I reckon that’s crap really. People reckon that if you work hard enough, things will eventually go your way. I don’t agree. I bet there are millions of people out there who’ve worked themselves to the bone every day of their working lives while buying a Lottery Ticket every week without fail. Sitting in their living room on Saturday nights, struggling through those terrible lottery ‘gameshows’ thinking “just tell us the damned numbers!” and hoping with all their being, with every fibre of their bodies, that they can call their bastard of a boss tomorrow and tell them they can shove their lousy job up their lousy ass. Or words to that effect.
But they never win. And that feeling after the numbers are read out is the worst in the world. Because every week without fail, you work yourself up into such an overwhelming tidal wave of hope that you actually start to believe. You believe that this week, this time, this week is your week. That rollover jackpot, it’s yours. That dream car, or house, or both, they’ll be yours too, in a couple of days. No more mortgage payments for you. And then the despair. The realisation that you have to work another week. Another week of shit. But there’s always next week… and so the cycle goes on.
Of course that is just a theory. I think that there are hard working people all over the world who never win the lottery (apart from the odd tenner just to keep ’em hooked), but I don’t know that there are. I think that “You make your own luck” is a load of crap, but I don’t know that it is. Or at least I didn’t. I think I may have found some evidence. And this is where, at long last, we rattle around to football.
Of course, that saying, that one makes ones own luck is often bandied about in football. If there’s a slightly suspicious penalty awarded, the fortunate manager will always come out and say either “I’m afraid I didn’t see it.” or “Well we got a bit lucky, but at the end of your day you make your own luck and I think we’ve earned it tonight.” It’s one of those good old, dependable cliches. They know damn well it wasn’t a penalty, the whole country does. But, as cliches always seem to, that little gem allows them to justify their win. And we sort of have to accept it. Because no one can really argue against it. But I’m going to try.
My evidence then, comes in the form of a whole match. A full 90 minutes, plus stoppages, that was played at half past five (GMT) on Saturday the thirty-first of January 2009. The final result showed that Manchester United had beaten Everton by one goal to nil, and perhaps, they had shaded the majority of the game. They looked a touch more dangerous, but overall, rarely threatened and certainly didn’t play with anything like the intensity and commitment that Everton showed in their defence.
The entire team, all eleven men on the pitch in Blue, worked their socks off as one, a very solid superbly oiled defencive machine, and for the most part, they were the equal of Manchester United’s expensively assembled and extremely formidable attacking force. They had worked similarly hard in the games preceding this too, against Arsenal and Liverpool twice, and so their efforts were all the more gargantuan, and grow once more, when you wonder past the treatment room at Goodison Park and see that there is little room to move for strikers in there.
And yet, despite all this hard work, all this effort, all this gut busting commitment and determination, who got the luck? There were three penalty appeals in the match, two on Darren Fletcher, a faint ‘trip’ and a shoulder barge and one on Joleon Lescott where Ferdinand appeared to pull him toward the ground. Only one was given and it was perhaps, out of the three of them, the softest of all (though shoulder barges are allowed in the rules too). So it was a piece of misfortune, if you will, that of the three penalty appeals, of which Everton’s was arguably the strongest, it was United who had a touch of fortune on their side (and I don’t mean Quentin, he didn’t bring them any luck at all I’m sure).
I think few will argue that Everton worked harder on the night of the two teams, and that they are unquestionably a more workmanlike side than Manchester United, who tend to profit from the sheer class of their players more than their absolute dedication to the cause (Cristiano Ronaldo’s questionable allegiance seems to back this up though Carlos Tevez’s utter commitment even in the face of uncertainty proves that anomalies will always occur) and that if indeed one is rewarded for ones hard work by Lady Luck, perhaps Everton should have been the lucky benefactors on the night.
