Fate and Coincidence in Football

illya mclellan@illya mclellan @illbehaviorNZSenior Analyst IJanuary 4, 2009

What is fate? Fate is determined to be the idea that there can be a pre-determined path or order of events that can lead to certain outcomes.

What is fate in football? Fate in football is mainly used in a past tense, as in, it was fate that guided the ball past the outstretched hand of the left back, he would have been sent off for a deliberate hand ball, but instead he stayed on the field and sent over the corner that his striker won the game with.

Fate is a funny thing.

Fateful happenings have led to the demise of managers and players the world over, since the beginning of football.

Or can these happenings be put down to the lottery of coincidence? Quite possibly, I say.

The idea of coincidence is less in keeping with the idea of fate in that it is based on the idea that at any moment anything can happen that can change an indeterminate amount of factors.

Look at something in the realm of coincidence which has now moved into the realm of legend and possibly into a place where people would have referred to it as a "fateful" happening.

Manchester United and their Munich air disaster is one of the most famous tragedies in football. I was lucky enough to recently catch an interview with the great Bobby Charlton (interviewed by Michael Parkinson), an English footballing legend and the definitive nice guy to boot.

He spoke of the accident and the trauma was obviously still with him, evident in his gestures and voice as he remembered the day and the events and how they transpired.

One of the most compelling things he said was that he was absolutely convinced that the only reason he and the other survivors had survived, was because they were in a certain type of plane, the Airspeed AS-57 Ambassador.

This particular type of aircraft was built in such a way that half of the passengers faced the other half, Charlton happened to be sitting in the seats facing to the rear of the aircraft and so his life was saved by this twist of fate.

Who was the designer of this aircraft and how had his proposed idea become a reality? Imagine the coincidental happenings that could possibly involved with that question. Was it a women? Were they from a military background? Whose design had been shelved in favour of this one? All coincidental happenings that became fateful in the aftermath.

This is where the ideas of fate and coincidence become blurry and it is able to be seen that "fate" is absolutely reliant on coincidence.

The coincidences of football, in fact, were in a certain way the reason that the young men who died on that fateful flight were even on it.

This is where fate in football starts to fly in all to directions and becomes almost too large a concept to document.

Imagine a certain player who was on that flight and the factors that transpired to put him on it.

Things such as the bounce of the ball on a certain pitch, the way his laces hit it when he ended up scoring the goal off the cross bar that first caused the Manchester United scout to look at him.

Or perhaps the Liverpool scout getting held up at the railway station on the way to the match to see him and the United one getting there first. The meal he had before the game!

The meal his opponent had before the game for that matter.

These are the things that can affect the turning of the worm, as the old saying goes, the things that lead to life before football and life beyond it.

Look at the way football is now, the thing it has become in the world we live in. Players who live lives beyond the possibility of their own imagination.

Players who but for a coincident or twist of fate end up somewhere completely different to another player that they may have apprenticed with who in turn ends up playing football for peanuts in some crazy backwater of the world.

I was lucky enough a couple of seasons back to play a few games against a former Feyenoord Rotterdam apprentice who ended up in New Zealand playing for a New Zealand national league side.

Some years after his National league stint had ended, he showed up in the opposing team I was to face in the regional premier competition I was playing in and was many years my senior at the time but still playing better football than many of us who were probably a twinkle in our mothers eye when he first kicked a ball.

The funniest and most crazy thing about the guy is that he came out to NZ for a holiday in the winter break of the European season. He was expected to return and take up a professional contract with Feyenoord.

He never did. He fell in love with New Zealand (and maybe a women from here as well) and ended up turning his back on European football for good.

It is of course easy to think that he was telling stories about how good he was and his standing at Feyenoord but he was actually so good when he played that you could see that he must have been some player in his youth. I mean, I saw the guy playing in his mid forties and he still had it, that certain special "it" that some players have.

I was always absolutely honoured to be called a footballer by the guy, because he apparently did not do it very often.

But these are the coincidences in the fateful happenings that lead us to the events of our lives.

It is a strange thing fate and football is a strange thing as well. But both are dependant on one another as humans are dependant on oxygen.

So remember as you take in that oxygen when you sit down to watch your team this weekend that you are about to witness the amalgamation of fateful coincidence and all of its twists and turns.

The mental state of the referee, the mental state of the players, the wing-beat of a seagull thousands of yards away altering the balls flight, into the back of your teams goal, as the man directly behind the goal watches his life savings go to a bookie who needed that money, to pay off a gangster who was going to cut off his little finger.

All of these things, these fateful things.