I’M not a superstitious person. Not for me the rituals of touching wood, putting a horseshoe above the door, saying ‘white rabbits’ on the first of the month or forwarding chain e-mails that tell me I’ll be struck down if I fail to pass them on to 100,000 people in the next five minutes.
This is because I’ve long since come to the conclusion that life will throw mountains of crap at you regardless of whether you have superstitions or not. Even if you don’t tempt fate, it will still get you in the end.
Look at Kolo Toure, for instance. This is a man who was so convinced that he needed to be the last man out on to the pitch, that he even picked up a booking for it during his Arsenal days. And yet he’s hardly had a fantastic 2011, has he?
Superstitions – and curses – leave me unmoved. And yet, for a while, I believed differently. Here’s why.
The following story is completely true, apart from the fictional bits.
I once worked on a local newspaper in a small town in the north of England. This town was so anonymous, that it was twinned with itself.
Nothing had ever happened in this town, apart from an armed robbery in 1967 and a visit from Judith Chalmers in 1985. (The two events were unconnected.) And so every week, a team of half-a-dozen reporters scrambled to fill the paper with anything they could find that even vaguely resembled news.
Most weeks, this nearly-news would consist of local residents fuming over planning issues, young people either fighting serious illnesses or going travelling round the world, councillors from opposing political parties having arguments about road surfacing and pensioners learning to use the internet.
One week, the paper ran a story about a teenage student who had gone backpacking round Brazil after beating cancer, but couldn’t keep in touch with his 98-year-old great-grandmother via the internet because her neighbours had set up a petition to stop the council approving a new mobile phone mast in the area. It was the most popular story the paper had ever printed.
That story was written by my friend, who I shall call Esther. Now Esther, in addition to being a lovely, funny, generous person, was also a very good journalist. But she didn’t have much luck. Her love life was full of heartache, our editor was always giving her a hard time, her car regularly broke down and she even went through a spell where one of the sub-editors kept putting other people’s names on her articles because they’d had a fall-out.
When we weren’t writing articles about the local horticultural association raising £38 for Help The Aged by holding a bring-and-buy sale, Esther and I would often talk about the unfairness of life. And as we discussed the endless catalogue of minor setbacks that plagued her existence, it gradually dawned on me what the problem was.
It was the sad puppy toy resting on top of her computer monitor.
I can’t remember what type of puppy the toy was – a small Labrador, I suspect – but it exuded gloom as it rested its chin on the top of the monitor and gazed up with sad eyes. And as far as I was concerned, it was cursing poor Esther’s life.
“There’s only one thing for it,” I said one day. “Sad Puppy has to go.”
“You can’t get rid of Sad Puppy,” said Esther, horrified.
“It’s for your own good,” I shot back, grabbing the toy and hurling it into the rubbish, just as the cleaners were coming round to take the bins away.
“Noooooooooooo!” Esther screamed, and dived to save the puppy, but it was too late. As the rubbish bin disappeared through the office door, Sad Puppy looked back at us with sad, accusing eyes.
“How’s that mobile phone mast story coming on?” The editor was at Esther’s shoulder.
“Er, yes, nearly finished.”
“Good. I’ve got a special project for you later. I’m launching a year-long campaign to save the town’s park benches, and you’re just the person to write the articles for it.”
Esther, as it turned out, didn’t have to do the park bench campaign. Soon afterwards, she got another job on a better paper in a big city, and her life started to look up from that point on. Her new editor appreciated her work, she always got her name on her articles, she could afford a new car that worked, and she even found a decent boyfriend.
These days, Esther’s doing really well. She’s got a high-profile job in London, mixing with the great and the good and writing big stories that set the national news agenda. The other week, she did an important interview with David Cameron. But does she ever thank me for throwing away Sad Puppy? Does she heck.
Esther’s story did, for a long time, make me wonder if there was something in the nonsense that surrounds curses and superstition.
But then along came Mark Gower.