Alas, perhaps I am being a touch short sighted, and doing Man Utd a disservice. Perhaps I am focusing too much on the on pitch matters, which seems to be less and less the focal point of football these days. For indeed, one could argue that Manchester United do put in a lot of hard work, just in different ways. There is no doubt that Sir Alex Ferguson goes to a lot of trouble to intimidate referees. He puts a lot of pressure on them, what with his time-keeping antics and general air of superiority, I’m sure most referees are more scared to cross him than their old headmasters.
Then there is the great effort at which the United players seem to go to make friends with the referee. One can observe in the tunnel before games that the referee’s often tend to greet United’s players informally, using their first names (or even nicknames) and even sharing a joke or two. Now of course this is all well and good, and perhaps it’s pleasant to see. But shouldn’t it occur with the other side too? Maybe Everton’s players are a less friendly bunch, or the United players and the referees are brought together by the shared ailment that is a rabid fear of Sir Alex.
More likely though, is that the players are purposefully ‘pally’ on old Fergie’s orders. He is a wily old dog that one, and he knows every trick in the book. You can bet your bottom dollar (what is a bottom dollar by the way?) that he has told his players to be extra nice to the referees and his officials to ‘soften them up a bit’. And indeed, one can often observe the officials almost melt during a game, when they award a free kick or even a penalty to one of those ‘lovely fellows’. Either then or when they make a ‘wrong’ decision (according to Sir Al’) and face the flaming wrath of Wayne Rooney screaming fire at them.
So perhaps I have underestimated Man Utd. Perhaps they have ‘made their own luck’ through their hard work and commitment to a cause. Still, I feel disappointed, and slightly mistrustful of the phrase. I always sort of picture Lady Luck as something resembling a Saint. An incorruptible spirit. Someone with real values. And therefore it is slightly disappointing to feel that she may have been sucked in by United, in apportioning her favour to them, when they have worked in such sneaky ways, to undermine the neutrality of the officials in order to gain advantage on the pitch.
I would have liked to have think that she would have reprimanded them for that sort of behaviour, and rewarded Everton’s players for their honest hard work. But alas, it seems that none are incorruptible. Perhaps Lady Luck fancies Cristiano Ronaldo and now prances about the world wearing a signed jersey with his signature on the number seven. Let’s face it, they go to such lengths to get the referees on their side, you can bet that Ferguson and United would have a crack at allying Lady Luck to their cause if they could.
In all then, I have perhaps failed in my attempt to argue against the statement that “you make your own luck.” Though maybe I have shown that it needs a little qualification. Maybe something like “you make your own luck but only if you’re willing to be a bit sneaky and slightly dishonest.” But then, aren’t we then at odds with the old adage that “cheats don’t prosper”. Maybe I’ll have a crack at that one next, in fact, I could do it now. Cristiano Ronaldo dives, diving is cheating, yet he still wins free kicks. A cheat, prospers. Done.
Still though, the point of this blog, despite the many jokes, was to bring attention to Man United’s habit of ‘pallying up’ to the referees (to use Tony Mowbrays’ apt phrasing). I can see why they do it, and I can understand the temptation to do it, as it certainly seems to pay off for them and some of the other ‘bigger’ clubs. But I still think that they shouldn;t do it. Because, do they really need another advantage. They already have the better players, amasses thanks to their larger bank balances. Surely they should just play with a bit of decency and honour, and beat us fair and square. Because United played well, they played with class and I’ll concede willingly that they were the better side on the night and the better side overall, in comparison with Everton.
But still, they couldn’t break through us, and I think that we should be rewarded for that. We worked so hard, and we played out of our skins to keep them at bay. Great, workmanlike players like Tony Hibbert and Phil Jagielka kept the prodigiously talented likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez mostly quiet. I think a point would have been a fair reward for that. But they had to go and engineer a bit of luck for themselves, through a little bit of sneakery. And that stinks a bit to me, because I don’t mind losing fairly. If we’re beaten fair and square, I’ll never moan. But cheats shouldn’t prosper, and at the end of the day, what they do is cheating.