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Leaders Questions with Stuart Lancaster - Season 2

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Leaders Questions with Stuart Lancaster - Season 2
The power of myth: are Liverpo...
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The power of myth: are Liverpool and Leeds destined to win?

Ciaran Bradley
Ciaran Bradley

05:00 1 Apr 2019

“How do you cause people to believe in an imagined order such as Christianity, democracy or capitalism? First, you never admit that the order is imagined.” 
― Yuval Noah Harari, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

And lo the Lord said unto man, "Put it in thy mixer; where the fallen Toby and Hugo will confound non-believers all over the land." - The Book of Jurgen, 5:45.

The power of myth is a funny old thing. Our imagined realities - as outlined by Harari and countless more - shape our worlds, and our world. Myths do not have to be as fanciful as those of Greek or Roman mythology. They can be the stories to a fellow tribesman about what is hiding underneath that rock on the African savannah, or your broker calmly explaining what Uber's flotation on the stock market means for your savings. Myth can shape our internal monologue to the degree that those hairs on your hairbrush do not mean baldness rolling down the tracks - nah, that's got to just be stress or something. You know, Dad never went bald.

And it is on this backdrop that collective myths have come to shape our sporting world. Manchester United's last-gasp heroism at the Nou Camp in May 1999 felt inevitable: "Can Manchester United score? They always score..." was not just Clive Tyldesley's inherent bias towards the machinations of Ferguson's men; he was saying what those not too nerve-wracked by history's weight could see playing out as clear as day. They will win. This is how this story goes. It is hard to ignore the feeling that Liverpool will be winning the league, and Leeds United will be promoted to the Premier League - both doing so in the most awful, blood-curdlingly thrilling way possible.

These stories may sound mythical in the most unscientific sense, but self-fulfilling prophecies are a phenomenon for a reason. We are animals evolved to react to the slightest environmental changes  - usually a little more important than Liverpool getting a last-minute corner. But when changes occur on the pitch, the feeling of inevitability that takes over is felt as keenly by players, coaches, fans and far-flung spectators alike. We make heroes with the positive tales, villains and bottlers with the worst. It is as much fear of the latter that will be driving on both Leeds and Liverpool, as much as much as they would like to say otherwise.

For opposition fans, we have to pretend that we are fine with it. Both have done their cosmic time. Fifteen years is quite long enough for Leeds not to be in the big time, thank you very much. Particularly as they are going up in a way that you think some divine puppet-master is saying they will do so in a way that will significantly shorten fans' lifespans. Within ten minutes, there was a five-point swing to put Leeds back into the automatics, having been 2-1 down to Millwall.

And... no, I can do it. Give me a second.  And Liverpool... alright. And Liverpool deserve to win this title after a generation, and building steadily with shrewd investments. God almighty.

One of these stories that began to be fathomed was in 2013-14, when even Liverpool fans came close to believing after their win against Manchester City. The 25th anniversary of Hillsborough lent it an emotional edge that even the hardest-hearted opposing fans could not begrudge. As it was, the dream slipped. But perhaps it was not as rounded a number as was needed. 30 years on from the tragedy, it would again be the right thing to happen™. And for Manchester United fans, they will be dreaming that the stars have aligned for the Ole Gunnar Solskjaer comet to make its once-every-twenty-year appearance.

Of course, all of this is undermined totally by the fact that confirmation bias means that we only remember the stories that make sense, and tend to forget the ones that we wrongly call. For the same reason that you don't hear of the bets that gamblers lose (bar the really bad beats): those are not the ones you remember as keenly as the ones that enrapture you. So make your peace with the narrative, and then go about tearing it apart when Liverpool lose out on goal difference and Leeds miss out by a point.

Seriously though, Dad never went bald. 'S fine.

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