Tuesday, January 19, 2010

We Meet Again, Mr Coyle

The duty of the underdog is to fight. An underdog that doesn't fight is a sheep, placidly waiting for the bolt-gun. Even though the situation seems hopeless, you've got to find some way to compensate for your lack of numbers or unpromising location.

If nothing else, if you're going to take a beating it's some consolation to know that you had them worried for a while there.

History (and mythology) is full of cases where the outsider makes a fight of it and sometimes even wins :-
  • Spartans vs Persians, Thermopylae, 480 B.C.
  • David 1 Goliath 0, Valley of Elah, 1067 B.C.
  • Wimbledon 1 Liverpool 0, Wembley, 1988 A.D.
In fact let's stop the list there - most of the other examples I can think of are football-related and this is the point I'm taking so long to get to.

A mathematician using Utility Theory would say that a 10% chance of a win is only half as desirable as a 60% chance of a draw, and that a defeat has absolutely no value at all.

To a fan of an unfashionable football team (Bolton Wanderers, say), this kind of arithmetic doesn't work at all. They demand that their team fight for that win and if they've tried and failed gloriously, then there's even some pleasure to be had in defeat.

This wasn't the way Gary Megson saw it. The not-lamented former Bolton manager never had the fans' taste for giving it a go and so ultimately he had to go. I personally was almost physically sick in his last game when he took off our star striker and brought on a so-called Utility Midfielder. As in "as much utility as a chocolate ashtray".

I even enjoyed watching the slightly new Bolton lose 2-0 on Sunday. Cesc Fabregas was freakishly excellent and there were ten others nearly as good and just as expensive in the Arsenal team. But Bolton played with an untypical lack of restraint and might just have fluked it. And the fans responded to this and made more positive noise than I've heard at the Reebok in some years.

Interesting that Owen Coyle has taken over as manager. When I lived in Glasgow and was a season ticker holder at the ultimate underdog Partick Thistle in the early 1990's, Owen Coyle, whether playing for Airdieonians or Dundee United, always seemed to be there to knock us down and out.

In fact, he was the reason I almost dropped Stanetta when she was one month old in 1996, walking around our bedroom in the dark listening to the relegation play-off final against Dundee United on the radio. When Owen Coyle scored the winner in extra time, I just about managed to hang onto my baby's ankle, although I think my inhuman moan of despair may have woken her up.

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