There is one basic reason why a football team wins a match (you may wish to note this down for future reference), it’s because they score more goals than the other team. For those requiring more detail this can be further broken down into three sub-categories; 1 – they were better than the other team, 2 – the sides were actually fairly evenly matched but one was a bit more effective in front of goal (this may overlap with 1), 3 – they got lucky. Putting aside bad refereeing decisions which, according to the latest statistics from football supporters everywhere, is the primary reason for every defeat their team has ever suffered, that’s pretty much it.
For some reason, however, the media (and, by extension those among us who think an account with their social media platform of choice makes them a de facto member of the fourth estate) feel that the afore mentioned scenarios are not enough to explain why Northampton Town got three points on Saturday or why Charlton Athletic are through to the next round of the cup and opt to regale us with lavish descriptions of everything from the number of passes completed (not quite as important as people would have you believe, it still helps to put the ball in the net occasionally and tackling’s not the worst idea in the world) to the length of the grass, the full-time occupation of the linesman and the top selling flavour of pie at half time.
This all began when Sky started forking out US-arms-contract-style sums of money for the privilege of turning Jim Bowen’s ‘Bullseye’ into the highlight of ITV’s Sunday schedule (those under 30 can feel free to ignore that reference). Suddenly they needed something to justify charging subscribers a monthly fee which was approximately the same as those in other countries paid for the entire year so they presented us with troglodyte-featured TV sexist, Andy Gray and his ‘Boot Room’, a disheartening little crevice in which he would shuffle fridge magnets around a wall-hung Subbuteo pitch while human fur, Richard ‘smash it’ Keys nodded his Volvo-like head approvingly.
Soon the print media started following suit and before you could say ‘Neil Shipperley’ the nations broadsheets were bombarding us with 20,000 word dissertations on why reigning champions and runaway league leaders Manchester United had beaten relegation-in-waiting Coventry City 3-0. Today, every pass, every shot, every refereeing decision is closely examined, forensically probed as if it were part of the Kennedy assassination.
This is not to say that all analysis is useless. Gary Neville’s metamorphosis from Man United player everyone loved to hate to TV analyst everyone wishes they didn’t love (okay, like) has been as insightful and engaging as it has surprising (or unsettling for some) but the assumption that every facet of the game that can be scientifically measured automatically has a significant effect on the outcome of the game is to ignore the skill and artistry that makes the it ‘beautiful game’.
Yes, it’s reasonably useful too know how many shots the two teams may have had on/off target or how many fouls were committed but, in all honesty, how much light can the number of sideways passes in the middle third of the pitch during the opening 17 minutes possibly shed on Newcastle 0-0 Tottenham? Admittedly, it fills a lot of column inches but the warped psychopath in ‘Se7en’ wrote a lot and you wouldn’t want to sit next to him a Deepdale. So deep is the desire to portray oneself as a footballing intellectual, some have even created fictional universes to play out their geekish fantasies. What kind of person actually produces an alternative league table based on the premise of shots hitting the post actually counting as goals? That cannot possibly be healthy.