Archive for the ‘Sporting fanaticism’ Category

Horse racing

August 11, 2013

I’ve never got into horse racing, as I usually couldn’t tell a [insert name of some type of horse] from [insert another].

I know so little about it that I’m not tempted.

But I am fascinated by the complexity of betting on horse races. Terms like “I’ll have an each-way trixie and a lucky 31, all at SP.” And the bookie knows exactly how many horses names will be called (at least five and at most eight) and within minutes nearly 100 bet calculations will be made.

As I was sitting in a betting shop watching some cricket, I decided to try out an idea I’ve had about the way people bet.

I knew nothing at all about any of the horses, or the jockeys, or the trainers. I made no allowances for the race course, the horses recent performances [“form”], or racing conditions.

All I cared about was how many places would be paid out for an each way bet. Just a warning for Americans, you don’t use the same terms as in the UK or Ireland, so what we call a “place” isn’t the same as what you think it means.

I sat through five races and despite misgivings about one of them (too many horses ranked very close together), I duly picked and wrote down my choices. I did NOT however, go to a cashier and place any of these.

The Curragh (a race course in Ireland), the 4.15pm race. The payout for each way was 1/4 odds for either first or second. In the 4.45pm race at the same venue, the each way was 1/4 odds for the first three to finish.

Leicester (in the East Midlands of England), the 4.25pm race. One fifth odds for the first three to cross the line.

Downpatrick (which I assumed to be in Ireland), the 4.30pm race. Again one fifth odds for the first three.

Windsor the 4.40pm race, one quarter odds for the first two.

My picks were Hamza at 6/1, Brazen at 10/1, Ironmill Lad at 8/1, Understory at 5/1 and Sassaway at 8/1.

I chose them with the following principles: how many places were there? Take the horse that has odds putting it closest outside the each way places. So in my first race where the first two would pay out, Hamza was the third favourite. In a couple of races there was a cluster of choices on the same odds (Ironmill Lad’s race for example). There I picked the one that was drifting out. That means the horse the punters were moving their money AWAY from. This worked brilliantly with Sassaway but failed with Ironmill Lad. Where it looked like the odds might be getting shorter (say they were 8/1 but had been 9/1 earlier) I would “take the price”, otherwise I was taking “SP” (the price quoted as the race started).

My choice of bet was an “each way Lucky 31”. I would have put £1 on each selection, which would have cost me £62.

The fun is that this would have automatically selected for me the following combinations:

Five singles:

Hamza to finish first or second.

Brazen to finish first, second or third.

Ironmill Lad to finish first, second or third.

Understory to finish first or second.

Sassaway to finish first, second or third.

Ten doubles:

Hamza and Brazen.

Hamza and Ironmill Lad.

Hamza and Understory.

Hamza and Sassaway.

Brazen and Ironmill Lad.

Brazen and Understory.

Brazen and Sassaway.

Ironmill Lad and Understory.

Ironmill Lad and Sassaway.

Understory and Sassaway.

Ten trebles:

Every possible combination of three of the five horses.

Five fourfold accumulators:

Every possible combination of four of the five horses.

Finally, a fivefold accumulator: all five selections to win or place.

I was effectively making 62 selections (31 bets with either a win or a place) and there were 13 possible winning results for me. In three races, I was winning if my pick finished in the top three. In the other two races, a top-two finish would be needed. I had thirteen possible chances of winning something.

Hamza finished second. Brazen won. Ironmill Lad was in the top two for a long time but didn’t finish in the first five. Understory looked good for most of his race but was well beaten, with a top jockey (who I would have backed if I’d done any kind of research) winning by some distance. Sassaway won well.

If I’d put £10 on each to win, I’d have spent £50 and got £190 back, a profit of 280%.

My Lucky 31 going £1 each way would have cost £62. I would have got £250 back, a profit of 303.2%.

I’m not tempted, but I can see how it might be compelling. And I admit I would have been pretty excited while the races were running.

Rugby, cricket, but not football

August 14, 2011

This is no fluke. England has the best five-day cricket playing team. And the style by which this has been achieved, an innings and 242 run spanking of India, is distinctly un-English, for those who bleated for Tim Henman at Wimbledon or who persist in dreaming that “passion” will win the football team a World Cup.

Let’s be clear how much better England were than India: add another (third) Indian innings and they probably wouldn’t have equalled England’s first innings. Take away Alastair Cook’s 294 runs and his team would have needed 53 runs to win, which is how many Tim Bresnan, the bowler who comes in at No 8 to bat, scored. And India couldn’t get Bresnan out.

