Statistics are really interesting (and other modern football lies)

Football statistics are interesting

“Hey Dave!”

“Alright mate, see the game last night?”

“Nah I missed it, what was Joe Allen’s pass completion percentage? Bet Carrick’s heat map was fascinating!”

“…”

Thankfully this is not a real conversation I have overheard, but it has almost definitely happened somewhere. Ever since Spain triumphed in Euro 2008, many pundits and media elements have decided that football statistics are fascinating. Worse still, they’ve managed to make some fans agree with them.

Rather than discussing how the linesman never knew his father, why Andrea Pirlo is the best human to ever be born or alternative careers for your dodgy left back, people have started to study football statistics as if they hold the meaning of life. But, let’s have a look at what these statistics actually tell us.

Look! This midfielder mainly touched the ball in the middle of the pitch! Unbelievable, the guy who gets paid £300,000 a week to pass the ball turns out to be quite good at passing the ball! The team that won 7 – 0 had more shots on targetl? I’d never have guessed!

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I don’t care about this

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 I don’t even know what I’m looking at here

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West Brom had the ball in some places, and then some other places.

Football statistics are not just a problem because they are so incredibly boring, but they also cause people to believe that the game is more than just 22 people kicking a ball around a field, but is actually some kind of science. This mentality is dangerous, and allows clubs to justify higher prices. Nobody produced graphs or fancy spreadsheets on 1970’s Brazil, Holland in the 80’s or Real Madrid in the 50’s, and they managed just fine. You’ve never come home from an away game with bruised shins and a sore throat due to celebrating having 61% possession, and there will never be an open top parade where clubs wave a giant gold heat map to thousands of adoring supporters.

When we look at the above, and countless other things we are told to find interesting, let’s just stop pretending we see anything other than a bunch of blobs on a screenshot from Football Manager and go back to just watching the game. Honestly, just give it a try. I promise you’ll enjoy it.

The Premier League is the best in the world

This is an idea created by Sky Sports which seems to be believed by more and more people every year. However, let’s actually have a look at the teams that contested the 2013/14 Premier League, how many of them are actually any good?

Obviously, Man City and Chelsea are undeniably very good teams. Arsenal are also a good team, and Liverpool are fantastic at attacking but pretty hopeless at everything else. I usually enjoy watching Everton and Southampton, but everyone else? Pretty awful. Sunderland and Crystal Palace have admittedly been good in recent weeks, but for large stages of the season looked like they were being controlled by a disinterested three year old with an Xbox controller.

Cardiff and Fulham have been relegated already due to being woefully bad at football, and Norwich look likely to join them in the near future. A pretty straightforward relegation battle in the end, but if survival was awarded on merit rather than league position, how many teams would join them? You feel as though any of the teams in the bottom 12 could have realistically been relegated in seasons where the league was stronger, making over half of the ‘best league in the world’ fairly terrible.

Newcastle recently lost six games in a row and remain in the top half, while Man Utd (who won the league last year with their worst team for years) and Tottenham have been a complete shambles and are still miles ahead of the others. West Brom have won 7 games and will survive without much drama. Swansea had a dramatic mid-season meltdown but are now comfortable in midtable, while West Ham fans have taken to watching the grass grow during matches, so boring are the tactics employed to ensure survival in this league which is apparently so wonderful.

All this is before you even mention the fact that tickets are completely overpriced, supporters are treated like wallets on two legs and kick off times are set to suit television audiences rather than those who can still actually afford to go. La Liga is stronger, the Bundesliga is better for supporters and the Eredivisie provides more meaningful matches come the end of the season due to the play-off system used for European competition. Indeed, with all the excitement in the Championship every year, the Premier League is arguably not even the best league in England, never mind the world.

Hating international football makes you a better fan

This is something that I mainly notice in England, but there is also a similar attitude in Wales to a lesser extent. Not everyone has to care about the international team, and if a large number of players from your rivals are in the squad then I can see how you may not want to cheer them on. What I find incredibly boring are the people who announce how much they hate the national side, and that they simply cannot stand to live in a world where their club team doesn’t play for an entire week.

I absolutely love following Wales, and even though there’s more chance of Beyonce calling a press conference to announce that she’s leaving Jay Z for me then there is of Wales ever winning a trophy, I don’t care. Every away game is a chance to explore a new country and a new culture, while a home game is a chance to meet up with friends you’ve made who support other clubs from around the country. I will admit that the amount of international friendlies in the schedule does not help, but you don’t need to scream about how much you hate international football every time they play to show how much you love (insert club name here). Honestly. We believe you.

