Friday Arts Diary

Our cultural picks for the week ahead.

Cinema

Made in Britain: Warp Films at 10, British Film Institute, London, 19-30 April
April features a BFI celebration of 10 years of contemporary British cinema from a company behind several iconic stories. Continuing an annual exploration of British Cinema, last year centered on female directors, this time the focus is on the productions of Warp Films. Founded in 2001 the company has produced among others This is England and Dead Man’s Shoes. There will also be a Film Masterclass available for the aspiring cinematographers.

 

Concert

Petrenko conducts in Warwick, Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry CV4 7AL, 24 April
Conductor Vasily Petrenko and Nikolai Lugansky on piano present an all-Russian evening with Tchaikovsky's First, Liadov’s Enchanted Lake and Prokofiev’s Fifth. Among the most respected piano concertos these pieces have been described as virtuoso Cossack-rides and fairytales of reality escape. Petrenko is the Chief Conductor of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and Lugansky won the 2011 BBC Music Magazine Awards in the Chamber Music category.

 

Theatre

The day I swapped my dad for two goldfish, Beacon Arts Centre, Greenock PA15 1HJ, 25 – 27 April
Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean have had another picture book turned theatre with The Day I Swapped My Dad For Two Goldfish. Following the success of The Wolves in the Walls in 2006 the play explores what happens when a spur of the moment decision turns bad and snowsballs out of control. Appropriate for anyone aged 6 or up. Created and directed by Lu Kemp and Abigail Docherty and written by Oliver Emanuel.
 

Television

The Wright Way, BBC1, Starts 23 April
A new sitcom by Ben Elton, The Wright Way stars David Haig as Gerald Wright from Baselricky Council Health & Safety Department. He tries in vain to manage his hopeless team and avoid causing the catastrophes they are meant to prevent. A biting look on bureaucracy and office incompetence from the man responsible for the Blackadder series and The Young Ones. Also starring Mina Anwar, Kacey Ainsworth, Joanne Matthews, and Robert Daws.

 

Exhibition

The Dairy Art Centre, London WC1N 1PG, opens 24 April
Former-milk-depot-turned-art-gallery The Dairy will host its inaugural exhibition of avant-garde pop culture mix from Swiss artist John Armleder. His art is described as “a celebration of reality in its everyday and most commonplace manifestations.” Not-for-profit and free for all the 12,500 sq ft centre will feature the projects chosen by collectors Frank Cohen and Nicolai Frahm. Having worked together for over 15 years the couple and collaborated and collected with many of the most prolific artists, they have called the dairy a “kunsthalle”, a space where the artworld and the public can come together.
A new play based on one of Neil Gaiman's books will premiere in Scotland. Photo: Darryl James/Getty Images
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So much for "the table never lies" – data unravels football's biggest lie of all

London side Brentford FC are using data to rethink the usual football club model.

It’s a miserable day for practice, the rain spitting down on the manicured training pitches of Brentford Football Club. Inside a tiny office marked Director of Football, Rasmus Ankersen is waiting for his phone to ring. The winter transfer window closes in 11 hours and there are deals to finalise.

Ankersen, a 33-year-old Dane with a trim beard and hair pulled into a small ponytail, seems relaxed. Perhaps he knows that the £12m transfer of the striker Scott Hogan to Aston Villa is as good as done. Or maybe his comfort comes from Brentford’s performance this season. The small west London club sits safely in the top half of the second tier of English football – at least according to management’s own version of the league table, which is based on “deserved” rather than actual results. Officially, on 31 January, when we meet, the team is 15th of 24.

“There’s a concept in football that the table never lies,” says Ankersen, whose own playing career was ended by a knee injury in his teens. “Well, that’s the biggest lie in football. Your league position is not the best metric to evaluate success.”

Brentford are an outlier in English football. Since the professional gambler Matthew Benham bought a majority share in 2012, they have relied on the scientific application of statistics – the “moneyball” technique pioneered in baseball – when assessing performance.

The early results were positive. In 2014, Brentford were promoted from League One to the Championship and the next season finished fifth. That same year, Benham’s other team, FC Midtjylland, which is run on similar principles, won the Danish Superliga for the first time.

Yet in 2016 Brentford slipped to ninth. Despite the disappointing season so far, Ankersen insists the strategy is the right one for “a small club with a small budget”.

Underpinning Brentford’s approach is the understanding that luck often plays a big part in football. “It is a low-scoring sport, so random events can have a big impact,” Ankersen says. “The ball can take a deflection, the referee can make a mistake. The best team wins less often than in other sports.”

In a match, or even over a season, a team can score fewer or more than its performance merits. A famous example is Newcastle in 2012, says Ankersen, who besides his football job is an entrepreneur and author. In his recent book, Hunger in Paradise, he notes that after Newcastle finished fifth in the Premier League, their manager, Alan Pardew, was rewarded with an eight-year extension of his contract.

If the club’s owners had looked more closely at the data, they would have realised the team was not nearly as good as it seemed. Newcastle’s goal difference – goals scored minus goals conceded – was only +5, compared to +25 and +19 for the teams immediately above and below them. Statistically, a club with Newcastle’s goal difference should have earned ten points fewer than it did.

Moreover, its shot differential (how many shots on goal a team makes compared to its opponents) was negative and the sixth worst in the league. That its players converted such a high percentage of their shots into goals was remarkable – and unsustainable.

The next season, Newcastle finished 16th in the Premier League. The team was not worse: its performance had regressed to the mean. “Success can turn luck into genius,” Ankersen says. “You have to treat success with the same degree of scepticism as failure.”

Brentford’s key performance metric is “expected goals” for and against the team, based on the quality and quantity of chances created during a match. This may give a result that differs from the actual score, and is used to build the alternative league table that the management says is a more reliable predictor of results.

Besides data, Brentford are rethinking the usual football club model in other ways. Most league clubs run academies to identify local players aged nine to 16. But Ankersen says that this system favours the richer clubs, which can pick off the best players coached by smaller teams.

Last summer, Brentford shut their academy. Instead, they now operate a “B team” for players aged 17 to 20. They aim to recruit footballers “hungry for a second chance” after being rejected by other clubs, and EU players who see the Championship as a stepping stone to the Premier League.

It’s a fascinating experiment, and whether Brentford will achieve their goal of reaching the Premier League in the near future is uncertain. But on the day we met, Ankersen’s conviction that his team’s fortunes would turn was not misplaced. That evening, Brentford beat Aston Villa 3-0, and moved up to 13th place in the table. Closer to the mean.

Xan Rice is Features Editor at the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 16 February 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times