The Numbers Game

The Numbers Game is subtitled Why everything you know about football is wrong. It looks to use statistics to disprove some things that we all ‘know’ about football. It also looks to draw attention to the key parts of the game that were unknown until statistics have started being used.

Statistics have been widely used in baseball to help teams improve and other sports are trying to use them to help their performances. Anderson and Sally make it clear that there is already a wide availability of statistics in football, but they are meaningless without analysis. This is an area that clubs are still struggling to get to grips with, as failing in the ‘proper way’ would draw less condemnation than by failing (if it were to happen) through the use of analysed statistics.

Anderson and Sally look to analyse some common statistics and also answer questions such as whether scoring a goal is better than preventing one, if corners should be as celebrated as they are and when substitutions should be made if a team is losing. An enjoyable and thought-provoking book throughout and there’s a couple of things that I may look to try in my Football Manager save; it’s also given me a tip for the next World Cup Final.

Rating (out of 5): *****

Inverting the pyramid: the history of football tactics

The evolution of football formations and tactics is examined in Inverting the pyramid. The book starts with the first formation of 2-3-5 and how this has progressed over the years to new formations. For much of history, most teams have played the same formation or a variation of the formation. As well as formations, tactics are also looked at as managers have looked to get the best out of the players they have at their disposal. In most cases, the initial success of a new formation and tactic has brought some early success before other teams have copied it.

Wilson argues that new tactics and formations brought success as others were not aware of them. With the amount of football available to watch and all the video analysis that there is, it becomes more difficult for revolutionary new tactics to be introduced and certainly not as a surprise to opponents. How will the game develop further? That is the unknown question.

Rating (out of 5): *****

Book review: Soccernomics

Soccernomics looks to explain events in football and dispel popular myths. Club and international football is looked at. As well as trying to explain events, it touches on how other sports use data and how football is slow in comparison to use statistics available. Whilst the book may be slow to influence professional football clubs, it has had an impact on how I play Football Manager and has helped me raise the number of goals I score from corners.

A fascinating insight into how data can be used in football to explain events that happen.

Ratings (out of 5): *****

Book review: Far from the massive crowds

Far from the massive crowds has Mark Cowan following his football team for a year. As the title suggests, they are not a club that everyone may be able to name. His team are Guisborough Town Football Club. They are in the STL Northern League Division 2, but are looking to get promoted. How will the season pan out though?

Cowan details each match he goes to, providing an overview of the towns he visits for away matches. There is a brief summary of the match, with key moments detailed and an overall assessment of how the game was. What is clear throughout the book is the love of the game at this level, both on the pitch and among those who watch and cheer their team on.

Is there a happy ending? Do Guisborough get promoted? I’m afraid I won’t give away the ending to an enjoyable book.

Rating (out of 5): *****

Book review: Start the Car – The World According to Bumble

Start The Car has David ‘Bumble’ Lloyd looking over cricket and his life. The book is in three parts. In the first part, Bumble profiles those he has worked with on commentary duties. There are stories about those he has worked with and what they are like. The second section focuses on cricket and games that Bumble has been involved in. The final section is a look at Bumble’s life. The stories told are interesting and funny and told in Bumble’s inimitable style. It frequently feels less like a book and more like a cosy chat by the fire over a good pint in one of Bumble’s recommended pubs.

Rating (out of 5): *****

Book review: Sweet Chariot 2: Heroes and Heartbreaks

Sweet Chariot 2 looks at the 2007 Rugby World Cup. Each pool is summarised, with games written about in varying levels in detail. After the summary of each pool, the knockout matches are described individually. After the chapter about the final, statistics for the tournament are given with lineups for each match. An excellent summary of a tournament that saw the recognised nations not have everything their own way.

Rating (out of 5): ****

Book review: Moneyball

Moneyball looks at the Oakland Athletics and how despite having one of the smallest budgets in Major League Baseball, they were able to record winning seasons. Billy Beane, the General Manager, made use of statistics that had been available for many years (but not being used by other teams) to look for what made for successful baseball players. The book is part biography of Beane, part history of the development of sabermetrics, part profile of players in the team (and why other teams were not selecting them) and part overview of the 2002 season. Although there were baseball terms I was unfamiliar with, I found it to be an easy and enjoyable read as the scientific approach to selecting a baseball team over the traditional methods pays off for Oakland.

Rating (out of 5): *****