Archive for the Football Category

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!

After Extra Time

Posted in Biographical, Football with tags , , , , , , on July 12, 2018 by telescoper

My blogging activities have been a little thin over the last few days as I’ve been in a race against time to submit a grant application. The deadline for that was 4pm today. I was advised to submit it `in good time’, however, and managed to do that. The electronic submission receipt is time-stamped 3:59:47. I guess that’s what they call `Just-in-time Delivery’!

It’s my first attempt at a grant application in the Irish system and I had very little notice of the funding call. It took me quite a while to figure out how to construct a budget using rules that are different from the UK, and that left me relatively little time to write the science case. I cobbled something together but don’t expect it is coherent enough to get funded. On the other hand, I might get some useful feedback on what to do better next time. This approach doesn’t work in the UK system, because for many schemes there you can only apply once every three years.

Anyway, to get a break from grant-writing yesterday evening, I strolled around my local in Maynooth for a pint and to watch a bit of the World Cup Semi-Final between England and Croatia. I got there just in time to see Croatia’s equalizer, which drew huge cheers from the (predominantly Irish) crowd, and decided to stay until the end. Croatia’s second goal got an even bigger cheer, though it wasn’t exactly a surprise even if it did take them until extra time to score it. From what I saw, Croatia thoroughly deserved to win. Congratulations to them.

(In case you’re wondering, yes I did bet on Croatia to go through. But only €50, at 5/2….)

It has been a strange World Cup for England. With Germany, Argentina, Spain, Portugal and Brazil (and Italy not even qualifying) it seemed that the fates had paved a relatively easy route to the final. I do think, however, that people overestimated the quality of the England team: they lost to Belgium’s B-team in their last group game and only just scraped past Colombia in the following round. It’s true that they beat Sweden comfortably in the Quarter Final, but I thought that was more because Sweden were poor than because England were good.

In the end I think Croatia won because England displayed a longstanding weakness of English teams – an inability to maintain possession of the ball in midfield.  Against teams with good attacking players you just can’t afford to keep giving the ball away!  They also seemed to get very rattled when Croatia equalized. On the other hand, this is a very young England side which promises much in the future.  There’s plenty of time before the next World Cup for them to grow proper beards, for example. And one person who definitely deserves praise is manager Gareth Southgate, who has not only shown that he’s a pretty good tactician but also that he’s a very nice bloke, with a fine sense of sportsmanship.

So football’s not coming home after all. But where will it go? I do fancy France to win it, but I hope it’s a good final. I have a feeling that the 3rd/4th playoff between England and Belgium might be a good game too!

 

 

Three Lions

Posted in Football, History with tags , , , , , , on July 11, 2018 by telescoper

I’ve been struggling and failing to put together lots of bits for a grant application today; the deadline is tomorrow at 4pm so it looks like I’ll be working late tonight (either side of the England-Croatia World Cup semi-final). Anyway, having a short break for a cup of tea I decided to put up a short post about the `Three Lions’ symbol used by the England football team and its supporters.

You can study the evolution of this symbol in detail here is based on a design originally brought to England by Geoffrey Plantagenet, Count of Anjou (in France), grant patriarch of the Angevin dynasty and father of Henry Plantagenet (who became Henry II of England). Geoffrey of Anjou’s emblem had six lions rather than three, and his son used designs with either one or two, but King Richard I and King John occasionally used versions with three lions and by the time of Henry III (who lived from 1216 to 1272) the Three Lions appeared on the Royal Coat of Arms pretty much as they are now:

En passant, in heraldic jargon this coat of arms is described Gules, three lions passant guardant Or. The objects shown in the centre of a coat of arms (i.e. the lions in this case) are called `charges’. `Gules’ is basically `red’ and `Or’ is yellow; `passant’ means `moving towards the viewer’s left’ and `guardant’ means `looking at the viewer’ – a lion passant would have its head facing the direction of motion.

Anyway, my point is that this symbol which is now taken to represent England was actually of Angevin origin and is really a French emblem. I don’t know for sure but I don’t think any of the Angevin or Plantagenet Kings mentioned above could even speak English…