I warned that this England cricket squad is as good or nearly as good as the very best in the modern era.

It isn’t a fluke. The foundations for the achievement of becoming test cricket’s number one rated side go back beyond 2005, when England first mugged the then supreme team Australia in an Ashes series which was celebrated like winning a football world cup. There were some slip ups, but since the appointment of the South-African-born Andrew Strauss, this climb up the rankings (England was listed as the worst test playing team at one point) has been the result of the right attitude, preparation and keeping the “passion” to celebrating actual achievements, unlike soccer.

Now cricket joins rugby union as a sport in which the England team have, within the past decade, achieved global superiority. Football, a sport with vastly more money, more spectators and a depth of players, has, by contrast been an utter failure.

Here is England’s World Cup and European Championship record since 1966:

England (World Cup 4th [1990], European Championships 3rd [1968, 1996])

And here are some comparable achievements by countries not rated highly by English soccer fans, commentators or players:
Belgium (World Cup 4th [1986], European Championship 2nd [1980], 3rd [1972])
Bulgaria (World Cup 4th [1994])
Croatia (World Cup 3rd [1998])
Czech Republic (European championship 2nd [1996], 3rd [2004])
Czechoslovakia (European championship 1st [1976], 3rd [1980])
Denmark (European championship 1st [1992], 3rd [1984])
Greece (European championship 1st [2004])
Hungary (European championship 4th [1972])
Poland (World Cup 3rd [1974, 1982])
Russia (European championship 3rd [2008])
Sweden (World Cup 3rd [1994], European championship 4th [1992])
Turkey (World Cup 3rd [2002], European championship 4th [2008])
USSR (European championship 2nd [1972, 1988], 4th [1968])
Yugoslavia (European championship 2nd [1968], 4th [1976])

The teams with better records than England since 1966 also includes Germany, Italy, France, Spain, the Netherlands and Portugal, all of which have at least reached a final.

The first problem for English football is the difficulty in accepting what reasonable expectations to begin with and to work (as opposed to emote) to improve this. It’s hard to accept that Belgium is a more successful footballing country at World and European championships. But investigating why and how to improve on this is the way forward.

It’s a good idea for team spirit if all the players sing the National Anthem with feeling before a game. But it’s not a sufficient skill for winning.

England the best (nearly)

August 2, 2011

There is a tendency among English (and to a certain extent British) sports commentators and supporters to consider national teams either complete rubbish or world class. I’ve written an analysis of the England soccer team at the 2010 World Cup, compared with major rivals which goes into this in some detail. Some time (Real Soon Now, hopefully) I’ll publish it as a page here.

But for now, I want to take issue with Derek Pringle, a former Test player for England, and presently a commentator for the Daily Telegraph. He writes about yesterday’s England win over world number one India:

It was a pounding, delivered with the swaggering elan of the two finest sides of the last 30 years: the West Indies under Clive Lloyd and Viv Richards; and Australia under Mark Taylor and Steve Waugh.
They are not yet as consistently ruthless as those teams but successive wins against India appears to have given them an appetite for world domination judging from the one-sided nature of the cricket here.

Now I would bet that any English reader of the quote is going to assume that I want to criticise the comparison with the great West Indian or Australian sides. But that isn’t my complaint. It’s that Andrew Strauss, the South African-born England captain has already matched or surpassed the standards set by the four great captains listed above.

Here’s the record:

Andrew Strauss (England): Captained 37 times, won 19 (51.4%), lost 5 (13.5%), drawn 13 (35.1%).

Clive Lloyd (West Indies): Captained 74 times, won 36 (48.6%), lost 12 (16.2%), drawn 26 (35.1%).
Viv Richards (West Indies): Captained 50 times, won 27 (54.0%), lost 8 (16.0%), drawn 15 (30.0%).
Mark Taylor (Australia): Captained 50 times, won 26 (52.0%), lost 13 (26.0%), drawn 11 (22.0%).
Steve Waugh (Australia): Captained 57 times, won 41 (71.9%), lost 9 (15.8%), drawn 7 (12.3%).

Now it is clear that Strauss can claim to be more successful than Lloyd, in a near dead heat with Richards and Taylor and behind Waugh. But consider the starting point. The West Indies under Lloyd and England under Strauss did not start from a position of undisputed world’s top test cricket teams. And Steve Waugh’s loss rate is worse than Strauss’ even though he started with the top team in the world.

