Superstitious minds

I HAVE a question for Kolo Toure: What do you do if you find yourself in a team with someone else who also wants to go out on to the pitch last?

Would you both wait until your nine team-mates have emerged on to the field, then step out side-by-side, in a show of brotherly solidarity?

Or would you both stay in the dressing room, brazening it out, refusing to budge, willing the other to break first, oblivious to the fact that your team are struggling on with only nine players?

OK, that’s three questions. Here’s a fourth: Don’t you think, Kolo, that it shows a remarkable lack of faith in your own ability that you rely on superstition – especially one that relies on all of your team-mates to play along by running out on to the pitch ahead of you?

Tuesday night’s game against Roma proved that Toure’s superstition brings him no luck whatsoever. Having waited behind in the dressing room while William Gallas received treatment, he missed the start of the second half, thus looking daft.

Having realised what was going on, he then tried to race on to the pitch without the referee’s permission, and got booked.

Since then, Toure has been roundly ridiculed by the nation. Now I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t call that lucky.

Judging by his post-match comments on Tuesday, though, he sees it rather differently.

“I was waiting for William to come out,” he said. “I’m always the last to come on to the pitch. It’s just superstition. I didn’t know the rule and the good thing is that I have learned a new rule.”

Perhaps Toure would be better off borrowing Leon Best’s face mask. The Coventry striker has been wearing the mask to protect a fractured cheekbone, and scored the winner against Blackburn in the FA Cup on Tuesday.

Best now insists it is his lucky mask, and that he is going to keep wearing it even when his cheekbone heals. (This may create problems when the time comes to renew his passport, but on the other hand, he could see the value of his image rights rocket, so it’s not all bad.)

Superstitions are, of course, an attempt to control the uncontrollable through ritual. And given that luck can play a significant part in football (the better team loses far more often than in, say, rugby union), players and managers can be tempted to try any routine that might give them a bit of added fortune.

I was reminded of this while reading The Damned United, David Peace’s astonishing novelisation of Brian Clough’s 44-day reign as manager of Leeds United in 1974. The presence of Don Revie, Clough’s predecessor, hangs heavy over the novel. And there cannot have been a more superstitious character in England football at that time than Revie, with his lucky blue suit and his staggering array of pre-match rituals.

Did they work? Well, considering how much effort Revie put into courting luck, Leeds missed out on an awful lot of trophies at the final hurdle. He did win the league title in 1969 and 1974, but they also finished second five times. He may have won the FA Cup in 1972, but he was also a losing finalist in 1965, 1970 and 1973. His European final record was better – two wins, two defeats – but those are hardly the statistics of a lucky man.

The same might be said of Toure, who has won a Premier League and two FA Cups with Arsenal – but nothing since 2005. Maybe it’s time to bin the rituals, Kolo, and let your ability speak for itself.

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