Archive for the Football Category

Endgames

Posted in Football with tags , , , , , on July 26, 2020 by telescoper

Today sees the last round of games in this year’s strange Premiership season. All ten games kick off at 4pm.

I last commented on the relegation situation when there were six games to play. Now, with one game left to play the bottom of the table looks like this:

Norwich City are already relegated and all the teams above these four, including Newcastle United, are safe; Brighton are in 16th place on 38 points.

It is possible for any two of Aston Villa, Watford and Bournemouth to go down though Bournemouth have to win and hope both Villa and Watford lose. Bournemouth are playing Everton away from home. I’d say the combination of them winning and other two relegation candidates both losing is rather improbable, but you never know.

One of either Watford or Aston Villa must get relegated. The team that gets the better result of the two will stay up.

If all three of these teams lose (which is by no means unlikely) whoever goes down with Bournemouth and Norwich will be determined by goal difference. Villa have a cushion of only one goal which means that if Villa and Watford both draw then Villa stay up. If they both win then the survivor will be determined by goal difference.

Aston Villa are away at West Ham and Watford are away at Arsenal. I’d say Watford has the tougher game so I’d say they were favourites to go down with Bournemouth.

The bookies seem to agree with me. Here are the best odds on teams to be relegated:

These are the odds on survival:

Bournemouth’s odds look a bit miserly to me, so the best price is Watford to stay up at 11/4 although even that isn’t enough to tempt me to have a flutter.

Of course these odds will change during the course of the games.

Half-time Update:

The key scores at half time are:

  • Arsenal 3 Watford 1
  • Everton 1 Bournemouth 2
  • West Ham 0 Aston Villa 0

As things stand, Villa stay up; Bournemouth and Watford go down. That will change if Villa concede a goal.

Full-time Update:

  • Arsenal 3 Watford 2
  • Everton 1 Bournemouth 3
  • West Ham 1 Aston Villa 1

Bournemouth did what they needed to do but despite their efforts that draw for Villa sends them down along with Watford.

Newcastle United unsurprisingly lost their final match against Liverpool and finished in 13th place, 10 points above the relegation zone.

Three Funerals and a Cartoon

Posted in Biographical, Football, Maynooth with tags , , , on July 21, 2020 by telescoper

I was later than usual coming to the office today as I had to arrange some things to do with the house I’m buying in Maynooth. It was mid morning when I walked up towards campus. I was a little bit confused to see a large crowd of people walking along Main Street, but when I got closer I realized they were all walking behind a hearse on their way to a funeral service at St Mary’s Church. I followed the procession all the way along Main Street and up Mill Street where another large group of people was waiting outside the Church. I don’t know who had passed away but judging by the attendance they must have been popular in the community.

This is the first time I’d seen such a procession here in Ireland, though I was of course already aware that the Irish treat funerals very differently from the English. Coincidentally, though, today saw the funeral of Jack Charlton which began with a procession through the streets of Ashington, the cortege led by piper playing the Northumbrian pipes. Many hundreds turned up to show their respects.

Because of Covid-19 restrictions, only about 20 people could attend the funeral service, which was held at the West Road Crematorium in Newcastle upon Tyne. As it happens, that was where the funeral of my Mam took place about 9 months ago. There were no Covid-19 restrictions then, which makes it seem like a different age altogether.

Anyway, going back to Jack Charlton, I saw last week marvellous comic book tribute to him called The Life and Times of Jack Charlton by David Squires in the Guardian. The poignant last panel is beautifully done.

The people who do things and what they do

Posted in Art, Cricket, Football, Opera, Television with tags , on July 19, 2020 by telescoper

It’s a tough lesson to learn in life that the people you admire or idolize for their contribution in a particular arena (whether that be sport, art, science or something else) turn out to be people you can’t stand in terms of their character or political views.

You have to separate, for example, having a high regard for Ian Botham’s cricketing prowess from having a high regard for his personal character. In fact I can think of few sportspeople whose company I’d enjoy socially.

The same goes in many other spheres. Richard Feynman was a truly great physicist but I’ve never bought into the personality cult surrounding him. In fact I doubt I would have liked him very much at all if we’d ever met in person. They say you should never meet your heroes. They’re right.

Another example is Richard Wagner, a brilliant composer but really horrible man, who brings us to this clip from the end of Twilight of the Gods (the last episode of Series 7 of Inspector Morse, first broadcast in 1993).

I won’t spoil the plot if you haven’t seen it but it involves a famous opera singer, Gladys Probert, who visits Oxford to perform and receive an honorary degree. On the way to the ceremony she is shot, but was she the intended victim?