The simple truth is this. A team coming up against Andrew Strauss’ England does not expect to win (his loss rate is the lowest of the five). Which is precisely what it was like to face those other great captains. I think it’s time to recognise this fact and enjoy it while it lasts.

As a result of the 319-runs win in the second test, taking a 2-0 lead in the four match series, England are on course to take over from India as the top test playing team in the International Cricket Council rankings. Already, Strauss’ team is guaranteed at least second place, leap-frogging South Africa.

Thoughts on the Ashes

December 17, 2010

Thoughts about the Third Ashes Test. The quote below is a draft comment I decided was too long for Brian Micklethwait’s blog.

Hussey is the only really bright spot of Australia’s batting, with useful support from Haddin and now Johnson. Watson is doing well, the rest have been poor. Looking at the stats I see Clarke has an 80 and Ponting a 51 not out.

The problem is the 23 innings (so far) of less than 10 (46% of the total). By comparison England have 12 (36%). At the other end Australians have hit 50 or more 13 times (26%) to England’s 11 (33%), but the over 100 scores read 5 to Engalnd (15%) and 2 to Australia (4%).

I assumed that Johnson not playing between the tests was a sign of confusion by Australia’s selectors (there are plenty of other signs!) but there clearly was some thinking going on which has paid off.

My view is that Collingwood should have been dropped and both Bresnan and Tremlett lined up for England. Collingwood has taken 6 catches (and a couple of great ones), but scores of 4, 42 and 5 (average 17) with no wickets for 21 overs (he only averages one test wicket per 20 overs in his career) is not good enough for this series. If he’d got the 42 yesterday when England were collapsing I’d take a different view.

The Broad injury looks like being followed by Finn. Overbowling for long spells, because there are only four proper bowlers in the team. In the first two tests this was excusable: caution over going behind. Not now. And Collingwood does not seem suited to this pitch as a bowler.

Meanwhile Bell (worst score 52, he’s been running out of partners) is wasted at number six. Move him, Prior and Swann up the line and put the extra bowler in. Shorter spells might not take more wickets, but injured bowlers off the pitch certainly won’t. I can see Anderson break down soon after his 48 hour flights as he gets overbowled covering for Finn and the absent fifth bowler. A couple of 10-over spells on a hot day should do it. Bad planning.

Swann is occasionally getting whacked around. If there’s a turning pitch coming up England could pick both spinners, with left and right arm options available. I suspect Panesar might get Swann some more wickets. Clearly not this match (unless Australia’s dropping of Beer is an error), but perhaps the next two?

Overall, for all the talk, England have played like a team that think the Ashes are already won after day one of this test.
Final thought about Ponting. Dropping him for averaging only about 30 in the past two years is bizarre. I don’t think Mark Taylor was as good and he kept his place.

One thought niggles me. Whatever happened to the “Cricket Academy” the Australians had which was supposedly the source of greatness in the 1990s and early 2000s?

Who has it easy at the 2010 FIFA World Cup? (3)

December 5, 2009

In my previous two postings [here and here], I’ve outlined the draw for the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa, attempting to work out which of the eight groups is the hardest. I’ve also used two methods to try to work this out, which I’ve described as “Group Type” and “The Minnows’ View.”

In this posting I look at the two other indicators I deployed for this exercise, which I call “The View From The Top” and “Mind The Gap.”

Just to recap, here are the first round groups:

Group A Group B Group C Group D
South Africa Argentina England Germany
Mexico Nigeria USA Australia
Uruguay South Korea Algeria Serbia
France Greece Slovenia Ghana
Group E Group F Group G Group H
Netherlands Italy Brazil Spain
Denmark Paraguay North Korea Switzerland
Japan New Zealand Ivory Coast Honduras
Cameroon Slovakia Portugal Chile

The View From The Top is the average ranking points of the bottom three teams in a group, therefore it is a true perspective of how it should look to the seeded team (apart from Group A, where unseeded France is the highest-ranked team).

Here’s how they look, using this indicator.

Group A: 736.33, equivalent to Columbia, the average would be ranked in 40th place.

Group B: 833.67, Bulgaria, ranked 27th.

Group C: 853, Nigeria, 22nd.

Group D: 834, Bulgaria, 27th.

Group E: 859.67, Nigeria, 22nd.

