On a recent football coaching course, there was an interesting discussion around the word ‘unlucky’ and its over-use in grassroots children’s football.
Picture the scene: a nine-year old kid is clean through on goal and, with parents watching and urging them on, scuffs their shot wide. There is a natural tendency and instinct to console the child with a reassuring call of “unlucky”.
Except in reality it wasn’t bad luck. It was actually down to some fundamental flaw in their technique and the way that they took the shot.
It was suggested on the course that the coach’s role is to identify what that flaw was and (at the appropriate time) offer some practical advice, and preferably something more tangible than “next time put it in the net” as was used by an opposing coach last weekend.
I was reminded of this when I found myself in conversation with a West Ham fan about our current predicament. “We should be safe already” I stated. “We’ve been really unlucky”.
To back up my claims, I reeled off a number of key moments that had deprived us of precious points: the late goals conceded against West Ham, Man City and Liverpool; missed chances against Stoke, Everton and Leicester.
“There’s ten points and safety right there. We’ve been so unlucky”.
However, just like the fictional example of the child scuffing a shot, all of those incidents were actually down to small individual errors and moments of flawed technique or poor decision-making.
Now as someone who recently ‘took out’ the shed window with a left-foot volley in the back garden I’m in no position to criticise the ability of any of our playing squad, however my constant assertion that we’ve been unlucky and not had our due rewards throughout this season is perhaps misguided. Far too often we have been the architects of our own apparent misfortune.
Or to put it another way, Lady Luck hasn’t smiled on us because maybe Lady Luck doesn’t actually exist.
Referees on the other hand are very real. You definitely can’t question their existence, only their decisions and sometimes their parentage. In a previous column, I made the claim that we had been on the wrong end of all manner of decisions and inferred that we were the victims of a conspiracy theory that would grace any grassy knoll in Dallas.
But again, is that bad luck or yet more examples of individual errors – albeit this time from blokes with whistles? Or maybe it’s neither and actually a case of yellow-tinted spectacles creating a biased perspective?
There is a website entitled the Hypothetical Premier League. The underlying premise is that each week, many incorrect decisions are made by officials which have a direct bearing on results and which could or should have been prevented by the use of video technology. The creators of the site analyse the weekend’s results and the key contentious incidents and with the benefit of replays and pundit analysis they have created an alternative league table based upon amended results.
There are (as they acknowledge) limitations to their approach, as illustrated by our home game against Crystal Palace. Under their method, had Simon Hooper not disallowed Cameron Jerome’s overhead kick for dangerous play, then the amended result would have been a 3-2 defeat instead of the actual 3-1 score line.
Those of us present on the day (and who still feel a sense of injustice) would suggest that a City equaliser, had it been allowed to stand, would have led to a point or possibly three given the change in dynamic. But of course that’s impossible and impractical to predict.
There’s also an assumption that when penalties should have been awarded (such as the assault on Matt Jarvis at Selhurst Park) they would have resulted in a goal. Having witnessed our exit in the Capital One Cup at Goodison earlier this season, I can confirm that a City penalty is by no means a given.
Nevertheless it’s an interesting concept and one that I had fully anticipated was going to validate my claims of injustice and misfortune.
Except it doesn’t.
In fact what it indicates is that after 34 games, instead of residing in the bottom three on goal difference, we could have been three points better off but sat in nineteenth place and a point adrift of West Brom and potential safety.
Interestingly it’s Newcastle fans who could lay claim to the greatest sense of injustice down at the bottom of the table, whilst at the top there’s an indication that Leicester’s fairy tale season has owed as much to questionable decisions as it has to the talents of Ranieri’s squad.
I had never been a fan of introducing video technology into football. Sports such as cricket or American football where the play is constrained into isolated passages of play naturally lend themselves to scrutiny by a third umpire with the technology at hand to make the right call.
However it is widely used in free-flowing sports such as rugby and when you consider the financial implications of Premier League survival and relegation, there’s a compelling case to eradicate the human error element.
Although video technology will never eradicate Cameron Jerome from skying the ball over the Everton bar from six yards out.
Sometimes, you have to make your own ‘luck’.
Steve posts on Twitter @stevocook
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