Opera-loving Morse is a huge admirer of Gladys Probert but in the course of his investigation he uncovers some unpleasant truths about her private life. He solves the crime but the case leaves him dispirited.

Here is the ending. John Thaw is Inspector Morse and Kevin Whateley is Detective Sergeant Lewis.

R. I. P. Jack Charlton (1935-2020)

Posted in Football with tags , , , , on July 11, 2020 by telescoper

Sad news today of the death at the age of 85 of legendary footballer and manager Jack Charlton.

The tributes to Jack Charlton here in Ireland focus on his time as manager of the Republic of Ireland national team, during which he produced many great results, including qualifying for two World Cups (in 1990 and 1994). Ireland got to the quarter-finals in 1990, which was an amazing achievement. Jack Charlton created some marvellous memories and became like an adopted son in the hearts of Irish folk, spending a lot of his time here in his retirement. He had a house in Ballina (County Mayo) and enjoyed going fishing. I suspect he rarely had to buy a drink in the local pubs! As a fellow Geordie living in Ireland I can understand very well why he loved it here.

He gave up the house in Ireland a few years ago when his health started to fail and moved to Stamfordham in Northumberland, the County of his birth. Jack was actually born in Ashington and was the nephew of legendary Newcastle United centre-forward Jackie Milburn.

As a player he was an old-school centre half: tall and tough and not prone to try anything fancy. He knew his limitations as a footballer and concentrated on what he could do well. He spent his entire professional playing career of 21 years at Leeds United. He wasn’t capped for England until he was 29 and a year later he was a member of the team that won the 1966 World Cup, as was his brother Bobby.

I remember an interview with Jack Charlton during which he recalled asking manager Sir Alf Ramsay why he had been picked for the England team when there were many better players than him around. Ramsay’s reply was that he didn’t always pick the best players, he picked the best team. What I think he meant by that is that he saw Jack’s steadiness as a providing an ideal blend in the centre of the defence balance to the less conventional Bobby Moore.

My own memories of Jack Charlton are dominated by his time as manager of Newcastle United between 1984 and 1985; see the picture, which is from this time, including Peter Beardsley (left) and Chris Waddle (right). I was a student at Cambridge at this time and there was quite a large Newcastle United Supporters’ Club of which I was a member. We travelled to quite a few games in the 84/85 season. The Club Secretary wrote a letter to Jack Charlton inviting him to visit us for a dinner and speech. We couldn’t even offer him travel expenses so I assumed he would just ignore the request, but he didn’t. He actually wrote a very nice letter politely declining the invitation but thanking us for our support and good wishes. He also reminded us not to neglect our studies because of football as he regretted not having had “much of an education”.

It’s worth mentioning that 1984/5 was the time of the Miners’ Strike during which Jack Charlton was a staunch supporter of the Miners. He even lent his car to help miners on flying pickets. He was rather left-wing generally, actually.

Jack Charlton brought to football management the same approach he had brought to his own playing. It was by focusing on doing the basics well that he was able to get outstanding results using limited resources. He wouldn’t have been a good manager of a huge club full of luxury players, but in his niche he was superb.

As a person Jack Charlton was as strong-minded and uncompromising as he was as a player and a manager, but he was also down to earth, completely unpretentious, funny and self-deprecating, and as honest as the day is long.

Rest in peace, Jack Charlton (1935-2020)

Football Roundup

Posted in Football with tags , , on July 2, 2020 by telescoper

By way of a diversion this lunchtime after a morning of Microsoft Teams, I thought I’d comment briefly on another kind of team, by looking at the state of play in the Premier League.

Liverpool of course deservedly won the title last weekend when Manchester city lost to Chelsea. To have won the Premiership with seven games left to play is a remarkable achievement. All credit to their excellent manager Jürgen Klopp, who actually seems a thoroughly decent fellow as well. Although based in the English Midlands, Liverpool have a strong following here in Ireland so there were many celebrations here when the Premiership race was sealed.

The absence of any football for many weeks at least removed one usual cause of springtime stress, namely Newcastle United’s struggle to avoid relegation. Since the return, however, Steve Bruce’s team have done pretty well, with seven points out of a possible nine, though they did get knocked out of the FA Cup. Last night they beat struggling Bournemouth 4-1 away from home which leaves them on 42 points with six games left to play. They’re not mathematically safe from relegation but it’s very difficult to see any of the bottom three teams getting more than 15 points from their remaining games so I think relegation is extremely improbable. Norwich look relegation certainties, but who will go down with them? Based on last night’s poor performance at home, I’d say probably Bournemouth and one other.