Group F: 668, Scotland, 46th.

Group G: 835.67, Denmark, 26th.

Group H: 862.67, Nigeria, 22nd.
[all ranking points taken from the November 20, 2009 update of the FIFA/Coca Cola World Rankings, with the relevant data cited here and here].

What the “View From The Top” indicator shows: This time Group H is the highest rated, this was also the case with the “Group Type” indicator (which established the average strength of each group). So the joint favourite, Spain, also ranked world number one, would seem to have the toughest average opponent in the first round. This is perhaps the least reported assessment from the World Cup draw to date and defies apparent wisdom.

The weakness of this indicator is that, like all averages, it gives no account to the range of teams. In a three-game contest, the prescence of two closely-ranked teams at the top would seem more complicated (see Group G where the 2nd- [Brazil] and 5th-ranked [Portugal] teams are drawn together). However, it is important to recall that the top two teams qualify for the later stages of the competition.

Perhaps this makes my final indicator worth a look: Mind The Gap. This is worked out by calculating the gap between the top and bottom teams in each group.

Group A: 745 points, equivalent to the gap between 1st-placed Spain and 21st-placed Australia.

Group B: 460 pts, equivalent to the gap between Spain and France (7th).

Group C: 307 pts, the gap between Spain and the Netherllands (3rd).

Group D: 431 pts, the gap between Spain and Portugal (5th).

Group E: 570 pts, the gap between Spain and Croatia (10th).

Group F: 782 pts, the gap between Spain and Israel (25th).

Group G: 1,193 pts, the gap between Spain and Uganda (78th).

Group H: 884 pts, the gap between Spain and Honudras (38th).

What the “Mind The Gap” indicator shows: The narrower the gap, the more likely there will be a “shock” result, e.g. the lowest-ranked team getting a draw or a win over the top team. Here, England’s Group C is the most interesting, which shouldn’t be a surprise. At ninth place, England is the weakest team to be the top in a group, while Slovenia at 33rd are the strongest of the minnows.

Because of the tendency of English soccer fans to assume that, because they haven’t drawn Germany, Brazil or Argentina in the first round, then naturally “we’re going to win it,” I think there’s a very strong reason to fear that, Algeria, for instance will be totally understimated. This is especially problematic when one considers that England will be the least well-suited team in Group C to play in the South African climate next June. (more…)

Who has it easy at the 2010 FIFA World Cup? (2)

December 5, 2009

In my previous posting, I described the results of the 2010 FIFA World Cup draw in South Africa. Here I look at two methods of working out which are the toughest groups. Group F is the weakest group using all but one of my indicators (the final one, “Mind The Gap” which is covered in my next posting).

Here are the Groups for the 2010 FIFA World Cup:

Group A Group B Group C Group D
South Africa Argentina England Germany
Mexico Nigeria USA Australia
Uruguay South Korea Algeria Serbia
France Greece Slovenia Ghana

Group E Group F Group G Group H
Netherlands Italy Brazil Spain
Denmark Paraguay North Korea Switzerland
Japan New Zealand Ivory Coast Honduras
Cameroon Slovakia Portugal Chile

The consensus seems to be that Groups G and A are the hardest. Italy has the easiest and England has a good chance. I beg to differ.

Although South Africa is the host country and on paper a seeded team, France (with almost three times the ranking points) is the real favourite in Group A. Therefore, in this analysis, I have considered France the top team in Group A.

The two methods of evaluating the strength of groups I’m using here are “Group Type” and the “Minnows’ View.”

Group Type is simply the average ranking of the four teams in a group. I then find the team(s) in the FIFA world rankings which comes closest to matching this average, this gives us:

Group A: 832.75, equivalent to Denmark or Bulgaria, the average would be ranked in 27th place.

Group B: 896.5, Serbia or Australia, ranked 21st.

Group C: 905.5, Uruguay, 19th.

Group D: 918, Switzerland or Uruguay, 19th.

Group E: 964.5, USA or Mexico, 15th.

Group F: 804.75, Paraguay or Norway, 31st.

Group G: 1,024.75, Greece or Russia, 13th.

Group H: 1,052.5, Croatia, 10th.
[all ranking points taken from the November 20, 2009 update of the FIFA/Coca Cola World Rankings, with the relevant data cited here and here].

