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Friday, November 04, 2005

The football years...

With two young sons it was perhaps inevitable that I would be dragged into a footballing scenario. Curiously enough, it was Carwyn, the younger son who, at the age of 6, took the initiative with a fancy to Peterborough United (the "Posh") and Glasgow Celtic, a strange choice for a child who lived in Leicester. The elder son, Alun, was more "sensible" and adopted Leicester City a little later.

It all started in April 1982 with a visit to Peterborough’s London Road ground to see them beat Scunthorpe 2-1. The memorable feature was seeing Ian Botham playing for Scunthorpe. There then followed more games watching the Posh until 14 May '83 with our first visit to Leicester's Filbert Street. This game was memorable as being the only Nil-Nil draw we saw in 69 games. It was also noteworthy because a local rival's fate (Derby County) rested on the outcome of the game. Derby missed out and were relegated, one of those situations that are remembered bitterly for centuries to come.

Our first visit to Parkhead to see Celtic was on 15 October '83, memorable for the long sleepless overnight train journey to Glasgow Central, arriving at 5.00am in the dark, with rain coming off the Clyde horizontally with ice in it. After some nine hours hanging around department stores in Argyll Street trying to dry out and restore some circulation in our veins, we made our way to Parkhead to learn that the game (versus Hearts) was about to be called off because of a soggy pitch. Maybe it was the BBC’s outside-broadcast cameras that saved the day, for the game went ahead with Celtic securing only a draw (1-1).

We saw Celtic play nine times, including the infamous game versus Rappid Vienna replayed at Old Trafford on 12 December ‘84, and Lou Macari's testimonial. Also seen were two Scottish Cup Finals at Hampden Park, both against Dundee Utd, and both won 2-1.

After moving to Borth in December 1984, our allegiance switched to Aberystwyth Town, to whom we were loyal supporters at home and away, in the era when Tommy Morgan was king. We saw England play twice at the old Wembley Stadium, one lost to USSR and the other won 5-0 v. Finland in a World Cup qualifier.

Being a statistics lecturer, it was of interest to me to keep statistical records of the games we saw. I have records of 69 games as follows: Peterborough Utd: 13; Celtic 9; Leicester City 9; England 2; Shetland (v. Orkney) 1; Swansea Town 1; Aberystwyth Town 34. The average number of goals per game was 3.83; we struggled to get it up to 4, and if we had been able to get to a game in which Aberystwyth Town beat the local University side 15-3 we might have made it!

The image shows a frequency distribution of goals we saw scored (vertical columns): so, 1 game had 0 goals; 4 games had 1 goal; 19 games had 2 goals, and so on.
Superimposed are the joined dots which represents the mathematical distribution that would be predicted if goals are truly random events (i.e. a Poisson Distribution.
Although there is some discrepancy between the number of goals we saw and those predicted if random, this is just random scatter and the two distributions are not, in fact, statistically significantly different.

Hence, goals in football matches are mathematically random events. So what is the take-home message from this astounding revelation? Well, John Motson can't afford to relax just because a goal has been scored. Another goal is as likely as not to be scored immediately (as witnessed by Leicester City scoring 4 goals in 8 minutes to come back from 2-0 down to beat Brentford in the Milk Cup on 26 Sept. 1984). On the other hand, neither can he relax because 85 minutes have passed in a hitherto goal-less game - in the words of the immortal Brian Clough "It only takes a second to score a goal". It also explains "giant-killings", as when Peterborough Utd. beat Liverpool 1-0 in a cup game.


Blogger Rhys Wynne said...

I got to watch football quite often and while going through my pockets last week I came across the one for Wales v Azerbijan [sp?] and thought how nice it would have been if I'd have kept all my stubbs. There's no point starting now.

3:24 pm  
Blogger Simon said...

I tried soccer once as a kid...but being a dancer i was not allowed to "ruin" my feet ( what a joke in fact they are ruined now). It was not until I was a teeneager that I could play rugby.. and was a quick winger...did well at track and field too!

10:25 pm  
Blogger Merisi said...

May I point out that "Rapid" is faster with just one "P"? Wonder who won that game ... ;-)

I watched a football game of the great leagues only once, but that was a great one: The European Cup Final in 1977, at the Rome Olympian Stadium, when Liverpool beat Borussia Mönchengladbach 3:1.
I shall never forget the great read and white "chorus sound" of the Liverpool fans, drowning out any voices from the BRM half of the stadium. ;-)

6:22 pm  
Blogger Merisi said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

6:23 pm  

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