Champions League football is brilliant

This is something which came to me recently after watching the Champions League semi-finals. It’s not actually that good, is it? Considering the fact that these were supposed to be the four best sides in Europe, the first legs were dull, and the second legs an absolute battering.

I thought back to the games I had actually enjoyed watching in the Champions League this season, and could hardly think of any. Man City’s 3 – 2 win over Bayern Munich was a great moment for their fans but ultimately meaningless, while Man Utd’s comeback against Olympiacos was made less impressive by the fact it was, well, against Olympiacos. In fact, I actually had to check on Google which Greek side they played, as I genuinely couldn’t remember.

There have been 14 knock-out ties played in the competition this season, and most of them haven’t been close. Only three of these games would have had a different outcome if the losing side had scored an extra goal, and two of those would only have been enough to send the game to extra-time. Elsewhere, there have been aggregate victories of 9 – 2, 6 – 1, 5 – 0, 5 – 1 and 4 – 1, hardly shining examples of a close competition full of elite sides.

It’s also not exactly great for the supporters. Ticket prices are wildly inflated, airlines and hotels know all about the fixtures and increase prices massively as a result. This means that many of the loyal fans who would create a proper atmosphere are priced out, replaced by tourists or corporate suits on a jolly. I know a number of Manchester City fans who would rather play in the Europa League next season, due to the fact it’s more affordable and accessible to the average supporter. Just to ensure that the final elements of fun are taken away as much as possible, UEFA insists that terraces are not used during these games, impacting heavily on German clubs in particular.

Empty away ends are hilarious

This is something which began when Wigan Athletic were promoted to the Premier League, and was helped along at great speed by the creation of a thousand ‘Footy Bantz’ accounts on Twitter. You know the ones, the people who get 10,000,000 retweets for making up a clearly untrue story about Lionel Messi being substituted to go and save an injured lamb and adding the #respect hashtag.

When you mock fans for not being able to afford a £60 ticket, rather than challenge the clubs for allowing them to charge these prices in the first place, you are ensuring that nothing will be done to change the situation. Buying a ticket and waving an angry banner won’t help, but neither will not buying a ticket and knowing that somebody else will buy it anyway. It will take a united front to drive down prices, and laughing at those who can’t afford to pay is a sure fire way to ensure it never happens.

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There’s nothing we can do to change it

I’m talking about the people who say that there is nothing that can be done to change the bad things about football, or display the following attitude:

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What would happen if we settled for ‘all we’ve ever known’ in every aspect of life? We’d still live in caves, die as an old age pensioner at the age of 30 and sacrifice people to the big yellow thing in the sky so it wouldn’t be angry at as. We have seen so many advances in technology in the last 10 years that the thought of leaving the house without a super intelligent computer we can also make phonecalls on and fit in our pocket is simply unthinkable. But when it comes to making football more affordable and accessible to people who have loved their clubs for their entire life? Absolute nonsense.

Not only is this attitude stupid and stubborn, but totally untrue. Supporters in many countries around the world have demonstrated that their voices do matter, by standing together as one on the issues that impact them. The Eternal Derby of Croatia between Hadjuk Split and Dinamo Zagreb is one of the most intense and hate-filled on Earth, but at a recent game the fans stood together in the home stand, following attempts by the police to ban away supporters from the game. This has also happened in Poland this year, where the ultras of one side invited the away fans to stand in the home sections, following the police denying them access to the ground. I have previously mentioned on my site in an article on English fan culture the 12:12 protests in Germany and how fans united in protest at Sweden’s biggest derby.

Without us, the game is nothing. For too long, supporters have been made to feel as though they are worthless customers, who would not be missed if they walked away, because somebody else would be there to take their place. So they don’t complain. Don’t protest. What can one person do anyway? The answer is, not very much. But what can a thousand people do? Or ten thousand? Or a million? If we want a game that we can be proud of again, nobody is going to just give it to us. But it is possible, and once enough people realise this we won’t have to be against modern football, but instead, for future football.

Football without fans is nothing. And don’t let anybody tell you otherwise.

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Posted on May 6, 2014, in General. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

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