The more I practice, the luckier I get – Gary Player
The waters are beginning to close in over our heads. We’ve had eight glorious weeks where we’ve lorded it over absolutely everyone, and it’s been bloody great. It’s important we make the most of this period, what with the league season galloping into view and our reign as Champions of Europe™ bound to end at some stage this season – some people should hope it does; back-to-back victories might cause their tickers to give out. The club are well aware of this, prostituting the European Cup to flog some tat – for those who haven’t seen the merchandising brochures, there it is, draped with some LFC socks. More than a few consumers are going to be disappointed when their socks arrive sans ol’ Big Ears.
For the fans part, it’s been a smorgasbord of joy. Let’s be honest, we’ve been rubbing the noses of just about everybody in our unbelievable good fortune. Some folk have been terrible spoilsports by being genuinely pleased at the turn of events, whether it be pleasure at seeing an English team / big club back at the top of the tree or gratitude at the match-to-beat-all-matches that we served up to the world. But the majority – an increasing majority as some begin to tire of our barely concealed gloating – have reacted with bitterness to the whole shebang. The mood music is this: just how lucky can one club be?
Suggestions that we were lucky have been met with guffaws, Jose Mourinho-style sshhing, links to various pics of the European Cup or boxes of Kleenex, and a simple but devastating response of * * * * * to show these people just what they’re dealing with. We wouldn’t be human though if we didn’t want to respond to these charges with a more intellectual response. Failing the presence of anyone of sufficient intellect, I’ll try and do it here.
Attempts to place Liverpool’s success in some manner of historical context of luck – or ‘spawn’, to use the vernacular – have been laughable. One wag thought it profound to note that Liverpool once won a European tie on the toss of a coin. The fact that Liverpool also lost a European tie on the toss of a coin, thus giving Liverpool a statistically unremarkable record of 50% success in the science of coin tossing, was dismissed as irrelevant. You won once, therefore you’re lucky. This is a bit like saying that someone who wins the lottery only to be struck and killed by lightning the next day is a really jammy git.
On the broader issue of consistent lucky bounces or dodgy refereeing decisions, each and every piece of good fortune throughout our 113-year history could probably be countered by another example which was equally unlucky. Clive Thomas’ disallowing of That Goal in 1977? Cancelled out by the blunder at Highbury which cost us the 1972 championship – tell Bluenoses that we’ll happily swap a championship we would have won for an FA Cup that we didn’t win in the end. Stephane Henchoz’s notorious cup final handball? Jose Saviola’s blatant piece of chicanery this season almost stopped our European glory run before it even got started. And so on and so forth. Perhaps over the course of our history the luck has broken 50.01% – 49.99% in our favour. If anyone thinks that is somehow significant, then they should check their email – the wife of the late Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha needs to smuggle money out of the country and could really use some help . . .
It’s a bit trickier to counter the luck charge with logic if you narrow it down to this season. Because there are fewer incidents, the effect of individual events can seem doubly devastating. The disallowing of Del Piero’s goal at Anfield was indeed significant, as was the allowing of Garcia’s effort against Chelsea (let’s not delude ourselves about that one. At the speed his shot was travelling, it couldn’t have gone over the line. We don’t need Andy Gray’s space age technology or his eagerness to belittle us to know that).
There’s two ways of rebutting the appearance of season-wide spawniness. To begin with, we thoroughly deserved to win every round of the Champions League that we played in. Through the group stages, we defeated all three teams on aggregate, something that we absolutely had to do against Olympiakos, and boy, did we do it with style. Leverkusen were swatted aside like a fly. We deserved to beat Juventus at Anfield for producing as good a first-half performance as any in Europe all season. Add in a deserved draw in Turin for a monumental defensive display and, well, one deserved win plus one deserved draw equals deserved aggregate victory. Last time I checked, good defending was a virtue in football. Some might argue that there is a duty to play attacking football at all times. Perhaps it is a coincidence, but this is an argument routinely made by losers. If anyone think those Newcastle fans who blubbed their hearts out when they lost the first of the 4-3 games at Anfield were happier at their team’s kamikaze defeat than had they ground out a 1-0 championship-winning performance, then they should check their email (etc).
Which leads us on to Chelsea. Still part of the first point, we limited the champions of England to one (1) shot on target in 186 minutes of football. Had Gudjohnsen scored with that last minute chance, all the talk of luck would have performed a complete 180° somersault – everyone would have ceased to think of Liverpool’s luck and concentrated on Chelsea’s luck, how their only plan was to shoot straight at Jamie Carragher and hope one of them deflected off him into the net. This is part of the second poin. Luck inherently accrues to winning teams because you can hardly be lucky and lose, can you?
Look at Milan, poor unfortunate Milan. Let’s imagine for a few horrible moments that Shevchenko’s late effort had struck Dudek’s hand and ricocheted into the roof of the net – so unlucky there, Jerzy. Not only would all the luck they got on the night – Nesta handling the ball in the penalty area and having a potential 1-1 become a concrete 2-0, Gattuso not being given his marching orders and condemning them to at least half-an-hour with 10 men – have been highlighted, but all the luck they got throughout the competition would have been dragged to the surface. While Liverpool were doughtily dismissing Chelsea, Milan were putting together two performances of the most astonishing ineptitude, poor in both attack and defence, yet somehow staggered past poor unfortunate PSV. Milan didn’t deserve to win the European Cup after that shambles, so if not them, why not us?
We did not win because we were lucky, we were lucky because we won. To endure the slings and arrows of your outrageous fortune while the slingers studiously ignore the fortune of others – that is the burden of champions since time immemorial. It is a burden we will gladly endure for the sake of victory.
And if all else fails, just remember this: * * * * *