Fifty minutes into the EPL (English Premier League) match between Liverpool and Arsenal yesterday, right-back Glen Johnson must have been a pretty happy chappy with his side leading 1-0. Then came that fateful moment when he scored an own goal while trying to clear a cross from Arsenal into the goal area.
His expression immediately afterwards as he looked questioningly towards the sky, was almost exactly what I have witnessed countless number of times on players faces (religiously inclined, at any rate) when they are the cause of things going wrong in sports contests. One could translate that skyward search into many phrases, but the simplest would be “why me, what did I do to deserve this?” It could also be used as an attempt by the player to seek absolution; a gesture to the crowd as if to say “hey it’s not my fault, the big guy up there does not like us today for some reason.”
Why do even, professional sportsmen and women in the modern world, still believe that their performance is either guided or influenced by a supernatural or divine entity? Bewilderingly, common superstition also seems to have a hand in sportspeople’s on and off-field behaviour. It’s kind of hard to not notice some of the antics of the players as they get onto the field, or on the field itself. Most popular seems to be to cross oneself (signum Crucis). Picking up and throwing some grass into the air is also popular, but so is fingering some charm worn around the neck, usually cross-shaped. How about just touching the grass on the field of play? Gathering in a circle and praying openly is always charming, especially when both teams are doing it at the same time. The cynical are left wondering if they came to witness some sports action or which team can impress the big guy the most with some spectacular grovelling in a circle.
Superstitious sports persons tend to favor a certain piece of sporting equipment. It provides great fodder for the commentators who revel in telling us how lovingly that piece of equipment has been looked after. The strapping and worn-off tape keeping it together is always quite evident. These guys and gals also seem to favor items of clothing and stinky shoes which they believe brings them luck or that added edge. Or how about standing on one leg when the score gets to a certain unlucky figure? Is all of this sport? Or a comedy festival?
Has it ever occurred to sportspeople that if a divine presence were actually in existence somewhere, he or she would be too busy drumming up a tsunami somewhere else in the world, or causing a volcano to erupt violently, or derailing a train somewhere or even creating that fog that leads to a 50-car pile-up? Do these guys think that the Divine Demolisher would have time to indulge in some insignificant sporting activity while he or she has his or her hands full trying to keep Mercury, Venus and the Earth from crashing into the sun, while at the same time hanging onto Pluto so that it doesn’t drift off into space? Where would this entity find the time to intervene in a sports match while it is busy ensuring that the vines catch the sunlight and the bees eat pollen rather than moss? Really, the arrogance of these sports types!!!
Perhaps it’s all just an elaborate ruse to get us to think that someone else is at fault when teams perform badly; someone the manager can’t readily sack from the team. Maybe they just want to draw attention away from their own piss-poor performance by making us think that the result of a game of sport is really determined by some supernatural guy-in-the-sky who has great fun making a team invincible one week and crappy another. And that’s why the praying-in-a-circle comes in handy after a loss. Makes one want to join in with some flailing rather than wailing.
You know, as a fan of Arsenal, I’m really glad that they eventually went on to win 2-1. But I’ll be dammed if I’m told that it was because of a hand-out from the guy-in-the-sky, because the truth is they won through putting in a good peformance. The only way for a team to lose is either through a bad performance by themselves or the referee or both.