Football League Playoffs: Lady Luck has her way but does it all even out in the end?

Labour took control of Bury Council earlier this month by securing the seat of Ramsbottom by the drawing of lots. Joanne Columbine managed to pick the longer of two straws after having gained the exact number of votes as the Conservative candidate after two recounts.

 

Luck obviously had a large part to play in this outcome. Ms Columbine had a one in two chance of becoming a councillor and despite possibly putting her lucky socks on that morning and crossing her fingers as she picked her straw (they actually used cable ties) had no influence on the result once the votes had been counted. This way of deciding the result, although necessary in this impasse, feels slightly uneasy and is in stark contrast to the normal situation, however. Elections usually have very little luck involved – crosses do not find themselves on ballot papers by their own accord – and results show current opinion and how hard campaigners worked in the run up to the election. They are organised so that the influence of fortune and luck is minimised.

This is also the way most sports are set-up. Net cords and lucky miss-hits in tennis are diluted by the sheer amount of shots and points that each player participate in; the margins in kicking in rugby are made less tight by the lack of a goal-keeper; the rules of field hockey have been changed so the split second decisions of the officials are less meaningful. The influence of luck is seen as something to be diminished

Why then are the acts of Lady Luck wholly embraced in the game of football? Football alone seems to not only accept but thrive under the effects of fortune and chance. Knock-out competitions are adored by supporters (perhaps not so much amongst organisers, where the larger teams are not so much assured of safe passage). The ‘magic of the (FA) cup’ for me relates to that love of seeing games where smaller teams have a one off chance to take advantage of a few fortuitous moments over there more illustrious counterparts.

It is also why almost everyone looks forward to the play-offs at the end of the season. Although the semi-finals are two-legged, monday night’s tie between Swansea and Nottingham Forest was basically a winner takes all final (although Swansea obviously had a home advantage) where anything could happen. The game did not disappoint and although Swansea did go on to win 3-1, one slice of fortune was the difference between the eventual result and extra time.

This might be a controversial point by I view hitting the post as being unlucky. Shooting is obviously a skill and better strikers are more accurate but I believe – and this may be due to my propensity to unleash high and wide drives – that although you can aim for the corner, the need to keep it out of reach of the goal-keeper means that the difference between a ball creeping into the corner of the net or hitting the pot is minute.

Had Earnshaw’s shot in the final minute found the corner it may be Forest that we were welcoming into Playoff’s final. Chance played a large part in the result. 

It is often said that luck balances itself over the season but that will be of little comfort to Forest. Although they may have had a similar situation earlier in the season it doesn’t really matter because knock-out games are one off affairs and in effect mean a lot more than earlier in the season.

I’m not entirely sure it is true anyway.

Opta released this modified Premier League table after 35 games had been played showing what would have happened had all the shots that hit the post or crossbar during the season had gone in. As I say I view hitting the post as very unlucky and therefore I would class Arsenal as the leading woodwork hitter, over the course of the season, as being unfortunate not to have scored a few more goals and being in a better position. Maybe some teams in some seasons are just more unlucky?

I do not really want to spark an argument over the relevance of Opta’s table as I realise that I am open to criticism, given my allegiance to the Gunners, of sour grapes etc. In fact I believe the fact that chance plays a larger part in football is a good thing and has been one of the reasons for its enduring popularity. It gives it spontaneity and excitement and although Earnshaw and the Arsenal strikers may be feeling a little raw is to be appreciated.

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