It’s a scene every student knows all too well: nights spent at the student union bar having a few too many that invariably descend into heated political, philosophical and social debates. Add to that a group of football-obsessed guys and the conversation will inevitably head down a sport-related route. Celtic’s recent heroics in the Champions League and the presence of a Chelsea fan at the table led to a lively debate on whether luck exists in football, and more broadly in sport.
To paraphrase one member of the debate, there is no luck in sport, everything happens for a reason. This argument’s religious connotations, that god, or some spiritual interfering power, are in my eyes questionable. Furthermore it was argued that everything in sport is done by an individual, from thousands of hours of practise as a child to the act itself during a game, taking a shot for example; one makes one’s own luck. When Rory McIlroy said “golf is my life. I know how lucky I am”, was he forgetting the hours of practice since the age of two? He’s not lucky to be a golfer, he dedicated a huge proportion of his life pursuing a career in the sport he loves.
To argue the case for luck, it is necessary to define what luck is. The New Oxford American Dictionary cites luck as being “success or failure apparently brought by chance rather than through one’s own actions”. A scene that every golfer will have heard about is that of the legendary player who gets an ace from a poor shot that ricocheted off a tree or another outside agent into the hole. Conversely what if a strong gust of wind puts the golfer off on his downswing? A quick look at cricket gives further compelling evidence for luck. If a bowler’s bowl hits a crack in the ground which causes the ball to change direction and hit the stumps, he has undeniably been the recipient of a great deal of luck. These scenarios prove that luck is present in sport, both negatively and positively.
The bulk of the conversation however revolved around football, a team game where luck is slightly harder to define. Chelsea’s incredible Champions League triumph in the the 2011/2012 season was a feat of courage, braveness and Drogba. Yet not even the most die-hard of the club’s fans could deny the role of luck. Lionel Messi, an excellent penalty taker, scorer of 73 goals that season, missing can not be seen as luck in itself, after all Petr Cech’s actions led to the save. However add to that the missed penalties of Arjen Robben and Bastien Schwiensteiger, both reliable penalty takers, for Bayern Munich in the final, and it becomes more and more convincing that luck plays a significant role in football.
Barcelona have created such a talented, all-conquering team that whenever they lose it seems to me that the opposition has in some way got lucky. The recent Champions League tie away to Celtic is a great example of this. Statistics never tell the full story, and of course the only one that matters in any sport is the final result. Yet the statistics from this match convince me that luck exists. According to Sky Sports’ statisticians Celtic had five shots to Barcelona’s twenty-five, fifteen of which were on target and two of which hit the woodwork. Moreover Celtic had a meagre 16.4% possession. It is not my intention to detract from Celtic’s famous victory, and indeed there were various heroic performances, particularly from goalkeeper Fraser Forster, but they certainly got “very lucky” as Messi so eloquently expressed after the game.
There is no doubt that luck is not only present but prevalent in sport. Not everything can be traced back to an individual’s own will, effort or skill. Whilst a sportsman or woman, even a whole team, can certainly help make their own luck, events brought about by chance are constantly occurring. Ancient Roman philosopher Seneca’s theory that luck equals preparation plus opportunity thus needs to be reviewed. Luck equals a great deal of preparation and a far greater deal of opportunity. Whether luck exists, everything happens for a reason pre-determined by an interfering being or spirit, or an individual or team makes its own luck, is down to one’s personal beliefs. We will probably never know the answer for sure. Hopefully many more nights will be spent in similar ways, discussing similar topics at the student union bar, and that’s the way it should always be.