The Bookies odds at the moment are:

  • Norwich: 1/100.
  • Bournemouth: 1/6.
  • Aston Villa: 1/4.
  • Watford: 2/1.
  • West Ham: 6/1.
  • Brighton: 28/1.

Watford or West Ham might be worth a bet. There are still six games to be played, after all.

I’ve only seen bits and pieces of the games since the season restarted. Playing in an empty stadium makes football very strange to watch, and the artificial crowd noises make it even stranger. It problem reduces home advantage not having supporters in the ground, but I haven’t looked at the statistical evidence whether or not this is the case..

It’s worth mentioning the situation in League 1:

Here the season has been declared closed. Wycombe Wanderers finish in third on the basis of points per game despite having fewer points than the team in fourth. Wycombe’s 35th game would have been against Coventry…

I’ll just mention in passing that Sunderland will not be promoted. Tragic.

End of Season

Posted in Football with tags , , , , on May 13, 2019 by telescoper

After the cold spell we’ve had for the last week or two it’s a warm sunny and generally rather lovely day today. It’s also very quiet on campus here in Maynooth because lectures are over. There are students around, especially in the library and other study spaces, but there’s none of the usual rushing about in between lectures. After rushing about myself a bit this morning I thought I’d take a coffee break and reflect on the weekend’s football.

 

A picture of a football

Yesterday saw the last round of matches in the Premiership, where the focus was on which of the two leading Midlands clubs (Liverpool or Manchester City) would win. After a brief glimmer of excitement when Brighton took the lead against Manchester City and thus gave Liverpool a chance of the title, normal service was resumed when Manchester City regained the lead and eventually won 4-1. Although Liverpool won their game too (against Wolves) they ended up in second place by one point. It’s quite a remarkable feat to finish on 97 points and not win the Premiership, which is what Liverpool have done. I suppose they will be seeking some meagre consolation by winning the UEFA Champions League..

Earlier last week there were two remarkable matches in said UEFA Champions League. Liverpool, 3-0 down to Barcelona after the first (away) leg of their semi-final, managed to win the home leg 4-0 and thus qualified for the final. I wasn’t going to watch this as I thought it was a foregone conclusion that Barcelona would win, but I eventually wandered into the pub (McMahon’s) for the second half when it was 1-0 and saw two more goals. The closing stages of the game were very exciting, as even at 4-0 Barcelona only needed one goal to win. There was huge support for Liverpool among the locals too, which made it very enjoyable to watch.

Obviously Liverpool benefited from a much tougher game last weekend against Newcastle United, who made them work hard for a 3-2 victory. A difficult work-out like that made their job against less distinguished opponents Barcelona relatively straightforward.

The next day Tottenham had a 1-0 deficit from their home leg against Ajax, who I thought were going to clean up (Geddit?) especially when they scored two early goals. In another remarkable turnaround, Spurs then scored three goals away goals which took them through when the aggregate score finished at 3-3. Amazing stuff.

In the interest of full disclosure I should admit that I put £50 on a double that the final would be between Ajax and Barcelona. You can’t win ’em all.

Oh and both Arsenal and Chelsea have qualified for the Europa League final (whatever that is). They will play each other in Baku (wherever that is) for a place in next year’s Eurovision song contest.

More importantly than all this, Newcastle United won 4-0 yesterday away at Fulham to finish 13th on 45 points. It hasn’t been a marvellous season but at least there was no last-minute nail baiting. They secured Premiership status some weeks ago. They are indeed fortunate to have Rafa Benitez as manager. He is an excellent coach, but his contract is up this summer and it’s not obvious he will stay. Next season will be difficult without him.

Already relegated Cardiff City managed a win against Manchester United: Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s bright start in charge seems to have come a cropper in a disappointing last few games. At least Cardiff City went down with guns blazing.

And finally back to Brighton who, I have just learned, have sacked their manager Chris Hughton. That’s not a  very nice way to thank someone who got them promoted, and kept them in the Premiership. It’s a great shame for Hughton for whom I have a lot of respect. Football is a brutal game sometimes, especially off the field.

 

 

The First Bookie

Posted in Football, mathematics, Sport with tags , , , , , , on April 24, 2019 by telescoper

I read an interesting piece in Sunday’s Observer which is mainly about the challenges facing the modern sports betting industry but which also included some interesting historical snippets about the history of gambling.

One thing that I didn’t know before reading this article was that it is generally accepted that the first ever bookmaker was a chap called Harry Ogden who started business in the late 18th century on Newmarket Heath. Organized horse-racing had been going on for over a century by then, and gambling had co-existed with it, not always legally. Before Harry Ogden, however, the types of wager were very different from what we have nowadays. For one thing bets would generally be offered on one particular horse (the Favourite), against the field. There being only two outcomes these were generally even-money bets, and the wagers were made between individuals rather than being administered by a `turf accountant’.

