May 14, 2014

Horse 1674 - When To Write Off Liverpool's Season - Hope and Expectation
My blog has for a very long time been marked on a sort of annual basis with lamentory posts marking the end a of Liverpool's season, or rather the point when I write off the title as unwinnable yet again.
- Horse 1354, 24th Aug, 2012
Long time readers will note that I write Liverpool's season off as a non-event once they fall behind 10 points of the league leaders. The earliest that I've written the season off is in September and the latest that I ever wrote the season off was in the 91st minute of the very last game of the year.
- Horse 1611, 4th Feb 2014

Well... that was disappointing for the 24th consecutive time. Sunday night (Monday morning) though was one of the more difficult write-offs because it actually did get down to the last half hour of the season.
As stated above, I'd usually write-off a season once Liverpool fall 10 points behind the leaders but for season 2013-14 that never actually happened. Mathematically Liverpool could have still won the title yesterday but two conditions had to be met:
- West Ham United HAD to have beaten Manchester City, which was always going to be a monumental task.
- Liverpool HAD to have beaten Newcastle United, which wasn't from the outset that difficult.

When Martin Skrtel stuck his leg out to try and stop a Yoan Gouffran cross from finding Shola Ameobi in the 20th minute, it would have been a brilliant goal... at the other end. At that point the pendulum swung further away from Liverpool and you could see them all go flat. At that single moment, it was as though the title hopes evaporated (which it would later do that afternoon anyway). This was made even worse when the Kop went silent just before half time, as news filtered in that Manchester City had scored.
Not long after the half time break, news of Vincent Kompany's goal at the City of Manchester ground, pretty much broke the spirits of Liverpool and it wasn't until Daniel Agger gained a yard of pace on Mathieu Debuchy and scored an equaliser. Daniel Sturridge doubled the score less than two minutes later from a dead ball in an almost identical spot.

At what point did I finally write off Liverpool's season? When Kompany scored? Well not really. I think that it was probably about the 81st minute that I finally reached that point; holding on to the little hope that West Ham might score 3 goals but those never came.
When Manchester City went 2-0 up yesterday, Liverpool's hope in winning the Premier League was trampled; destroyed; gone. I probably have been a Liverpool fan for the best part of three and a half decades but even I know that the reasonable expectation of winning a league title is only a temporary thing, as it can only ever be.

All of this serves to illustrate something quite important about an important but often fleeting concept, hope. Hope is defined by the OED as the expectation of an event or a thing happening. Also note that hope doesn't have to be blind but may be placed in something entirely reasonable. I for instance have a fairly reasonable hope that I'll be paid on Friday. My hope is backed up with action, in that I keep on turning up and doing work; even if the actual work itself might be at times, incredibly difficult or at the other extreme, mentally dull.
The idea of hope often finds it's way into everyday life, even though we're probably either too tired, too angry or too apathetic to even notice it hiding underneath the wallpaper of existence. Even looking at the news bulletin, you'll find the concept of hope, trapped underneath the frenzied details of something else.
Before an election, political parties will hold out the hope that they will somehow make things better through governmental policy. Advertisers hold out all sorts of hope when they try and sell us goods and services; with promises of happiness and fulfilment. Advertisers hold out hope with the absolutely naked desire that people will buy what they are selling.
Of course the opposite is equally true. People without hope, or who perceive that they have no hope, often plunge into the very dark depths of pointlessness and futility, and might even find themselves in depression or ennui.

Hope it seems is an equally difficult concept in the bible to pin down. Although it is written about, it isn't always obvious as to why hope is important:
Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and God’s provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.
- Philippians 1:19-20

Ignore this if you like but even if you think that Christianity and the entire of organised religion is a waste of time, hear me out. Hope is the expectation of an event or a thing. As a result of an expectation, people make plans and investments of money, time and effort; that's equally true in the financial sector as it is the rest of life. I don't want to destroy any mystery which you might purport to have but that's all hope is, and it is true for every single context.
Some people might put their hope in their job, or their family, or Christ, or happiness, whatever it might be. Hope creates a mindset, that mindset underpins people's intentions and defines people's responses to life itself.
Actually it's really curious: hope in a Christian context usually frames a set of responses to life in which people aren't as preoccupied with being anxious about the future. Without the mindset of constantly requiring to look out for number one, there is a great deal more self-sacrifice amongst Christian communities. Hope frees people from seeing the obstacles in front of us as insurmountable and Christians themselves are less engaged in self-preservation and self-enhancement.
The expectation that God himself isn't angry at you because the offence that you have caused him has been dealt with in the person of Jesus, has certainly changed people's mindset and even the course of history.

Set that aside though, and you can even see people's hopes manifest themselves as the stock market fluctuates and fortunes are made and dissolved in minutes:
Even apart from the instability due to speculation, there is the instability due to the characteristic of human nature that a large proportion of our positive activities depend on spontaneous optimism rather than mathematical expectations, whether moral or hedonistic or economic. Most, probably, of our decisions to do something positive, the full consequences of which will be drawn out over many days to come, can only be taken as the result of animal spirits—a spontaneous urge to action rather than inaction, and not as the outcome of a weighted average of quantitative benefits multiplied by quantitative probabilities.
- John Maynard Keynes, "The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money" (1936)

This might sound crazy but the level of investment, sometimes expressed through things like the Investor Confidence Index or even private spending which is measured with the Consumer Confidence Index are in effect nothing more than numerical indicators of precisely the same concept - hope. Investors obviously expect to gain rewards for placing their investments and they act accordingly. Consumers also act according upon the basis of their hopes and generally we find that in times where economic hope is less abundant, they pull back their spending on luxury items.

For the 24th consecutive time my hopes that Liverpool would again win the league title were dashed to pieces like pottery. My whinge is that the phrase "there's always next season" is qualified by the unstated "there's never this season". Hope though, always holds itself out, with the expectation of things to come.

Hope springs eternal in the human breast;
Man never is, but always to be blessed:
The soul, uneasy and confined from home,
Rests and expatiates in a life to come.
– Alexander Pope, An Essay on Man (1734)

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