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I've been reading Ed Smith's "Luck" and it has some interesting bits on football that got me thinking about wages, moneyball, Istanbul, the start of the season optimism, goal-line technology, Mr Ferguson and Mr Riley, "evens itself out" etc.... It also put into words why I like watching it so much. I've always said "you never know the outcome until the very end". I've quoted bits from about half a chapter below...


"Every sport of course has an element of chance. The question is how much. A lucky goal in Aussie Rules(6pts) is worth on average a 15th of a teams likely total score. A lucky basket (2pts) in basketball is worth around a 40th of the team's likely total score. A lucky point in tennis is worth about a 100th of all the points won by a victorious player


"Football, in contrast, is obviously at the opposite end of the spectrum. A football goal has the highest value of any sporting currency. Even a run in baseball, which is very precious, is not quite as valuable as a football goal. Just one of these precious things is often enough to determine a whole match..... footballs clunky system of counting builds chance into the structure of the whole sport...: because goals are so enormously rare, the result of the match is more open to chance than it is in almost any other sport....


"You might think that openness to chance would count against football, that we would tire of its injustices. We don't, they enthrall us... [A] significant explanation for football's massive popularity is its structural capacity to produce upsets, surprises and underdog victories... Football is not the world's favourite game because it ensures the best team always wins. it is the most popular sport because it accidentally ensures that the best team doesn't always win.


"For a sport to have optimal uncertainty, the better team should win most times but it shouldn't win every time. We want to watch a game that seems to be "just" most of the time. But not so fair that it is too predictable. We seek a winning compromise between probablistic determinism (boring) and pure randomness (equally boring).


"It's true, over the course of a whole season, that teams settle into positions that are 89% correlated to their financial muscle. But over the short run - on any given Saturday - even the Premier League, for all it's financial disequilibrium - can't trump football's ability to produce surprises. So long as fans retain short enough memories, and the capacity for hope over experience, the Premier League will continue to benefit from the luck factor. Football doesn't require fewer errors and more justice. It just needs to stay sufficiently open to luck so that no-one gets too bored."

Edited by Tosh
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