Point-scoring?

Apparently last weekend’s win for Wales over Scotland (rugby union, should I add?) was a record victory.  I didn’t see in the press why it was a record, but would presume that it referred to Wales-Scotland matches, and certainly that it meant the winning margin.

Whenever I see references to such records in rugby (union) I find myself wondering what the all-time records would be if the scoring system had remained unchanged.  There can be few sports where the system for scores has changed so much so fast.  Fifty years ago or so it was three points for a try, which of course made it the same as a penalty.  Reasonably enough this was felt to be a poor incentive to score tries, and in due course the value went up to four.  I don’t think that lasted very long, and maybe should check it out, but after a while (maybe round about 20 years?) the value was increased again, to five.

Now, it is clear that any big win involving (say) seven tries against one would result in a margin of 12 points more now than fifty years ago.  So a “record win” could be merely the result of adding value to the try.  If it became a six-point score next season there would be yet more scope for some new records.

I don’t suppose this will have many people lying awake at night worrying, but it might be interesting to see what the best winning margins might be if values were standardised for comparison.  I suppose it’s even possible to say that some recent narrow victories would in the past would have been defeats in the past simply because the modern winners’ number of points would have been less.  Which in turn raises the spectre that Lions Tours or Six Nations might have had different outcomes…  Oh no. let’s forget the whole thing!

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What a coincidence!

How strange that is!  Within an hour of publishing my last post, about the blurring of footballers’ appearances as substitutes, I came across an article in the paper about Arsène Wenger’s 998 games in charge of Arsenal, and a bar chart which showed the players with the most appearances.

The chart made clear, in colour, how many starts and how many appearances as sub each of the players in question had made.  So you could see that the second- and third-top players (Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp) made 377 and 376 appearances respectively, but that Henry made 337 starts as opposed to 298 for Bergkamp.

That’s not to make a value judgment on the guys, and it still isn’t the same as the “fte” count I mentioned, but it is a meaningful figure all the same.  Oh, and who would you say is the top player of the lot under Wenger?  Answer in the next post.

 

Penalty!

There are a couple of issues around personal records for footballers which I often think could be tidied up with some easy calculations.  One of them is seen in the question of appearances, and the other can be “spotted” in the case of penalties scored.

For appearances, it seems that modern players are constantly breaking records for club or country.  In the case of internationals (and this is true for rugby and cricket as well) it is clearly easier to play games these days compared to the number of matches years ago, because of all the extra friendlies and competitions with long qualifying rounds.   Now we can hardly complain about this. or turn the clock back, but when people talk about all-time records it would useful maybe to add in a percentage figure for the proportion of eligible matches played.  In cricket this obviously involves aggregates of runs and wickets: I wonder how Fred Trueman’s records (first to 300 Test wickets, if I recall) would compare with those modern bowlers who have overtaken him.  This sort of thing should be easily worked out in cricket, one of the most stats-obsessed sports.

In football the “number of appearances” issue is further clouded by the possibility of substitutions in the modern era.  Quite apart from the way that many players come on for half an hour (some of them deliberately deployed as impact subs), how many times have we seen tactical substitutions with two or three minutes left, or even deep into stoppage time. The guy hardly has time to take up position before the final whistle goes.  Yet it’s an “appearance”.

When I worked in departments keeping check of staff we used to talk in terms of “full-time equivalent”  (fte) posts.  Someone who worked for three days of five was working 60% of time, or 0.6 fte.  So you could work out how well staffed departments were even if they had a number of part-time staff, and compare them across the board.

If football appearances were worked out in the same way, it might give a better indication of how record-breaking players like Ryan Giggs (for whom I have a great admiration!) compare to former players.  Just a thought…

In the same spirit (but much less informally) it might be interesting to work out goal-scorers’ success without the added boost of penalties.  I haven’t got the figures to prove it, but once upon a time (when I were a lad!) penalties were hammered in by beefy defenders.  At some fairly recent point strikers have taken over the duties (the wonderful Bill Edgar wrote an article on this in the Times last year).  So people like Rooney or Shearer have scored scores from the spot, and again become record-breakers.

Now, it is clearly easier to score a penalty than from open play.  I’m not saying it’s easy; or that “me missus could do it”: simply that if you look at the stats (and the fact that we are all surprised at a miss) it is far easier to score from 12 yards with only the goalie there.  So I wonder what the records would look like if we gave (say) 0.5 fte goal for a penalty.  The trouble is, of course, that that in itself is an arbitrary way of counting things – though perhaps something more sophisticated could be worked out.  Again, it’s just a thought, not designed to revolutionise the record books but just to add another layer of meaning to the very bald statistics we so often get.