Then up stepped Harry Ogden, who introduced the innovation of laying odds on every horse in a race. He set the odds based on his knowledge of the form of the different horses (i.e. on their results in previous races), using this data to estimate probabilities of success for each one. This kind of `book’, listing odds for all the runners in a race, rapidly became very popular and is still with us today. The way of specifying odds as fractions (e.g. 6/1 against, 7/1 on) derives from this period.

Ogden wasn’t interested in merely facilitating other people’s wagers: he wanted to make a profit out of this process and the system he put in place to achieve this survives to this day. In particular he introduced a version of the overround, which works as follows. I’ll use a simple example from football rather than horse-racing because I was thinking about it the other day while I was looking at the bookies odds on relegation from the Premiership.

Suppose there is a football match, which can result either in a HOME win, an AWAY win or a DRAW. Suppose the bookmaker’s expert analysts – modern bookmakers employ huge teams of these – judge the odds of these three outcomes to be: 1-1 (evens) on a HOME win, 2-1 against the DRAW and 5-1 against the AWAY win. The corresponding probabilities are: 1/2 for the HOME win, 1/3 for the DRAW and 1/6 for the AWAY win. Note that these add up to 100%, as they are meant to be probabilities and these are the only three possible outcomes. These are `true odds’.

Offering these probabilities as odds to punters would not guarantee a return for the bookie, who would instead change the odds so they add up to more than 100%. In the case above the bookie’s odds might be: 4-6 for the HOME win; 6-4 for the DRAW and 4-1 against the AWAY win. The implied probabilities here are 3/5, 2/5 and 1/5 respectively, which adds up to 120%, not 100%. The excess is the overround or `bookmaker’s margin’ – in this case 20%.

This is quite the opposite to the Dutch Book case I discussed here.

Harry Ogden applied his method to horse races with many more possible outcomes, but the principle is the same: work out your best estimate of the true odds then apply your margin to calculate the odds offered to the punter.

One thing this means is that you have to be careful f you want to estimate the probability of an event from a bookie’s odds. If they offer you even money then that does not mean they you have a 50-50 chance!

The Book of Relegations

Posted in Football with tags , , , , , , , on April 21, 2019 by telescoper

At this time of year it seems appropriate to do a post, as the thoughts of good folk around the world turn to the important issue of the season … ie who will get relegated from the Premiership.

Yesterday evening’s win by Newcastle United over Southampton left the lower reaches of the table looking like this:

Huddersfield and Fulham having already been doomed, the only question is who will join them.

The bookies clearly think Cardiff City are odds-on to take the third relegation spot: the best odds I could get are 1/6 on them going down, implying only a probability of 14% or so survival. Brighton and Hove Albion are 9/2. Southampton are 150/1, Burnley 250/1 and Newcastle 750/1.

I’m not so sure the odds on Cardiff City are fair: they do play Liverpool later today but after that seem to have two winnable games (against Fulham and Crystal Palace). Brighton are three points ahead of Cardiff, but that’s away against Spurs and they’ll do well to get anything out of that fixture, and after that they have games against Newcastle United, Arsenal and Manchester City. Despite yesterday’s 0-0 draw against Wolves they don’t look like a team strong on form and confidence.In short I think that 9/2 is worth a bet.

Let me say that I don’t want to see either Brighton or Cardiff go down. I’ve got ties to both places. I’m just talking about what seems probable not what I think is desirable.

Southampton seem to have extremely long odds too, but they do seem to have a much easier run in than Brighton.

We’ll see. I’d expect these odds to change quite a bit if Cardiff beat Liverpool this afternoon. If they lose, however, then Newcastle are mathematically safe from relegation…

UPDATE: Cardiff City lost 2-0 at home to Liverpool this afternoon. The odds on them get relegated have shortened a bit (around 1/8 is as good as you can get) but there’s no great change in the odds, presumably because bookies did not really expect Cardiff to get any points from that game. Brighton have now moved to 13/2 against.

Cardiff City are now on 31 points with three games left. That means the maximum total they can reach is 40, so Newcastle United are safe from relegation.

R.I.P. Gordon Banks (1937-2019)

Posted in Football with tags , , , , on February 13, 2019 by telescoper

It’s been a hectic couple of days during which I somehow missed the very sad news of the passing of legendary goalkeeper Gordon Banks, who died yesterday (12th February 2019) at the age of 81.

