more difficult to nurture – confidence. Talent without belief is almost redundant. Sportsmen are a superstitious bunch and if a particular shirt or routine would exorcise the confidence demons then it was clearly vital to the individual and the team. Humans are too complicated to go out and perform based on their talent, training and team ethic alone. They need to get their head straight in whatever weird or wacky way they see fit. Cricketers are even worse. Many of them will go entire careers without changing their gloves, hats or bats. I was reading the other day how 4 of the England players insisted on having exactly the same meal two nights in a row at Brisbane (and they sat in the same seats) because they felt they would otherwise bring bad luck to batsman Alistair Cook, who was 100-odd not out overnight. He then went out the next day and made his highest ever score of 235. He was one of the 4. Would it have played on his mind if he’s gone out the next morning having ‘broken’ the tradition? I guess we’ll never know….

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