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The Millennium Stadium had a celebrated “away team hoodoo” when UK football finals moved there in 2001. Twelve major cup and playoff finals were all won by the teams occupying the home dressing room in the North Stand. In 2002, the Football Association hired Paul Darby, trained in the fine art of McFengshui. He believed that the power and communication wiring in the media room next door was “affecting the energy” of the locker room and causing the losses.

His solutions:

  • Paint the walls in a bright color to “protect” the players.
  • Perform a “feng shui blessing” in the room: ring a bell, carry lit sticks of incense, and throw sea salt “just to zing up the energy.”
  • Lead around a horse to “balance the spirits” in the two ends.

After his first ministrations Darby predicted a 2-1 Cambridge win, a “weird” goal, and the ouster of a Blackpool player. BBC Sports later noted that Cambridge United lost the match (without weird goal or ouster).

The following week, Darby hoped he was not any good at feng shui because he wanted Arsenal to win over Chelsea. Evidently Darby isn’t much of a feng shui expert: BBC Sports reported Arsenal won 2-0 over Chelsea, not the 3-1 Darby predicted.

On Darby’s advice a painting was added to the locker room wall in May 2002. Andrew Vicari’s website notes he was consulted to

help rid the dressing room of a supposed curse by painting the offending wall in bright colours, to change the atmosphere in the room. Vicari’s painting depicts a rising sun, a galloping horse and a soaring phoenix and attracts much attention during official Millennium Stadium tours and on match-days. ‘The Millennium Stadium Vigonade’ a 7ft mural, valued at around a quarter of a million pounds. … The mural was unveiled on the Wednesday and the following Saturday Stoke City confounded the curse by defeating Brentford in the play-offs …

The Stoke City coach said that he and the team would “change the spirit inside the dressing room” merely by their presence and attitude.The manager of the stadium was similarly unmoved by the hoodoo.

It was nothing more than a strange sequence of results. It was like tossing a coin — it had to end some time.

Did the McFengshui expert get it right? Did the Vicari mural cause Stoke City to win, just because it was added three days before the game?

Luck is probability taken personally.— Penn Jillette

This is a classic error in logic known as Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc or “leaping to a conclusion.” The conclusion is not justified by the evidence, because there is no evidence. It is a popular way to view things because it is easier, and faster, than an investigation. But it often leaves you with the wrong answer.

You avoid falling into the Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc trap by

  • Not indulging in snap decisions.
  • Remembering that causes do come before effects, but it is not always true that what comes before is the direct cause.

You need to know what occurs before something happens, but your inquiry should not end there.

It wasn’t “feng shui”

Darby and Vicari relied on symbolism corresponding to south (horse and phoenix) for their sympathetic magic. According to Google Earth, the North Stand points to north-northwest (pig and metal) and the South Stand to the south-southeast (snake and vegetation).

Orientation of Millennium Stadium according to Google Earth

There was no concern for accuracy, in what now appears to have been little more than a publicity stunt. Horses do get better press than snakes, pigs, or shrubbery.

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