Inch by Inch: a game of luck

We live in an era where analytics have taken over sport. With Moneyball providing the doctrine and manifesto, the upheaval of old school sports has been religiously carried out over the past decade. However, in the effort to quantify all aspects of sport, we as fans have become too devoted to the church of meritocracy: where talent will always win out in the end.

I’ve grown up in this new age of sport, and yet the emotional element of it has always left a deeper impression. I can remember as far back as grade 7, I was pretending to be Al Pacino for a speech contest, trying to invoke the same aura of strength and determination.


The term “inch by inch” not only resonated in me emotionally, but it also changed the entire paradigm through which I view sport. To this day, I can’t shake the belief that overall, the outcomes of games and even seasons can depend on inches. When a baseball just sneaks under a fielder’s glove, the baseball gods are cursed. When a basketball bounces around the hoop for seemingly forever before going in the net, the basketball gods are praised. The point is, whether we consciously recognize it or not, luck is a force that controls every sport with an impartial hand. Nevermind how skilled you are, nobody is immune to the powers of luck.

Watching the Tottenham vs Watford game today, my jubilation at seeing my Hotspurs claim third in the table was dampened by the knowledge that with the better luck of a couple inches, Watford could have emerged victorious.

To recap: Lamela scores the first goal by nutmegging the last defender on his shot. The second, Ighalo nutmegs Dier on his way to a short breakaway. Lastly, Son, NOT EVEN LOOKING, backheels a shot through the legs of the keeper. Three goals, three nutmegs through the inches of free space between the legs. One late chance at a 2-1 win by Watford, cleared off the line by Hugo Lloris. Goal line technology says….

That was the game. One more inch on that shot and the repercussions would be massive.  You might think that it’s just one game, but the difference between a win and a loss to a near competitor is huge. Instead of being 6 points up on the 1st year premier league team as they are now, Tottenham would be tied. Just look at how one game between City and Arsenal changed the title race drastically, courtesy of the football mastermind Michael Caley:

Inch by inch, Tottenham conquered its competitor on its way to glory. Not in the ways of Al Pacino, mind you. The inches were not gained by strength and determination. Rather, you can chalk it up to the soccer gods.