Brian Glanville on the modern-day obsession with numbers.
There are we know – whether told by Disraeli or Mark Twain – three kinds of lie: lies, damned lies and statistics.
And in football now, especially with the Premiership we are inundated by an avalanche of statistics. How much possession a team or a player enjoyed, how many attempts on goal, how far a player ran in a match, till one’s head begins to spin and done is temped to emit a cry of “Does it matter?”
I am reminded of a rhyme current long ago, attributed to Willy Hall, who very much had statistics on his side having scored five goals in an international for England against Ireland, shortly before the war.
And before the ex-Tottenham inside right, poor fellow, lost both of his legs to amputation.
Here’s his rhyme:
Eight feet high and eight yards wide,
Miss that space and the ball’s outside.
If you fail to score hard luck is cried.
But it’s not hard luck; it’s rank bad shooting.
Ever since Arsenal invented the Third Back Game back in 1925, the emphasis in most countries has been on counter attack and I remember Cliff Bastin, a prolific pre-war scorer for the Gunners, telling me when long ago I was working with him on his autobiography, that his hugely successful Arsenal team grew worried when they felt that they were having too much of the play.
And it is almost axiomatic that when a team dominates a match but somehow fails to score, it is ever subject to the counter attack and a goal scored “against the run of play.”
That was one large reason why the Americans, used to the grinding inevitability of gridiron football, rejected soccer for so long though they now have clearly seen the light.
Odd to see such contrasting figures as Gary Lineker and Alan Shearer on the Match of the Day programme, one getting the pronunciation of Lois Van Gaal right, the other wrong, the correct pronunciation, of course, being Van Harl not Van Gaal.
The oddity being that while Alan Shearer, that down to earth figure, commendably gets it right. Gary, who mastered Spanish so successfully in his Barcelona days, gets it wrong.