Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Nothing Special

If someone was going to disagree with my assessment that the most dramatic end to a Football League season in England remains the 1989 2-0 win by Arsenal at Liverpool even after Sunday’s drama in Manchester, the odds-on favourite would have been BigAl. I suspect he has fallen victim to a form of the ‘recency effect’ here, human nature being to place more emphasis or importance on recent events than on previous ones. If you are too young to remember an event, then it is much harder to compare it with later events and to some extent, younger people could be excused for thinking that nothing so dramatic as Sunday’s events has ever happened before, but the truth is that it has.

I am not an Arsenal fan, but even for a neutral observer, that Friday night in May 1989 would be hard to beat for drama. The build up to the game was dramatic in itself. As goal.com wrote:

On Friday, May 26, 1989, the League Championship was decided in the most dramatic finale to any English top-flight campaign. The two leading teams, Liverpool - managed then as now by Kenny Dalglish - and Arsenal, met in the very last match of the season. Every other club had completed their programmes (this game had been postponed because of the Hillsborough tragedy six weeks earlier).

Liverpool, with a 24-match unbeaten run, had relentlessly closed a 19-point gap on the Gunners. Already FA Cup winners, the Reds had thrashed West Ham 5-1 in their penultimate match and were now three points ahead of Arsenal.

Uniquely, everything was still at stake for both teams in an all-or-nothing scenario. Anything better than a two-goal defeat for Liverpool and the title would be theirs; victory by two goals for Arsenal would deny the Reds the Double and make George Graham's Gunners champions by virtue of number of goals scored.

Yet Arsenal hadn't won at Anfield for 15 years. Liverpool hadn't lost there by a two-goal margin for three, and had only done so nine times in the previous 18 seasons. The momentum of recent results was with Liverpool, as was a tidal wave of emotion. Arsenal's chances of winning had been written off by everyone outside of Highbury.

But 4,000 Gooners made the trip north to Merseyside, as much in blind hope as expectation. The kick-off was delayed 10 minutes to allow the visitors to take their places in a corner opposite the Kop. It merely added to the tension.

The Arsenal players presented a £30,000 cheque to the Hillsborough disaster fund and came onto the pitch carrying bouquets of flowers which they handed to Liverpool supporters around the ground. Then the action got underway.

Arsenal needed to win by two or more, any other result, and the title was Liverpool’s. The stage was set, and after a goalless first half, Arsenal took the lead in the 54th minute, and that was how it remained until time added on – which, back in those days, was at the discretion of the referee alone.

As Jason Cowlet describes in his book The Last Game:

Thomas clinched the first Arsenal championship in a generation with the last kick of the last game of the season at Liverpool, who until that moment were boringly brilliant, imperviously collecting trophies every year and not beaten on their own turf for an eternity. The miracle of it all: Arsenal had to win by two goals otherwise the trophy went to Liverpool, Thomas’s goal was the second goal, cracking the championship code in a final match decider which has had no equal in terms of table-turning, last-moment drama whatever team you follow. It was a film-script ending – only Michael Caine, Pele and Sylvester Stallone had a more impossible finale when they beat the Nazis in Escape To Victory.

I was tracking the Premier League Winner market as the drama on Sunday unfolded, and while Liverpool would surely have traded at 1.01 had Betfair been around, Manchester United didn't go quite that short. I thought they had hit 1.09, but I've seen 1.07 over was matched at Geoff's fulltimebetting blog. When City equalised, the price jumped out to ~1.26, but not for long. 1.01 on the other side very soon after!

Manchester City have actually pulled of a similar miracle before, on May 30th 1999. BigAl, and other younger readers, may not recall that it wasn’t too long ago that City were in the Second Division (third level), and looked to be missing out on promotion via the play-offs trailing 0-2 to Gillingham with time running out. Scoring one in the 90th minute, and an equalizer in the 95th minute (the latest regulation time goal in Wembley history), City tied the game 2-2 and went on to win promotion on penalties.

Of course the other Manchester team famously scored two stoppage time goals (91’ and 93’) just four days earlier in the UEFA Champions League final, as they came from behind to beat Bayern Munich 2-1.