What the “Group Type” indicator shows: I think it’s a reliable guide to the average quality of the teams. The surprising result is that Group H comes top, suggesting this is where the teams will tend to be of the highest standard. The reason for this result is that Spain is the world number one (1,622 ranking points) and Honduras, the weakest team in that group (738 pts), is the second strongest outsider (the others ranging from 756 pts to only 377 pts). The average team in Group H is equivalent to Croatia, the 10th ranked country.

I think one weakness of this indicator (apart from the fluctuation in rankings between now and June 2010) is that it’s easy to forget that Brazil, for instance, doesn’t play Brazil. In other words, a strong team in a group of minnows will actually have an easy time, but the group looks harder than one where all the teams are more evenly matched. This is why the other indicators were created.

The Minnows’ View is simply calculated by taking the average ranking points of the top three teams in a groups, which assumes that the lowest ranked is an outsider, with no serious chance of coming first or second over three matches, and therefore being eliminated.

Group A: 984.67, equivalent to USA, the average would be ranked in 14th place.

Group B: 987, USA, ranked 14th.

Group C: 955.33, Mexico, 15th.

Group D: 977.67, Mexico, 15th.

Group E: 1,049.67, Cameroon, 11th.

Group F: 928.67, Ivory Coast, 16th.

Group G: 1,233.33, Italy, 4th.

Group H: 1,157.33, France, 7th.

What the “Minnows’ View” indicator shows: This time Group G is the highest rated, due to the exclusion of North Korea. Close behind is Group H again, but more significant is that the average difference between the other groups is small: equivalent to only five ranking places, which suggests that the qualifying process to produce 32 teams for the finals was broadly fair (I know Irish readers will disagree).

The easiest group for an outsider team would be Group F, because Paraguay and Slovakia are among the weakest teams from their respective pots (South America/Africa and Europe, respectively).

A weakness of this indicator is that it fails to provide a perspective from the point of view of the strongest team in a group. In a couple of instances, where the lowest rated team is close to others in the group, the possibility of an upset is likely to be underestimated.

I address both these concerns in my next posting.

Who has it easy at the 2010 FIFA World Cup? (1)

December 5, 2009

The draw has been completed and we now know who plays who, where and when, at the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa. Now of course, with about six months to go, the expectation will heighten as people start to wonder, hope and fear for their favourite country. In this post, I’ve decided to calculate which is the hardest group and find out who has the easy ride.

My quick answer is South Africa had it tough, Italy has it easiest in the first round, Spain, not Brazil, is in the hardest group but England is the most likely top seed (other than the host) to fail to qualify.

The rankings used for the event were the FIFA/Coca Cola World Rankings [precise linking not easy] for October 16, 2009. For my analysis, I’ve taken the most up to date data, from November 20. The main difference is that Portugal, not England, should have been seeded. One wonders if the size of television audiences and advertising markets in any way influences the choice of ranking. But hey! No one manipulates the data to come up with the results one wanted, do they?

A poll on FIFA’s website suggest the following order from hardest to easiest group (I’ve added teams and latest FIFA/Coca Cola rankings in brackets, ranking points in angle brackets “[” and “]”):
1. 49.7% said Group G was hardest
(Brazil 2 [1,592], North Korea 84 [399], Ivory Coast 16 [927], Portugal 5 [1,181])
2. 23.41% Group A
(South Africa 86 [377], Mexico 15 [931, Uruguay 19 [901], France 7 [1,122])
3. 7.97% Group D
(Germany 6 [1,170], Australia 21 [863], Serbia 20 [900], Ghana 37 [739])
4. 4.7% Group H
(Spain 1 [1,622], Switzerland 18 [924], Honduras 38 [738], Chile 17 [926])
5. 4.49% Group E
(The Netherlands 3 [1,279], Denmark 26 [835], Japan 43 [709], Cameroon 11 [1,035])
6. 3.82% Group B
(Argentina 8 [1,085], Nigeria 22 [848], South Korea 52 [625], Greece 12 [1,028])
7. 3.39% Group C
(England 9 [1,063], USA 14 [980], Algeria 28 [823], Slovenia 33 [756])
8. 2.53% Group F
(Italy 4 [1,215], Paraguay 30 [816], New Zealand 77 [433], Slovakia 34 [755])

I think the host country, South Africa in Group A, has reasonable grounds to consider the draw somewhat harsh: France was (barely) the second hardest team from Europe to face in the opening round, Uruguary the second hardest option from South America and Mexico the second hardest (barely) from the rest of the world.

