The current fad for statistically detailed football information is a bit hard to swallow. All of a sudden, we are being inundated with complicated, convoluted figures on everything from how many yards Kevin Davies sprints in a match to whether Wayne Rooney would be more likely to buy a breakfast cereal if there was a free toy in the box.
Firstly, let’s get one thing straight; football doesn’t lend itself to statistics. Cricket does, as the whole game hinges on numbers. Baseball does, with its complex scoring system, immediately allocating individual responsibility for every event on the diamond. Football doesn’t; the only key figures are how many goals you score and how many bookings Nigel De Jong has got (or Mark Van Bommel ought to have).
Everything else is conjecture. One man’s own goal is another’s deflected shot. Want proof that we all see events differently in football? Who was at fault for Chesterfield’s goal in the 1997 F.A. Cup quarter final, then: Deryn Brace or Andy Marriott? If you ask ten Wrexham fans and get a consensus of opinion, I’ll be impressed.
We also have no history of statistical analysis to compare these figures to. A series of magical figures revolve around cricket, for instance; Gary Sobers’ 365, Jim Laker’s 19 wickets, Don Bradman’s failure, by the narrowest margin, to achieve an average of 100. We know if a bowler takes a wicket every eighteen runs, he’s good, and if he takes one every fifty he isn’t. But who knows what a cross handling percentage of 88.4% by Paul Robinson means? Nobody!
Football collects numbers in scorelines - England 4 West Germany 2, Wrexham 2 Arsenal 1 - but that’s it. We’re useless at keeping any other type of record - I remember Jermaine Defoe’s scoring run when he was on loan at Bournemouth. No one was able to agree what the record for consecutive league games scored in was until he had apparently passed it, and then it turned out that our very own Kevin Russell had managed one game more, and had held a record for thirteen years without anyone knowing! Once Defoe equalled that mark, it was discovered that a Manchester City player had managed it too. Who knows, maybe Michael Proctor scored in ninety successive games without any of us noticing!
The fact is that a lot of these highly impressive stats are totally bogus. A player might have more goals than anyone else in the history of the Premiership, but that only started in 1992! And while the player with the most Champions League appearances also holds the record for the most appearances since the European Cup began, that's because the league format means they play every other week!
The other issue here is just how revealing these figures are. Defenders often have the best passing percentages, because half their passes are five yard square balls between themselves with no opponents within twenty yards. Even Richard Hope could manage that!
You can’t trust the figures either! I spent a wonderful afternoon at Colchester a few seasons back listening to some guys trying to collate these figures in the Layer Road press box. Apart from the fact that they couldn’t keep up with play, and to their growing irritation missed every other throw in and free kick, they had no idea who the Wrexham players were, and therefore credited all Darren Ferguson’s actions to Lee Roche, and vice versa! I can’t help looking with some scepticism at these figures since then.
However, before I get too comfortable on my high horse, I must confess that in the statistics section of the Supporters Association website I reveal such essential facts as Tommy Bamford scored at a rate of 0.48 goals per game more than Jack Boothway. But won’t knowing that fact contribute to your enjoyment of Saturday’s game?