September is a beautiful time to be in Melbourne. Spring is slowly emerging, days are getting longer, the sunshine warmer, bees are buzzing – it’s difficult even to walk around the corner without stumbling over a cliché. To give the nice weather just a little more tingle, for AFL fans September means the final series and the glorious march to that One Day in September. Being a St Kilda supporter, the finals haven’t held any special appeal for a few years now. But the beauty of sports, and being a supporter, is continual renewal: the EPL is in full swing and I can watch Liverpool with optimism following a good showing in 2013-14; the NFL season has just started and the Buffalo Bills have – against all odds – won a game; in November it’ll be the Australian Baseball League, and the club I actually pour my money into, the Melbourne Aces; next year I may even select a GAA team to follow in Gaelic football and hurling – another opportunity for September glory. By the time all of these have finished, it will be autumn again, and the chance for the 2015 Saints to improve on their 2014, ahem, “season”.
My sporting allegiances are a motley lot. The Saints are hereditary, the Aces are local, Liverpool were European champions when I became grown up enough to differentiate teams on a black and white TV, and I lost a bet on the Bills in the 1991 Superbowl. Excluding Liverpool, the one thing they have in common is a failure to win the league they’re in while I’ve been alive. For Liverpool it’s still been long enough – over 20 years. But, as Nick Hornby reflected in “Fever Pitch” championships don’t just get shared around equally – teams can wait, and wait, and wait some more, and none of their waiting grants them any credit towards winning. I’m planning plenty of sports supporting over the next fifty years or so that I hang around, and I really hope to see each one of my teams win it all.
Those successes, I can’t rely on. In fact, even if victory was supplied randomly, I couldn’t rely on it; but with my teams overall on a collective down rather than an up, randomness might suit me better. So, as my celebration of the optimism of September, here are my calculations on how many championships I could expect to enjoy over the next half a century if they were randomly distributed for each competition (with an even chance of victory for every team). And it’s a relief to me to find that the probability of witnessing no triumphs at all is as low as 0.0000099% – better known as 1 in 10 million. That’s mostly because, with just 6 teams in the ABL, the Aces are basically a certainty to lift the Claxton Shield at least once in 50 seasons: 99.989%. But, even leaving the Aces out completely, the probability of no wins by any of the others is a more than satisfactory 0.09% – about 1 in 1,000. Getting more ambitious, at least one championship for each team sits at a healthy 69.2%; two is each is 25.9% and three each 5%! Less easy to calculate is a general set of figures for the cumulative championships across all teams. Once you get above just a few, there are so many combinations that it stretches beyond the level of commitment I currently have to a relationship with Excel. As you can see in the diagram below – there are 9 different ways to distribute 2 championships, 20 ways get to 3 and an impressive 32 alternatives for 4. (Each column represents a combination – the simplest way to get 4 championships is for one team to win them all, but it can be done with 1 for each of the 4 teams, or 2 teams each winning 2 etc.) Still, all of those different combinations – no matter how ridiculously unlikely – convey a pleasantly accurate sense of the massive variety of ways that success can be reached (whilst leaving invisible the stupendously wide variety of paths to failure). And what better way to spend a sunny Sunday than to contemplate another reality in which the ball bounced more kindly for Stephen Milne in 2010.Follow @newstatsman