So I’m at home, sick, and I see on my Twitter feed that Bill Simmons spoke with Nate Silver on the latest BS Report. I put the podcast on, feeling the rhinovirus start transforming the lining of my trachea into baby virus factories, and listen to Silver and Simmons compare sports to politics. They mention how, at least in sports, there are many opportunities (i.e. games, points, table positions) to hold pundits accountable for their views and predictions. Meaning there tends to be less bullshit (in theory) than in politics.

They then move on to the hyper-partisan nature of US politics and how it doesn’t exactly extend into sports, a topic in which many writers will generally put their biases on the table with little controversy. Silver used that instance to compare the Republicans and Democrats to English football fans, who have to be kept apart lest they “kill each other.”

And that got me thinking. Specifically about how in football, partisan club blogs tend to do far better in average web traffic than non-partisan football sites. I’m thinking here of your Arseblogs, your Republik of Mancunias, your Anfield Wraps.

In my totally biased and utterly unscientific opinion which could be entirely incorrect, there are two types of football fans. The first are those who ‘have a team’ but still generally like everything about football, enough that they’re just as game to read about what’s going on elsewhere in the world even if it only allows them to have their ear to the ground over potential signings.

Then there’s the fan who gets into the sport for love of a single club. All they want to know and follow is that club. They subscribe to all the pertinent team blogs and forums and keep a club specific news feed. They only care about the rest of world insofar as it pertains to their team.

Now most of us probably swing from one end of this spectrum to the other, but I do get the general sense that some one-off commenters on this site of no club or clique and others like it are in fact partisans who clicked a link because the story related to their team, read an opinion that directly challenged their worldview (hopefully with something resembling evidence), and felt enough white hot teenage rage to leave an angry comment without a hint of a sane counterargument. Much like the drivel you’d read everyday in the Huffington Post comment section.

The reason I mention all this is because most of us (well, me) had blithely have assumed that resistance to statistical data in football is related primarily to the sports inherent conservatism, love of romance, of uncertainty. “Football, bloody hell!” and all that. But perhaps some hyper-partisan fans—you know, the ones who have to be kept apart from other fans lest they kill them and whatnot—don’t want to face objective evidence that their club may have a significant weakness where fans see strength, or that the conventional mob opinion is fundamentally wrong.

I think here of Rafa Benitez at Chelsea. I myself am of the opinion that Rafa’s a bit of a naked opportunist, and I didn’t have particularly warm feelings for him after Guilleme Balague’s Twitter ball-washing. Yet while the early results aren’t great, there is at least some evidence that Benitez was at one time a good manager, and that Chelsea have defensively improved a little under his very, very early and statistically insignificant watch. I certainly think there is a compelling argument that Benitez was the best option available, and that, based on Roberto Di Matteo’s record this season, by appointing him Abramovich may have helped keep Chelsea from dropping down the table further.

I don’t mention these things because I think Chelsea fans are stupid for being angry that Di Matteo’s gone (although I think they are quite frankly stupid if they blame Benitez and not Abramovich for his departure), but because there is evidence for it, and because no one else is pushing it much save for, I dunno, James Grayson, it’s worth pointing out. Irrational hatred of Rafa is fun, but maybe as far as the success of Chelsea this season on the pitch, not that relevant? So goes the same for Real Madrid fans currently cursing Jose Mourinho’s name. And wouldn’t partisan fans who live and die by the success of their team want to have some objective sense of the reality of its likelihood?

A Project

Because writing and editing a football blog in between taking care of a child who makes you sick with his germs is a pretty full-time operation, I’m going to put this one out there for crowd-sourcing. You can name one of the forum chat rooms after me in gratitude, or something.

So an idea. Often those of us interested in analytics will get out the shower and want to instantly know if there’s a study into whether there exist any specific psychological similarities between academy recruits who later become full-time regulars, or something like that anyway. Often the study exists, but is hidden in an obscure journal from fifteen years ago. Maybe it doesn’t exist at all, but someone has the resources to look into it, and share the results, or the resources themselves. And so we ask other people we know are interested in this kind of thing if they know.

Right now a lot of analytics bloggers, statisticians for major data-gathering companies, and club performance analysts do much of this kind of interacting on their own via Twitter or email or their blog comments sections. But what if there was a specific gathering place? Perhaps a forum? With some private chat topics, others public?

I’ve said before here that, counter to my initial expectation, most soccer analytics people want to talk and share more, not hide their stuff. Some are legally obliged to, but there’s got to be room for some discussion on popular subjects and the need for iterative data. If someone wants to set it up, I’ll spread the word. Ideally I’d like to approve posters but to have as much of the discussion made public as possible. Anyway, let me know, Interzonez.

Comments (2)

  1. I’m not an analytics person per se, but I do think that this idea could work.

    In a number of ways, it reminds me of the original purpose of Baseball Think Factory (which has since become much more general, but is still very analysis friendly. The communities that have developed at Fangraphs and Tango Tiger’s The Book blog are other positive examples from baseball.

    Your colleague Daniel Wagner probably has some hockey-based suggestions, as well.

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