Last on MOTD: Liverpool 0 Swansea 0
Commentator: Simon Brotherton
When Gower, a midfielder, joined Swansea from Southend in the summer of 2008, he took the No.11 shirt. His team-mates told him this was a terrible idea. The shirt, they insisted, was cursed.
Sure enough, in his first season at the Liberty Stadium, Gower didn’t score a single goal. And so, at the start of 2009/10, he decided to switch to No.27. The goals, he hoped, would flow.
Swansea’s fourth game of that season was at home to Reading. Midway through the first half, Reading midfielder Kalifa Cisse handled in his own penalty area from a Gower corner. The referee pointed to the spot.
A hush fell over the Liberty as Gower, rid of his cursed squad number, stepped up to take the penalty. This would be his first goal for the club. Except that it wasn’t, because Adam Federici saved the kick.
Gower managed one goal for Swansea that season, against QPR in early October. Cedric van der Gun, who had taken on the No.11 shirt, scored two.
Last season, Gower managed two goals. Van der Gun, still wearing No.11, scored five.
“Some of the players told me about the curse with the No 11 shirt,” Van der Gun said in an interview with the Western Mail soon after taking it on. “But I said: ‘No. I want that shirt.’ There was absolutely no issue for me because I had worn that number at Utrecht [in my final season there] and scored 10 goals.”
Van der Gun was released by Swansea last summer, and is currently without a club. (“Aha! The curse,” I hear you say, as if he’s the only footballer in the world that has happened to.) The Swansea No.11 shirt has passed on to Scott Sinclair. This season, Sinclair has scored three goals for the Swans. That is three more than Gower has managed.
It was Gower who, perhaps, had Swansea’s two best chances at Anfield yesterday. After Daniel Agger fouled Leon Britton right on the edge of the penalty area (or possibly inside it), Gower hit the free kick so high over the bar that it was tempting to look for touch judges behind the posts. Then, with time running out, he blazed an even better chance into the Kop from 12 yards. Perhaps the No.27 shirt is cursed too.
Neither, though, was the worst miss of the match. That came from Liverpool No.9 Andy Carroll, who hit the bar from six yards in the first half after being set up by Stewart Downing. Carroll is a little more prolific than Gower – indeed, I witnessed him bundle in a goal at West Brom last Saturday despite an awful first touch. But it’s hard to believe he cost Liverpool £13million more than the brilliant Luis Suarez.
Conclusion? Poor form his nothing to do with unlucky numbers. Although it might be worth checking Gower’s home computer to see if there’s a sad puppy toy on top.
1. Aston Villa: 3 (2L: 2, 3L: 2)
2. Fulham: 3 (2L: 1, 3L: 0)
3. Wigan: 2 (2L: 4, 3L: 2)
4. Swansea: 2 (2L: 3, 3L: 1)
5. West Brom: 2 (2L: 2, 3L: 2)
6: Wolves: 2 (2L: 1, 3L: 2)
7. Sunderland: 2 (2L: 1, 3L: 0)
8. Blackburn: 1 (2L: 1, 3L: 2)
8: Liverpool: 1 (2L: 1, 3L: 2)
10. Tottenham: 1 (2L: 1, 3L: 0)
11. Bolton: 1 (2L: 0, 3L: 3)
12. QPR: 1 (2L: 0, 3L: 1)
13. Newcastle: 1 (2L: 0, 3L: 0)
14. Arsenal: 0 (2L: 2, 3L: 0)
15. Everton: 0 (2L: 1, 3L: 2)
16. Norwich: 0 (2L: 1, 3L: 1)
17. Stoke: 0 (2L: 1, 3L: 0)
18. Chelsea: 0 (2L: 0, 3L: 2)
19. Manchester City: 0 (2L: 0, 3L: 0)
19. Manchester United: 0 (2L: 0, 3L: 0)
2L = On second last (Arsenal 3 West Brom 0)
3L = On third last (Blackburn 0 Chelsea 1)
(Teams receive one point every time they are last on MOTD. Teams level are separated by the number of times they are on second last, then by the number of times they are on third last. MOTD2 not included.)