“A numbers game”: the hidden work of football statisticians | Soccer
YesYou don’t know his face or his name, but you have experienced his work many times while watching football on TV. As a freelance broadcast journalist and associate producer, Dave works for, among others, BT Sport and Premier League Productions, the company responsible for broadcasting the Premier League to the world. He is part of an army of statisticians who provide a vast array of facts and figures to those working in front of or behind the camera. When Peter Drury or Martin Tyler seemingly pull a choice stat out of thin air to add it, there’s a good chance he did it from his stat pack.
Dave describes it as the perfect job for a football geek, and Drury confirms that these statisticians are “of a certain kind.” Having started his career in Spain, as part of his sports journalism degree, Dave worked for Real Madrid TV, before joining Sunset & Vine, the production company behind BT Sport, when it launched its football coverage in 2013. He has worked with them, as well as other broadcasters, since. It mainly focuses on assembling the stat pack for each match.
“The Stats Pack isn’t just for commentators,” says Dave. “It is also used by presenters and studio guests, experts and even producers.” It is the bible of a whole series of people involved in the show. “Some people use it religiously, while others use it as a point of reference, as and when they need something.”
The Stats Pack is a huge file with a huge amount of data that goes into granular detail about every aspect of the game. It includes information about each team, including their history and recent form, every encounter between the two teams, each player from both teams, manager records, etc. A typical Premier League single match pack may contain 25,000 words and commentators may only use 1% of the material.
Dave likes anonymity but received the occasional mention. “James Richardson gave me a name on the BT Champions League Goals Show a few weeks ago which was good, but very rare.” By a strange coincidence, he was also mentioned by Julien Laurens last week when he helped the French journalist regain the previous goal of the less than prolific Andreas Christensen ahead of his Champions League goal against Malmö on Tuesday.
Viewers might have known it was the Dane’s first goal for Chelsea after waiting 137 games, but very few would have remembered his previous club goal for Borussia Mönchengladbach against Schalke in the Europa League in 2017. Strangely, Christensen had been in a bit of trouble. purple stain at the time, having scored four days earlier in the Bundesliga against Hamburg adding to his goal a few weeks before that against Fiorentina also in the Europa League. Very few people would have this information at hand, but Dave does.
There is a lot of interaction between the commentators, producers and statisticians, starting with the preparation, during the game itself and in the post-game analysis. These hidden nuggets make all the difference. So when a scarcity such as a Christensen lens occurs, the fact must be quick and precise. “You can do all the prep in the world,” Drury says. “But when something pops up that you never could have predicted, I hit what’s called ‘the lazy button’ which allows me to ask for things to be checked in the air. they become an essential resource.
“In an ideal world, I like to do all of my own preparation,” Drury says. “But there’s never a match where I don’t refer to the stats pack, because I’m going to do one last check on it and sometimes I’m like ‘now that’s a good line’ and then I do – even further research. It’s a matter of extrapolation, so hypothetically to say that Norwich has their worst top-flight run since 1953, it allows me to verify what happened all those years ago, if time permits.
Opta didn’t start collecting detailed stats until 2006-07, so Drury is relying on other sources to delve deeper into the story. “I am a subscriber to the England National Football Archives which contains all training from the very beginning of league football and is my trusted source for historical information,” he said. The ENFA contains detailed information on, at last count, 234,182 games and 46,151 players, dating back to the first season of the Football League of 1888-89.
“I often use such information for those poignant moments after players die,” Drury says. “Very recently when we lost Jimmy Greaves everyone knew about Greaves’ incredible scoring record, but I wanted to know a bit more about his goals especially in the Spurs-Chelsea games. Likewise with Roger Hunt, who I discovered almost 60 years ago, scored his first leading goal for Liverpool against Manchester City, which they were playing that day when they observed a minute of silence in his honour.
The co-commentators are slightly different. “While some want to know every detail because they want to avoid being torn to shreds on social media, others are not particularly interested.” Dave said. “One of the co-commentators is the most beautiful guy in the world but he would be hard pressed to name the left-back of a major European team against an English club. It’s really every man for himself.
As Drury points out, there is a balance between the two roles. “It’s not their job to know the details. As former players, they’re there to explain how something happened, insight that only those who have played the game at the highest level can provide. While as commentators we describe who, where, what and when.
Like Dave, Chris Moore has worked for Sunset & Vine since the launch of BT Sport eight years ago. From his perspective as a producer, Moore sees the Stats Pack as his comfort blanket. “It helps me understand something that I might have missed and it serves as a point of reference throughout the game.” Moore will always read the first few pages because they provide a summary that gives him a lot of material to fill in at the most opportune moment. “The magic of the front pages is that they contain all of the main stories that we can research during the show,” Moore said. “They established the game digitally and in the last few years football has become a numbers game.”
Moore points out that the real challenge comes once the game is on. “This is when we really need to know about it,” he says. Statisticians and producers are always bracing for what might happen in a game. When Patson Daka scored his second goal for Leicester in their Europa League draw at Spartak Moscow last week, Dave and Moore started looking for the fastest hat tricks in Europa League history.
Dave found out that Daka’s hat-trick was the first scored by an away team at Spartak since July 2008, when Vágner Love scored for CSKA Moscow, so he texted Adam Summerton, who mentioned it. in the comments. Much to Moore’s delight, the game generated another startling statistic. When Daka scored his fourth goal of the evening, he became Leicester’s co-top scorer in European football in his third appearance for the club in the Europa League.
Speaking of players scoring four goals on an away pitch, another example of the statistician-commentator interaction was when Dave was working alongside Drury in January 2017. “Myself and Peter did Liverpool against Swansea and Fernando Llorente scored a quick brace. As few players do a hat-trick against Liverpool at Anfield, Peter asked me the last time this happened. Luckily I’m a Liverpool fan so I could tell him straight away it was Andrey Arshavin in 2009. ”In fact, the Russian scored all four goals in a 4-4 draw and remains the only player to having scored four goals at Anfield for an away team in the Premier League. As Michael Caine would say: “And not many people know that. “