It might have been too easy to get North Korea, Paraguay and Slovakia, respectively 84th, 30th and 34th in the FIFA world rankings. But at 86th in the world and the lowest-ranked country in this competition, nine places behind 77th-placed New Zealand, a little luck in the draw would not have gone amiss.

The obviously weak group is that of defending champions Italy (4th in the current rankings), which has Paraguay, New Zealand and Slovakia. How Fabio Capello, the Italian manager of the England team, must have quietly wished he could swap places…

As a half-French half-British soccer enthusiast living in London who supports Liverpool F.C., I hope England does well.

This is not rugby, where I would rather have root canal treatment than listen to “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” and watch oafs with the sporting intelligence of steroid-pumped pantomine wrestlers struggle to score a try against Argentina. (No, I’m not claiming the English rugby team uses steroids, only that no one could tell the difference from the amount of flair in their game, with a tiny smattering of exceptions.)

I’ve used four indicators to determine the strength of each of the eight groups in the first round of the World Cup. I call them “Group Average,” “The Minnows’ View,” “View From The Top,” and “Mind The Gap.” I don’t know which of these is the most reliable guide, we shall have to wait and see.

Making the best of a bad mess?

October 26, 2008

I am not a supporter of Tottenham Hotspur Football Club. I also find the claims that this is a “big club” somewhat ridiculous, as the last time that title could accurately be described was in 1961. However, as someone who is interested in businesses and the people that run them, I have to give credit where it’s due to chairman Daniel Levy.

The performance of the management of Spurs over the past summer has verged on the farcical. The person responsible for this state of affairs was Mr Levy.

However, the actions over the past few weeks, have, in retrospect been handled as effectively as I think they could have been.

First, the club had a series of games that, if keeping the team coach Juande Ramos and his assistant Gustavo Poyet (both very capable people and likely to succeed in other circumstances) was going to work, they had a chance.

First Spurs won a game on September 24, but in the useless Carling Cup (the competition the club won last season) and against Newcastle United, a club which at the time, if anything, was in an even worse state.

So at least, Mr Levy knew his coach and players could break their winning duck in the Premier League.

But then, against Portsmouth on September 28, there was a 2-0 defeat (made worse by a former player scoring the first goal).

This was followed this month by: 1-1 draw in Poland against Wisla Krakow in the UEFA Cup; defeat 0-1 at home against newly-promoted Hull City; defeat 1-2 away to Stoke City (another newbie); and defeat 0-2 away to Udinese (Italy) in the UEFA Cup.

Today, against Bolton Wanderers, a struggling team but currently above the relegation zone, was the last chance before tough matches against big rivals Arsenal, then Liverpool, Dynamo Zagreb in the UEFA Cup and Manchester City on November 9.

In my view, Bolton was the only credible chance of a win, but not with the existing set-up.

Mr Levy has therefore publicly owned up to the error of trying to have a coach/sporting director double act, the latter being Damien Comolli, who became a hate figure for many Spurs supporters. He sacked, Messers Ramos, Poyet and Comolli (with other coaches going) and swiftly appointed Harry Redknapp as the replacement, reportedly offering £5 million in compensation to the latter’s current employer.

In addition to a change of personnel, the result is a complete change of management strategy and how players will be treated. I don’t think it’s a surprise that today, Spurs beat Bolton 2-0 for the first league win of the season after 8 previous failures.

Mr Levy also provided a rationale for his position, making no excuses for not being flamboyant or for taking a commercially-minded view of the club. He did so in an open letter to the club’s supporters, which in my view was bold and clever.

By his actions in the past 48 hours, Daniel Levy has given his club a chance to turn things around, and made exactly the sort of appointment that could succeed. Mr Redknapp is renowned as a football manager for two skills: buying and selling players, and getting players other people have given up on and getting them to perform to their potential. It would be hard to argue that he isn’t exactly what Spurs need.

For Portsmouth, where Harry Redknapp was going a fine job and which has assembled a squad of players who have formed a strong working relationship with their boss, it could be a disaster. But that’s not Mr Levy’s problem.

When deciding whether to sack a manager, several factors come into the equation. One of these is “who is the best person to get us out of this hole?” Juante Ramos, whose spoken English was frankly not better than my Spanish would be after almost exactly a year, did not appear to communicate well with players from the touchline, according to this report for example. The sporting director Mr Commoli’s handling of transfers was, to put it mildly, incomprehensible to Spurs supporters and the media.