Gordon Banks made 628 appearances during a 15-year career in the Football League, and won 73 caps for England, highlighted by starting every game of the 1966 World Cup campaign. He will however be best remembered for one amazing save in the 1970 World Cup, so by way of a short tribute here is a rehash of a post I wrote some years ago about that.

–0–

I’ve posted a few times about science and sport, but this bit of action seems to defy the laws of physics. I remember watching this match, a group game at Guadalajara (Mexico) between England and Brazil from the 1970 World Cup, live on TV when I was seven years old. The Brazil team of 1970 was arguably the finest collection of players ever to grace a football field and the names of Jairzinho, Carlos Alberto, Rivelino and, of course, Pelé, were famous even in our school playground. The England team of 1970 was also very good, but they were made to look very ordinary that day – with one notable exception.

The only thing I remember well about the game itself  was this save – the best of many excellent stops – by the great goalkeeper Gordon Banks. I’ve seen it hundreds of times since, and still can’t understand how he managed to block this header from Pelé. You can tell from Bobby Moore’s reaction (No. 6, on the line) that he also thought Brazil had scored…

Here’s the description of this action from wikipedia:

Playing at pace, Brazil were putting England under enormous pressure and an attack was begun by captain Carlos Alberto who sent a fizzing low ball down the right flank for the speedy Jairzinho to latch on to. The Brazilian winger sped past left back Terry Cooper and reached the byline. Stretching slightly, he managed to get his toes underneath the fast ball and deliver a high but dipping cross towards the far post. Banks, like all goalkeepers reliant on positional sensibility, had been at the near post and suddenly had to turn on his heels and follow the ball to its back post destination.

Waiting for the ball was Pelé, who had arrived at speed and with perfect timing. He leapt hard at the ball above England right back Tommy Wright and thundered a harsh, pacy downward header towards Banks’ near post corner. The striker shouted “Goal!” as he connected with the ball. Banks was still making his way across the line from Jairzinho’s cross and in the split-second of assessment the incident allowed, it seemed impossible for him to get to the ball. He also had to dive slightly backwards and down at the same time which is almost physically impossible. Yet he hurled himself downwards and backwards and got the base of his thumb to the ball, with the momentum sending him cascading to the ground. It was only when he heard the applause and praise of captain Bobby Moore and then looked up and saw the ball trundling towards the advertising hoardings at the far corner, that he realised he’d managed to divert the ball over the bar – he’d known he got a touch but still assumed the ball had gone in. England were not being well received by the locals after cutting comments made about Mexico prior to the tournament by Ramsey, but spontaneous applause rang around the Guadalajara, Jalisco stadium as Banks got back into position to defend the resulting corner. Pelé, who’d begun to celebrate a goal when he headed the ball, would later describe the save as the greatest he’d ever seen.

Here is Gordon Banks describing it in his own words.

Brazil deservedly went on to win the game, but only by a single goal. Without Gordon Banks, England would have been well and truly hammered.

Rest in peace, Gordon Banks (1937-2019).

World Cup Félicitations!

Posted in Football on July 15, 2018 by telescoper

French President Emmanuel Macron seemed rather excited at the end of this afternoon’s World Cup Final, and why not? France are worthy winners of what has been a fascinating competition after a very exciting final, which I watched in a pub in Maynooth. Most of the crowd there were rooting for underdogs Croatia, actually.

Incidentally, before the match, the bookies were offering odds of 4-1 against Croatia, which I reckoned was quite generous. Although I thought France would win, I didn’t think there was all much between the two sides. I didn’t place a bet though…

As it turned out I thought Croatia were a bit unlucky, actually, and for long periods they looked the better organised and more composed team; they were certainly better at keeping the ball in midfield: overall Croatia had 66% possession, which is an amazing statistic for a team that lost 4-2!

France’s prodigiously talented forward Kylian Mbappé was particularly wasteful, giving the ball away frequently in the first half. It was only when Croatia fell 3-1 behind and had to throw men forward that Mbappe started to find space and from then on he was a constant threat.

Much of the reaction to the result focussed on the penalty for handball, which didn’t look intentional to me. That may have been vital but I think Croatia’s goalkeeper should have done better with the two second-half goals that really killed off the game.

Anyway all credit to Croatia for playing their part in an exciting final, and for keeping going right to the end. They definitely had chances to get back into the game, but it just wasn’t to be.

Croatia were a little unlucky this afternoon, but over the whole competition I think France were the most consistently impressive team and deserved to win the World Cup.

Le football rentre à la maison!

P.S.

P. P. S. We had a bit of rain today, which was nice!