Alan Shearer’s management record

Games: 8. Won: 1. Drawn: 2. Lost: 5.

That was Alan Shearer’s management record for Newcastle United during the 2008/09 season, in which they were relegated.

This, reader, is the person who is being mooted as a potential saviour of English football.

If you think Shearer’s the man for the job, you’re even more deluded than the average England fan.

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Intellectualising the World Cup, no.3

Following numbers 1 and 2 in this series come the Who Should I Cheer For? website:

WhoshouldIcheerfor.com is a site from the World Development Movement that ranks all the teams playing in the World Cup to find the most supportable on the basis of their efforts to eradicate poverty and social injustice.

The basis used is stats relating to issues such as life expectancy, inequality, women in government and maternal mortality.

Even though it sort of misses the point, and there are some indicators in there which hint at a slightly different agenda (e.g. country stance on North Korea, spending on military), I’m happy to promote the site via its admission to my “Intellectualising” series.

Tribute to tribalism (and the mighty Gills)

I would like to offer a virtual brotherly-bloggerly hug of consolation to Phil after Swindon’s defeat to Millwall…but I can’t. Quite frankly I was overjoyed as Swindon FC are simply scum. Clearly my joy in seeing Swindon lose was tempered by the fact that it meant that Millwall won but Swindon will always be the most hated team in Gillingham.

I like Phil. I even met him once (although I cannot see that happening again). But the Swindon supporting Phil is dead to me.

Usually football hatred stems from geography, in which case Charlton and Millwall would be the most hated by the Gills, and Millwall are up there. However Gilligham FC are anything but normal. The history of rivalry stretches back to the first ever year of the play off’s in 1987 and the legendary team of Keith Peacock (later Chelsea and Charlton assistant manager). Having beaten Sunderland on away goals in the play-off semi-final (Tony Cascarino getting the ‘winner’ if I remember correctly, having been at Roker Park as a 9 year old) we again ‘won’ over 2 legs on away goals in the play-off final against Swindon. However, completely illogically, away goals did not count in the final and we lost in the replay at Selhurst Park. Thus began a great hatred of Swindon.

I do love the way in which football is simultaneously a uniting and dividing force. A football team makes an indellible mark on the real football supporter, that is one who, when asked who they support, always replies with the name of the team of or nearest to their home (which is why I hate Spurs probably almost as much as Swindon, as they were who most of my Sunday league team supported). I admit to following Liverpool but I always say I support Gillingham.

And given that Gillingham as a place hasn’t exactly been a bundle of laughs since Chatham Dockyard closed in 1984 (industrial decline didn’t just gut the North of jobs and ambition), the football team provides a source of pride, amusement and great frustration.

Priestfield our home ground was voted the worst ground in the country by the Observer a few years back. When Arsenal beat us there a few years back in the FA Cup, Freddie Ljungberg said that it was the most intimidating atmosphere that he had ever played in. I think he was referring to the noise and passion not any specific death threats but it was taken as a compliment either way.

Steve Bruce used to lodge with my Grandad (who lived 2 minutes walk from the ground) when he was an apprentice at Gillingham. I’ve also been reliably told that in many bars in Marseille you will be given free drinks if you wear your Gillingham shirt due to Tony Cascarino instrumental role in getting them back to Ligue 1 after they were relegated due to the Taupin scandal. Cascarino was purchased by Gillingham from Foots Cray for a set of track suits and some corrugated iron.

Then there is what is generally regarded as the best play off final ever when we were leading Manchester City by two goals with two minutes to go, only to let in two and lose on penalties. Thankfully we beat Wigan the following year to get into the old league division two for the first time. In my lifetime we have not been to the conference (beating Halifax in 1993 on the last day of the season to send them to the conference) but natural gravity has re-asserted itself and after getting relegated this year we are back in the old fourth division.

The tribalism football brings about is not always a positive thing and can promote violence, but the sense of place and pride engendered by a football team is something that even the most deprived and derided of places can gain comfort from…as long as you are not from Swindon, obviously.

Intellectualising the penalty

We can expect much more of this sort of thing over the next few weeks:

As the World Cup approaches, so does the recurring English nightmare of penalty shoot-outs. Fabio and the boys might do well to read a fantastic new study of penalty-taking carried out by some cognitive psychologists. The underlying aim of the study is work out whether or not the participants in a penalty  – penalty-taker and goalkeeper – behave rationally. The conclusion was – well, yes and no.

I’ll do my best to keep track of all such studies and articles as they arise.

In the meantime, two predictions: 1) Daniel Finkelstein will produce some form of compendium of such posts on the economics / intellectualising of the penalty; and 2) none of it will help when England go crashing out of the tournament amidst high and unrealistic expectations.

Football, in theory

I do occasionally like to consider the theoretical aspects of sport, and football in particular. See, for example, this old post on the true effects of managers and my thoughts on Arsenal’s home record having moved to the Emirates stadium.

Another element of the sport that will remain in theory is goal-line technology: FIFA has said that it will not introduce it. I agree with its decision. Goal-line technology is one of those things that makes sense if you don’t think about it too much, but falls apart when you do. Martin Samuel has thought about it and come to the same conclusion:

It is a myth that in other sports technology has banished human error. In cricket, the officials on the field of play still have to invite the third umpire to adjudicate on contentious episodes and legitimate leg-before appeals continue to pass by on a shake of the head. The rule remains that the umpire trusts his eyes and only surrenders control as a last resort…

Still, let us argue that the man with the VCR saw with his naked eye, first time, what a large proportion of the 44,000 crowd missed. How should he then stop the game? A klaxon, a flashing light, a shout in Riley’s ear? Suppose the ball is already heading for the net. Will we need a second video referee passing judgment on whether the signal was given before the ball crossed the line or whether the beaten goalkeeper stopped or played on?

The rest of Samuel’s article shows why video technology, in football, would be incredibly difficult to introduce.

Whilst I’m on the topic, I note that, in his first game as their manager, Neil Warnock delivered a win for Queen’s Park Rangers. I wonder if there’s some literature on the ‘new manager effect’, particularly with regard to victories in their first match?