Roberto Di Matteo must be ruing his misfortune, but it could be worse - The devastating impact of luck

Luck plays a part in everyone’s life. One day you could find a fiver on the floor and the next find yourself jobless thanks to a slice of misfortune.

This sort of change in fortunes is all too common in football, just ask former Chelsea manager Roberto Di Matteo, who this morning must be ruing his luck to have had such a ruthless chairman.

Having won both the Champions League and FA Cup in May, he was punished for a dip in form, which saw his side win two of their last eight games.

And if Di Matteo should find himself ruing his luck, he should take solace in the fact that there are those who have suffered a crueller fate that’s far beyond their control, at the hands of lady luck.

Equally comic and devastating, Brentford goalkeeper Chic Brodie’s career was ended by an innocuous clash during a game against Colchester United in November 1970. However, the perpetrator in this instance was a dog, or to be more accurate a black and white terrier, who culminated his extended period on the pitch by charging at the unfortunate keeper, breaking his knee-cap and ending his professional career in the process.

Five years later, United keeper Alex Stepney was substituted after dislocating his jaw shouting at his defenders and former City stopper Andy Dibble, suffered chemical burns from diving on hydrated lime markings, while playing for Barry Town against Carmarthen Town, at Richmond Park in 1998.

Misfortune would also strike Colchester’s Bobby Blackwood in 1966, after his jaw was broken by QPR’s Les Allen and then again in the re-match a month later. Again by Allen.

Kieron Dyer has also spent a considerable amount of time on the treatment table after being beset by injuries in recent years.

Dyer’s woes began in earnest at Newcastle when he was kept out of the Newcastle side for sections of the 2006-07 season and then ten days after his debut for West Ham the following season he suffered a double fracture of the right leg.

His missed the rest of that season and returned 17 months later, before a hamstring injury sidelined him in May 2009, but in the first game of the 2009-10 season he again suffered injury problems which ensured he played little part for the Hammers that season.

In July 2011 he signed for QPR, but three minutes into his league debut he was stretchered off with a foot injury and to compound his woes, he sustained ligament damage in a reserve game that kept him out for the rest of the season.

Denis Smith though, is the king of injuries, having endured five broken legs, breaking his nose four times, a cracked ankle, broken collar bone, chipped spine, breaking most of his fingers and toes and needing more than 100 stitches during his spell at Stoke City from 1968 to 1982.

Misfortune though is not confined to field of play, as former Spurs and Arsenal keeper Pat Jennings discovered.

“I was playing at Nottingham Forest one afternoon and I went nine or ten yards out of my goal to get a back-pass. Next thing I felt something going into my arm. When I looked down there was a dart stuck full-length into my arm.”

However, tragedy can also strike on the pitch. Piermario Morosini died in April 2012 after suffering a cardiac arrest in Livorno’s game with Pescara and former City player Marc Vivien Foe died of the heart disease hypertrophic cardiomyopathy in June 2003, during Cameroon’s Confederations Cup semi-final against Colombia.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, Bena Tshadi’s entire team were fatally struck by lightning in October 1998, while the hosts Basanga miraculously escaped death.

Thankfully some players do recover from seemingly terminal situations, with former Bolton midfielder Fabrice Muamba being a prime example of someone who has been both unlucky and lucky in the same stroke. Many though have been less fortunate.

Not exclusive to individual players, teams can also suffer excruciating misfortune; just ask Plymouth Argyle’s squad who finished as runners up in the old Third Division South six times in a row between 1922 and 1927 at a time when only one team was promoted. They eventually reached the Second Division in 1930.

Not to be outdone, Cowdenbeath twice won the Scottish Second Division in 1914-15 and 1938-39, but were denied promotion due the outbreak of the two World Wars. And to compound their misery, they even finished second in 1921-22, but uniquely only one team was promoted that year.

Spurs were similarly denied a chance of glory before the last game of the 2005-06 season, when a win at West ham would have seen them qualify for the Champions League for the first time in the club’s history and also deny local rivals Arsenal of a place in Europe’s elite competition in the process.

Instead, 10 of their first-team players – including leading scorer Robbie Keane – were struck down with what was suspected to be food poisoning, but later thought to be a form of gastroenteritis. Spurs lost 2-1, allowing Arsenal to finish fourth.

Everton though were denied the league title in 1904-05 by the weather. Needing a win to clinch top spot, they were leading Arsenal 3-1 in the final game of the season, before thick fog rolled in and forced the game to be abandoned with 12 minutes left. They lost the rescheduled game 2-1 and the title to Newcastle by a single point.

However, Bill Shankly found out in 1973 that luck can also be a close ally. After selecting the diminutive Brian Hall up front for Liverpool’s UEFA Cup final first leg against Borussia Monchengladbach, Shankly noted the opposition were vulnerable in the air and that he’d made a tactical error.

However, after half an hour the game was abandoned thanks to extremely heavy rain and it was replayed the following day. This time big John Toshack was brought in, who made one goal for Kevin Keegan and helped his side to a 3-0 win and Liverpool’s’ first European trophy.

If only Di Matteo could have harnessed a similar sense of fortune in Turin, he might still have a job.

Tags: Arsenal, Bolton Wanderers, Champions League, Championship, Chelsea, Colchester United, Everton, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, Newcastle United, Premier League, QPR, Roberto Di Matteo, Stoke City, Tottenham Hotspur, West Ham United

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Pat Jennings 23 November 2012 at 5:12pm

“There’s a fricking dart in my arm, that is not cool man, that is not cool”.

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