The greatest success story in the sporting world is surely that of football, rising from its status as an amateur 19th Century English pastime to its present state of global pre-eminence.
No matter how much footy output there is, there would appear to be a huge audience out there whose appetite cannot be sated. And as a result, TV, radio and internet sports services can’t get enough of it.
Of course, nowadays, the same is true of major betting companies, all of whom will typically offer hundreds of markets on a single match.
Yet, in spite of near-blanket coverage, there remains, in my opinion, a severe dearth of high quality analysis across the various outlets.
Indeed, cliched analysis is so much the order of the day, that when a decent one, Gary Neville, finally came along, the Guardian newspaper was moved to observe that:
“It requires considerable experience of watching British football coverage to understand why Gary Neville is such a celebrated pundit, for he has become universally popular for merely filling his job description”.
Neville’s thoroughness confirmed what I had always thought: analysis really could be better than the drivel that was being served up elsewhere. Plus his method showed the others how to improve.
For, as the Guardian pointed out, it was Neville’s thoroughness and willingness to swim against the tide that made him special.
Neville’s punditry has, alas, now long since departed our screens. But, thankfully, there are others out there who are determined to adopt a similar approach.
Let me therefore introduce you to the wonderful world of Soccermatics: Mathematical Adventures in the Beautiful Game.…
I wouldn’t normally sit down to read a book about mathematics.. much less, expect to enjoy it.
However, author David Sumpter’s engaging obsession with both football and numbers make his eulogy to grown-up analysis unexpectedly readable.
He begins with a light-hearted quotation from, of all things, the wisdom of Paul Gascoigne – “I never predict anything and I never will” – but he soon launches into Poisson distributions, the Wisdom of Crowds, the Kelly Criterion and all the rest.
And, amidst all these discussions, he gradually draws out the fundamental paradox that, in spite of the fact that football is notoriously unpredictable, it is possible to make quite accurate predictions about patterns of outcomes that can be expected over an entire season.
Thus, amidst all the noise of football teams’ constantly trumpeted ups and downs, it follows that there exist models that can be used to understand what is really going on.
The implications for sports betting start to emerge from this idea as you proceed. And you begin to wonder… will the author follow his ideas to their logical conclusion and suggest an approach that might make us some money?
Now, Sumpter is no bar room punter but rather a Professor of Applied Mathematics at the University of Uppsala in Sweden.
He was also a Royal Society Research Fellow in Oxford before leaving the UK… in short, this is authoritative stuff.
And any such system would therefore have to be taken very seriously indeed…
So… does Soccermatics give you the key to success?
Well, it certainly gives you some very strong hints. And I, for one, intend to test them out!.
You see, even with his reputation potentially at stake in an area as notoriously fickle as football betting, Sumpter isn’t too squeamish to address the inevitable question of whether or not mathematicians may profit from a footy fixation.
In the last major section, he directly takes on the subject with two fascinating Chapters (’11 – Bet Against The Masses‘) and 12 (’12 – Putting My Money Where My Mouth Is‘).
Sumpter even goes so far as to describe four different mathematical strategies and declare one of them a clear winner – “and it was the simplest”.
So what is it?
Well, you’ll have to read the book to find out!
Incidentally, it’s currently available for £1.49 on Kindle… which, in my opinion, is a massive bargain.
I’m certainly glad I found a copy in my Christmas stocking.