It may not work: the transfer window for players remains shut until the end of the year, by which time it may be too late to effect a rescue, the current strikers in the club squad do not seem capable of playing as a complementary unit, another indictment of Mr Commoli’s handling of the last transfer window in July and August.

But some chance is infinitely better than none. Will Tottenham Hotspur supporters be mollified? My guess is that they will, at least till the end of the season next May.

Crying out for a blog: Sarah Palin and Joe Kinnear

October 4, 2008

This week, we’ve seen two people who are crying out for a blog: Sarah Palin, the Republican nominee for the Vice Presidency of the U.S.A. and Joe Kinnear, the caretaker manager of Newcastle United Football Club. Both have been the targets what one could call “the media narrative” or hostile bias.

Mrs Palin, the Governor of Alaska, let off steam in an interview on Fox News here.

Joe Kinnear vented with a lot of “c” and “f” four letter words here.

In both cases, they suffer from the need to communicate to an audience in order to succeed. But both are people that the media has decided must fail: one for being a Republican, the other for being old and not photogenic.

They both need to break out of the media box and interact with the public. Joe Kinnear bluntly announced he will not give press conferences again and will offer exclusives to two local newspapers, as a way of communicating to Newcastle FC supporters.

I’d like to think that Governor Palin is much too nice, but may have fantasized, to have this exchange with Katie Couric:

Joe Kinnear: Which one is Simon Bird [Daily Mirror’s north-east football writer]?
Simon Bird: Me.
JK: You’re a c**t.
SB: Thank you.

Funnily enough, I anticipated this sort of thing in 2003 when the Big Blog Company was starting up. I was asked by its founders to suggest some ideas for the types of businesses that would want to blog.

I said: “politicians and football clubs.”

I was very gently informed that I was completely wrong. Politicians could never tell the truth long enough to write a credible blog and football cannot possibly involve a communication, besides its sport and sport has nothing to do with blogging.

I regret to say that the Big Blog Company, despite some success, has never really made it as a major business. But, if instead of ignoring my suggestions, tBBC had taken the idea seriously, we can see where this could have led.

One cleverest use of blogging in the sporting world has been by the Association of Tennis Professionals to boost the popularity (and therefore commercial bankability) of tennis players. The ATP offered blogs for ALL ITS MEMBERS. Here are a couple of examples.
Daniela Hantuchova
Venus Williams

Today, the hardcore tennis fan reads the players views directly, unfiltered by the media. The media get their stories from the blogs too, but on terms dictated by the players. Someone, somewhere, has made a lot of money setting up these blogs.
It’s a shame that a silly bias against sport as a serious business meant that it wasn’t tBBC.

With politicians, to be fair, it would have been very hard to ignore the political blogging going on in the early 2000s. The business strategy I would have proposed would have been to offer all the political parties a deal to set up blogs for all parliamentary candidates. And I would have offered the Welsh Nationalists to do it for free as a demonstration for the other parties (about 38 seats in Wales last time I looked). But 633 seats in the Westminster Parliament.

As with tennis players under the ATP brand, a fair amount of standardization would have been possible. Lots of boot camps for politicians (tennis players I suspect don’t do group events quite as well).

But this wasn’t a business that tBBC wanted. Perhaps they should bid to do the PalinBlog and the JKblog.

First weekend of Six Nations Tournament

February 3, 2008

At least two of the games were affected by refereeing mistakes. In particular, England benefited from a six forward with more than one (I think three) players offside, which led to a drop goal to move to 9-3. Then there was the Paul Sackey throw-in to himself that clearly did not travel five metres, which was followed by and England try for 16-3. In addition in a rare first half attack by Wales, a superb bit of defending by Tom Sheridan to rip the ball out of the Welsh attacker’s hands inside the England 22 was fortunate, because the England player knocked-on. So a defensive clearance by England to the half-way line, should instead have been given as a scrum about 15 metres out to Wales.

16-6 down at half-time for Wales, when England should have had only 6 points and Wales denied a possible scoring chance too.

The fact that the luck of the officials’ errors was going almost entirely England’s way for the first 20 minutes caused me to stop watching until the very end, when, to be fair, I saw an inexplicable refereeing error favor Wales, when they were now winning.

The point is that if mistakes happen and consistently favour the team that is on top, this will tend to destroy the sporting spectacle.

The match between Scotland and France today was very enjoyable for me, but tinged with the recognition that France’s first try should not have been awarded. (more…)