1999 was a big year for drama. At the other end of the league that season, who can forget Carlisle United goalkeeper Jimmy Glass joining the attack when his team were awarded a corner with 10 seconds left of the season and the game tied 1-1. Needing a win to avoid dropping into non-league football, Glass scored with a volley, (unsurprisingly the only goal of his career), and Scarborough went down - never to be seen again it seems, as the club folded in 2007.

On a more personal note, I well remember a night in North Wales at the end of the 1976-77 season. Crystal Palace went to Wrexham for their last game of the season, needing to win by two goals for a realistic chance of promotion. (A win by one would have meant missing out to Wrexham if the Welshmen drew their last game of the season on the following Saturday; any other result and Palace missed out). After cruising to a 2-0 lead, Wrexham tied it up late at 2-2. Resigned to another season in the old Third Division, when Palace scored in the 90th minute, while the game was won, it probably still wasn't enough, but amazingly almost straight from the kick-off, Jeff Bourne scored another, and we had won by the two goal margin. In the end, Wrexham lost the last game at home to Champions Mansfield (my, how times change), and Palace were promoted. Not quite at the level of Arsenal or Manchester City's triumphs, but that's probably about as good as it'll get for me - although the 1990 FA Cup Semi-Final v Liverpool wasn't bad either! 

With moments like these, it's no wonder football is the world's game. 

Meanwhile, back to the more mundane business of updating the Friendly Tipster Table, and Geoff pulled off an amazing finish to the weekend, though not quite so amazing as those endings mentioned above. After opening his eight selections with five losses, Geoff's last three selections were all winners, with draws at Sandnes (me neither), Ajaccio and IFK Gothenburg, and his season profits climb to 6.89 and 6th place. 

The XX (Classic) matches had one winner from three selections (the game at Ajaccio), and the Extended had just two winners from 10, but six were under 2.5 goals so a profit on these. I'm sure Geoff would like to play all summer with the Scandinavian leagues, but I shall be wrapping this up after the French league is settled this weekend. 
Penultimate Standings
It's unlikely that the XX Unders and XX Draws will be caught at the top, as there won't be more than a couple of selections at most, if that. I wish I'd started tracking the Extended selections earlier, as they have fared decently over 50+ matches at what can be a treacherous time of the season, but I'll be writing more on these next week.


BigAl said...

Ok. Here goes.

The reason I highlighted your comment about "last kick of the game" in the Liverpool match was because Thomas's goal was far from the last kick. Liverpool still had a foray into the Arsenal box, and there was still some action back in the Liverpool half afterwards. You, the journalist you mention and many many others are the ones who have fallen into a slightly different trap to the "recency effect"

There were still a further 40 seconds played after Thomas's goal. Not much, granted, but take a look at how much time was played after Aguero's goal. Far far less (the referee played way too little total injury-time of course given there were two goals scored and around two minutes of time in between goals.)

The facts of the matter are that Man City scored their two goals in something like the very final two minutes of "ball in play time" of the season. And the final goal was with the game's very least meaningful touch of the ball. Despite your recollection of the nigh at Anfield, Liverpool still had a way back. Man United didn't - it was finality as far as their title hopes were concerned.

Of course "drama" isn't a quantifiable concept but there are numerous arguments as to why the lowest prices / probability of an event happening just before it happened is not an appropriate way of assessing it.

At what point do you start to measure the drama? Another question with no answer. What factors do you take into account. Down to personal interpretation of course but most of the content and stats and figures contained in the article you quote is far removed from most people's definition of drama.

One different way of looking at it would be to assess what price would you have got pre-match of QPR coming from behind to lead 2-1 and City to then score twice in injury time to bag the win and the title? Compare that to the pre-match price of Arsenal winning 2-0 at Liverpool. I'm not saying that is the right approach to try and quantify the drama, but it is equally as relevant as your method.

And I remember the Man City v Gillingham game quite well to be fair. I was at Wembley that day although sadly couldn't make Sunday's game.

www.fulltimebettingblog.com said...

Heres another fact related (kind of) to the above mentioned game.

Liverpool havent won the league since the backpass law was introduced.

I find its always a good one to casually toss into any conversation on football with any delusion liverpool fans who think the glory days are just around the corner ;-)