Unpredictable Predictability – Vol.2

22 May

I wasn’t expecting to be writing a Dispatch this Sunday. If the oddball ravings of Harold Camping were to be believed, you dear reader, at this very moment would be contending with cataclysmic earthquakes and worrying about whether you were one of the lucky few million who had made it up to heaven in God’s rollover jackpot of a Saturday. For those left behind on this damned Gomorrah of a planet there’d be, to quote the irrepressible Dr Pete Venkman from Ghostbusters, “human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together…mass hysteria”.

Predictably, the world’s still intact. It’s a beautiful, sunny day. I’ve had the fabled breakfast of champions (coffee and cigarettes) and am leaving fans of the five teams struggling at the foot of the table to contemplate their on survival on this last day of the domestic season.

It’s human nature to pontificate about fate and outcome though. Only upon reflection and with the benefit of changing circumstance and hindsight can you dwell on your own short-sightedness. I’ve had a look at some of this season’s early Dispatches whilst sitting in the garden and found my proclamations somewhat amusing knowing now what was to transpire.

In October, I suggested that Liverpool [will] have…points deducted and [will be] condemned to playing lower league football because of events that have occurred off the field rather than on it.”  I didn’t count upon the Lazarus-like arrival of Kenny Dalglish and his uncanny knack of raising the expectations of a faltering team. I might be even tempted to suggest that Liverpool are a good bet for next year’s title. But I won’t.

In the same month I dismissed Manchester United’s capacity for regeneration and their indomitable spirit:

“All empires have their demise. These falls usually occur after years of complacency and sated appetites that are superceded by powers hungrier and more willing to step up to the challenge of conquest. After twenty years of unprecedented success, Manchester United’s dominance may not have been scuppered by an old general’s desire to succeed but by the greed of a few bankrupt businessmen and the ignorance of a young soldier.”

Oh dear. Who’d have thought a Little Green Pea could shatter all such misgivings? But I did get one thing right at least. Spurs. Forget the year ending in a one. That famous superstition has more or less been consigned to the twentieth century and has made a non-believer of many a Spurs fan. I did say in August though:

I’m able to look upon Spurs’ impending Champions League campaign as the beginning of a glorious adventure. We will play the reigning European Champions twice. But we will definitely not be at Wembley in May’s Final. Because experience tells me it’s appreciating the journey rather than the blind pursuit of some imaginary glory that is the true, most gratifying aspect of being a Spurs fan.”

The nature of predicting events fails to take in changing variables. It’s a running theme in these Dispatches that football personifies the unending struggle to tame the uncontrollable. Managers might go to great lengths to prepare their squads mentally and physically. Books on tactics and manuals suggesting how to coach more successfully fill the bookshelves but football as a game does not allow itself to follow a pre-agreed script. People who don’t ‘get’ football say it’s all the same; just a load of men running up and down a field chasing a ball hand-stitched by an army of under-paid child orphans in a sweaty sub-continental sweatshop. In many respects, that’s true but that fails to take into account the subtleties and idiosyncrasies that keep fans coming back year after year. Who can account for a beach ball contributing to a goal, the myopia of a referee or the unguarded sexism of firmly-ensconced football anchors? I said anchors…

So if rumours are to be believed and a certain footballer is being hung, drawn and quartered for his craven attempts to gag the media for an alleged extra-marital affair, said footballer’s manager must be bordering on a state of apoplexy with a week to go before the biggest match of the football season. Instead of a relaxed week in which this manager would have drilled his players with plans on how to quell and overcome such irresistible and ominous opponents, he now has to contend with the very real prospect of his training ground turning into a media feeding frenzy. Could he have foreseen that several months ago or weeks ago even?

Whatever walk of life you come from, you’re required to plan. People like to throw the Robin Williams-inspired cliché of carpe diem at you, especially in times of reflection but nobody truly adopts this as an ethos to live by. I’m asked to predict the grades of students I teach on a routine basis. I can of course give an educated guess but I cannot guarantee the outcome. I can’t take into account a student’s home life, his attitude towards learning or even the mood he’s in on the day he takes his exam. Nevertheless, my reputation as an educator is by and large dictated by these dressed-up versions of fortune telling.

The season’s coming to a close. Some things have indeed surprised us. Blackpool’s refreshing and cavalier approach to playing football has enlivened the Premier League. As has the on-going comedy soap opera of Mario Balotelli’s sanity. Other things however, never seem to change: Arsenal’s aversion to playing teams of muscular presence, David Moyes’ ability to produce solid, workmanlike Everton sides or the sad, drawn-out demise of Michael Owen’s goal-scoring prowess.

And so as we bid farewell to season 2010/11, we look towards a re-opening of hostilities between Manchester United and Liverpool in 2011/12. But please, don’t quote me on that. Chelsea might have a say in that. Or Arsenal. Or Man City. Maybe even Spurs…

As for the Domesday merchants, they’ve got 23rd December 2012 to look forward to now. As Dr Pete Venkman so succinctly put it: “See you on the other side…”

Further Reading: Unpredictable Predictability 

Follow Dispatches on Twitter: @gregtheoharis

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