Latitude 2015: Thursday 16th - Sunday 19th July
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Latitude Festival

Latitude Festival announces 2015 theme: For Richer, For Poorer, For Better, For Worse

For the second year, the New Statesman is media partner to Latitude, the music and arts festival in Henham Park, Suffolk.

For the second year, the New Statesman is media partner to Latitude, the music and arts festival in Henham Park, Suffolk. Last year the NS hosted events on surveillance and privacy, dystopian fiction and videogames, featuring Jimmy Wales, Meg Rosoff, Laurie Penny, Helen Lewis and Toby Litt. The music bill was headlined by Damon Albarn.

The 2014 festival theme was Secrets and Lies. The NS can exclusively announce that the 2015 theme will be For Richer, For Poorer, For Better, For Worse.

Taking its cue from the traditional marriage vow, Latitude’s literature and arts programming will explore how individuals and communities conduct our public, private, personal and – especially pertinent after May’s election – political relationships.

Tania Harrison, arts programmer for Latitude Festival said:

“Whether it’s clicking ‘yes’ to Google’s terms of service, saying ‘I do’ in a marriage ceremony, or putting an X in a political party’s box at the general election, the agreements we make affect the lives of everyone around us. Yet at the same time, there’s a tension between the world in which we’re told we’re ‘all in this together’ and our society itself, with its growing extremes of rich and poor, social media oversharing and increasingly secretive state security agencies.

"This space between a promise and its fulfillment, participation and exclusion is incredibly rich territory for the people who make art and ideas. We’re working with an array of theatre companies, writers, performers and speakers to bring the theme to life at Latitude.”

Performances and events from organisations such as Forest Fringe, Theatre Uncut, The Roundhouse and Clean Break will look at the marriage between government and the electorate as well as last year’s near-uncoupling of England and Scotland. A new piece by Action Hero called Wrecking Ball “uses Terry Richardson and Miley Cyrus’s collaboration on a music video to examine how the nature of modern celebrity, mediated as it is by online and social media, means that many of us feel we have very intimate relationships with people we’ll never really meet.”

Harrison says the programme promises to address “whether we’re happy staying married to the status quo to, or whether - in the words of many a Facebook profile – it’s complicated”.

The New Statesman will host a satellite event in London in advance of the festival. 

 

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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