Is 2020-2021 The Season We All Abandon Superstitions?

The vast majority of football fans that I know have their own superstitions when it comes to the match. Some will not wear certain clothes if they have the club crest on or are made up of club colours. Others will only wear specific clothes, believing that their underpants or socks have some sort of mystical power that helps to control the outcome of the game. From saying ‘touch wood’ when discussing a player’s good injury record through to drinking out of a specific mug, football fans are as prone to following some form of superstition as anyone. The evidence of Liverpool going thirty years without a league title should be enough to make people reconsider these daft suspicions, but still supporters persisted with them, basing their conclusions on the fact that we once came back from behind to win a match because they changed top at half-time, or some other daft thing.

As the 2020-2021 season has progressed, I’ve found myself wondering if this is the year that people finally abandon their old superstitions, watching Liverpool’s season fall apart around their ears. It was something I mused over when I saw that Philippa Smallwood said on Twitter that she wouldn’t listen to The Anfield Wrap’s HotMic commentary of matches for superstitious reasons, instead putting herself through the hell of listening to Martin Tyler age before our very ears on Sky Sports. I thought, “If you can’t abandon such a superstition this year then will you ever?” Other people have made similar pronouncements, convinced that they have some sort of power over results that they know deep down aren’t true, but are maintained because we all want some sort of sense of power and control at a time of complete and utter powerlessness.

We’re All Guilty Of It

I have been just as guilty of superstitious thinking as everyone else. Because of the number of pills I have to take every day, I began downing them all at the same time as each other in the middle of last season. We won the league, so obviously that was down to the way that I swallow my myriad of medications, wasn’t it? I had to do it the same way every time, concentrating on the act even more when it was a match day. My wife bought me several Liverpool Football Club branded pint glasses, but obviously I couldn’t drink out of them whilst watching the game. When the Reds lost so many games in a row earlier in the campaign, I wondered if Philippa was right and it was because I was listening to the HotMic. I turned it off for the Spurs match, then, when we went 2-0 up, thought I’d switch it back on for the rest of the match. I literally just had the thought and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg scored.

Obviously I promised I wouldn’t listen to it ever again, with the Reds holding out for a 3-1 win and a seeming return to form. We beat West Ham in the following match and suddenly I thought I’d discovered the reason for the club’s poor form, vowing to only ever listen to the channel’s commentary in the future. Home defeats to Brighton & Hove Albion and Manchester City in addition to an away loss to Leicester City soon put paid to that idea. What I had known deep down all along suddenly became clear and obvious: we have absolutely no control over the outcome of football matches because of small things that we do in the privacy of our own homes. For me, it was avoiding wearing club clothing or drinking from club-branded glasses or trying to swallow eight tablets at the same time, whilst for others it will have been different things. We do them, but this season has shown that they really don’t work.

We Want A Sense Of Power

There are all sorts of reasons why people do the superstitious things that they do. They are, in many ways, akin to religious proclamations. They are done without any evidence to support them, but purely as a matter of faith. They worked once or twice, simply as a matter of coincidence, so we keep doing them even when their ‘power’ seems to have worn off. Ultimately, though, it all boils down to us wanting a sense of control at a time when we completely lack it. Whilst those that are physically in the ground are able to shout and scream and sing, they don’t really have the ability to affect the result; at least not on their own. For everyone watching from home, the ability to influence proceedings diminishes even further and we’re left scrabbling around for something to do. That’s when superstitions or rituals or whatever you want to call them come in to play, giving us a sense of power where none exists.

We know, deep down, that our lucky underpants aren’t going to make Mo Salah score or Virgil van Dijk return from injury any quicker, but still we put them on ahead of a Liverpool game for the simple reason that you just never know. Just like people saying ‘Touch wood’ after commenting on something positive, we want to make sure that we’re not the reason for the failure of the thing that we wanted to succeed. I can’t imagine how many Reds have spent this season repeatedly doing their pre-match ritual or obeying their superstitions, desperately hoping that it will be the cause of a change in fortunes for the club. Perhaps, then, the 2020-2021 campaign is the one that sees people finally put those superstitions in the bin, acknowledging that actually they don’t make any difference to the outcome of a football match. For many, I fear that they’ll just find new ones instead…

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