By Walter Broeckx
I remember a few years ago that I wrote an article after Arsenal lost a match. It was an article on how luck can decide the outcome of a match. As it was after Arsenal had lost a match in an unlucky way I got called some names by the usual suspects.
I said then, and being in football for more than …. 45 years (my god I’m getting older…), I still am convinced, that the lucky bounce of the ball will win you matches or make you lose matches.
A deflected shot can cause all kinds of troubles. The ball goes wide instead of going in or the other way round of course. Or the keeper who was thinking of making a comfortable save suddenly sees the ball ending up in the empty net or the other way round as he knew he was beaten by the shot and then it suddenly falls in his hands because of the deflection.
I was wrong they told me. I was looking for excuses. Well I am still convinced that a manager on the touchline can’t do anything about such situations. In fact that might look like an excuse but surely no manager will ever say to his team: “make sure you deflect the ball in your own net”.
Such things are just purely accidents. But they can be the difference between winning and losing a match.
Just as referee decisions can be the difference between winning or losing a match. Again they call this excuses but the fact is we have reviewed more than 500 matches so far and have found that rather a lot of matches have been decided by errors from referees. But still people will dismiss it. But they forget that the few other referees out there who attempted to do the same came to the same conclusion. And it doesn’t really matter if Arsenal was the victim of all those researches (also from those not related to Arsenal). What matters is the fact that referees can make errors and that those errors can lead to teams winning and losing.
Those are two things no manager has in their hands. He can say to his players: you run here and you run there, and when we have the ball you do this and when we don’t have the ball you do that. That is something the manager has more or less in his hands. Of course we still have to see if the players do as they are being told or not. Whether that happens is something we don’t know.
Am I saying that a manager is not that important? Of course he is. But a manager is not the only factor that will have a say on the result. Like I said the referee who is on the field can completely destroy anything the manager has told his players to do within seconds. Sending a player off wrongly for example. Or giving a penalty that isn’t a penalty. And whoops out the window goes all the manager has told him team to do.
But let us go back to “the lucky bounce of the ball”.
Because today is the birthday of Michael Thomas. And any Gooner who doesn’t know this name should be kicked out of the Emirates at his next visit. And for those who really don’t know his name… Anfield. May 26, 1989. Ring a bell?
Yes he was the man that brought the title to Arsenal in the most amazing circumstances. We had to win with at least 2 goals to beat Liverpool at their ground to win the title in the last match of the season. And Thomas delivered with a goal in extra time. With almost the last kick of the match.
So what has luck got to do with this you might say. I urge you to have a look at that goal again. I think we all know the way he chipped the ball over the Liverpool keeper with the outside of his right boot. Some might even recall the pass from Dixon to Smith. Smith who then passed it to Thomas.
But this is where luck enters the world of football. Because Thomas controlled the ball and tried to play it away from the defender. But his attempt to go past the last Liverpool defender hit the defender. At that moment in time I think the title was decided.
The ball hit the defender almost on the hip and it could have flown to every possible direction. No way could Thomas have intended to make a 1-2 with the Liverpool defender. That the ball ended up back with Thomas was pure luck. Nothing else. Nothing to do with managers, even the referee was not involved, nothing to do with technical skills. Pure luck.
Lady Luck was on our side in those seconds. I gladly admit it. It was a lucky bounce.
And still it could have gone wrong. Because as the ball bounced back from the Liverpool defender it flew back to Thomas who didn’t expected that to happen at all. It bounced against his upper leg just above his knee. And footballers can do a lot, but controlling a ball with the knee is almost impossible. Because the knee is a hard bone and the ball can go anywhere.
Once again Lady Luck was on our side in that split second. The ball bounced kindly for Thomas who could chase it further and finally score. But if that ball had made full contact with his knee we would probably never had won the title. It might have gone out of his reach, a Liverpool full back might have had time to recover.
But no. It didn’t. It fell kindly for Thomas and for Arsenal.
Does this mean that our title has decreased in value because we were lucky? Of course not. It still has the same value for me.
Except that I can accept that to win a title in the end you not only need to be good or even great. No, you also have to rely for a big part on luck. Of course you can enforce your luck as we did when we went to Liverpool. We made sure that we could have that lucky instant by playing for it in the other 37 matches.
But in the end… it was one lucky bounce of the ball that was the difference between heaven and hell. Heaven it was….
- The 12 year old wonderkid.
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- The media’s ways of responding to their utter failure to predict Arsenal’s transfers
Remembering the opening of seasons gone by. (the full list of today’s anniversaries are on the home page)
- 25 August 1899. Chairman and benefactor George Leavey warns his players about drinking before a match. “No man with a skinful of whisky can play football.”
- 25 August 1923: Debut of Harry Woods v Newcastle. It ended Arsenal 1 Newcastle 4 in front of 45,000. The large crowd was probably caused by the fact that Arsenal were undefeated in the final nine league matches of the previous season.
- 25 August 1928. For the first match of the new season Chapman introduced numbers on the players’ shirts. The FA said subsequently said “no”, for no apparent reason other than it was new.
- 25 August 1934: Wilf Copping’s first game v Portsmouth away. The 3-3 draw (Bowden, Drake and Bastin) suggested Arsenal might score goals, and they did. Eight in the next match and 115 in the league winning the third successive title.
- 25 August 1954: Jimmy Bloomfield and Joe Haverty league debuts – a 0-1 away defeat to Everton. In fact Arsenal lost all three of their opening games of the season.
- 25 August 1964: Arsenal played their first ever home match on a pitch with under soil heating. It finished Arsenal 1 Sheffield W 1 in front of 35,590. Simpson scored. Arsenal went on to win only two of their first six games and finished 13th in the league.