Rhodri Marsden: The dog-muck theory and the secret of happiness

Life on Marsden
  • @rhodri

I don't know much about football, but I know what I like. Goals, basically. I'm not bothered who scores them, and I'm not interested in the reasons why certain players fail to score enough of them. But armchair punditry is everywhere, and if you're a carbon-based life-form you can't help but absorb some of it.

Recently I noticed a phenomenon on Twitter that prompted me to conduct a deeply unscientific trial based on fundamentally flawed data, and it's time for me to publish my conclusion: every football supporter wholeheartedly believes that their favourite team is terrible. They attempt to cushion the impact of their side losing by deploying a kind of retrospective pessimism – a belief that the team lost because it never stood a chance in the first place.

There's one two-word phrase (27,800 hits on Google) that encapsulates this perfectly: "Typical Spurs." Spurs fans by no means have a monopoly on this, but for some reason I notice them doing it more than anyone else. In fact, I recently became so intrigued by the terrible plight of Tottenham Hotspur that I took a look at the Premier League Table to see what chance they might stand of avoiding relegation.

But they were third from top. This made no sense. I never saw a single tweet of celebration when Spurs won. It's almost as if football fans are waiting for the cathartic emotional experience of defeat, and the victories are merely a sideshow. If you're a supporter of Hinckley Utd, languishing at the bottom of the Blue Square Bet Conference North table with only one win all season, you must be feeling incredibly alive right now.

But I know I do the same thing in a non-football context. "This always happens to me," I mumble wearily as I accidentally tread in dog muck, recalling the two other recent occasions on which this occurred rather the several thousand it didn't. My friend Dan tells me this is known as the "availability heuristic" – and it sounds more intellectually sound than "dog-muck theory", so let's call it that. Football fans! See through the availability heuristic! Bask in the unpredictability of sport! And pedestrians! Be more carefree about dogmuck! You'll tread in it sometimes! But not often! It's fine! Let's adopt a more statistically rigorous approach to our view of misfortune! Sensible policies for a happier Britain!