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My TV is possessed by silly possession stats

Hunter Davies' "The Fan" column.

Iam sitting shouting at the screen. It’s playing silly buggers again, cutting off the player when he is taking a corner or a free kick, hiding him from my view, like blind man’s buff. I have to guess who is taking the set piece and from where, which is so annoying. At the top of the screen, it has also obscured the names of the teams, the score and the time. Oh gawd, modern technology! Who needs it, eh?.

Yes, I know, the picture just needs altering, so it’s properly centred, or whatever. I have asked my children and grandchildren, and can they do it? Can they buggery. Even the one with a Cambridge first. What is the point of them? That was the object when I had them: to help me cope with all the complicated stuff in life.

My dear wife sits upstairs in her room, sans phone, sans computer, sans anything later than about 1880, writing away with her pen and ink, as lady novelists should. I can sense her smiling to herself when she hears me effing and blinding at the computer, the iPhone, the scanner, the photocopier and, most of all, at myself. When there is a power cut, I can almost hear her smiles seeping through the house.

It is an up-to-date, flat-screen Sony how’s-you-father and it doesn’t play tricks all the time. On ESPN I usually get the whole screen. But mostly I don’t.

Football is the only thing I ever, ever watch on TV. I’ve never seen a film or a play, except my own. Oh yes, I once wrote a Wednesday play, back in the 1960s. It was very good, people said.

I have just stood up, got close and looked sideways, convinced that if I peer into the corner of the telly I will see what is hidden there. Ah, I can now see a bit more, the screen has widened and I can read – oh, bloody hell – the possession stats, which is the last sodding thing I need.

You know what they are – the percentage of possession for each team, the most pointless statistic among the shit loads of stats they now pour at and over us. Because they can do, thanks to modern technology, so they do it. No reason.

It’s goals that count, which was the title of my fave story in the Wizard (or was it the Rover?) It is the only stat in football that matters. The rest is flimflam. Corners, yes, you can tot them up, no argument about them. But they don’t mean a lot either way, unless they lead to a goal.

Assists are quite interesting, and sometimes revealing, but you can see with your own eyes who is making all the goals. Telling us that the midfield dynamo ran 19.9 miles during the game or that the sullen striker managed 1.9 miles is bollocks. It’s quality that counts, not quantity.

Nine-tenths of the law

That is my main objection to the possession stat. Having possession of the ball in the modern game doesn’t tell us what happened. Barcelona 69 per cent, Real Madrid 31 per cent in El Clásico –wow, what a difference! Yet the score was equal, 2-2. Barça were at home, urged on by the crowd, while Madrid had set out their stall to counter attack. Plus they each had a genius. That’s what happened.

England 90 per cent possession, San Marino 10 per cent – yet the half time score is 0-0. How can that be, if England have dominated? Because they are useless bastards. Our tortoise could lead the line better. (I have just made that stat up. As I write, that game hasn’t happened, but I bet it will be roughly that.)

How do they make it up, the clever clogs who skulk in the corner of my telly with the bank of monitors shovelling out this drivel? How do they define possession? Obviously, if a player has the ball at his feet, he is in possession. But when it is a high ball from the goalie, or a wild clearance from a lumpen defender or a useless free kick, no one is in possession. Yet the possession stat always says “48-52”, “36-64”. In other words, it adds up exactly to 100 per cent. Weird. Or suspicious.

I can see how they calculate areas of play, telling us in which half the ball is, as that is a verifiable fact, though just as meaningless as possession. But with possession, that surely includes a lot of guessing, opinion and judgement. I don’t believe computers can do that.

The Premier League does have a Dubious Goals Committee, which adjudicates on who really scored goals. I think there should also be a Dubious Possession Stat Committee. And I am willing to serve on it. I just kicked the screen of the Sony in, so I should have a lot more spare time.

Hunter Davies’s latest book, “The John Lennon Letters”, is published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson (£25).

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 15 October 2012 issue of the New Statesman, India special

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Archbishop Welby and the hidden price of being Mister Nice Guy

Doubtless Welby’s supporters will find such a description rude to the point of impiousness – but for those of us who live in an uncloistered world, the most significant indicators of his true nature lie first in his appearance.

The most important thing about Justin Portal Welby, the 105th Archbishop of Canterbury and Primate of All England, is that he’s not Rowan Williams. How we all miss Rowan Williams! The whole point of the Established Church is that its ministry is for all Britons, not just confessing Anglicans; and Dr Williams achieved this difficult task brilliantly. That he did so was, in large measure, due to his appearance: the most fanatical adherent of sharia law hearkened to his fluting emollience, because, resembling as he does a fictional wizard straight out of central casting, they assumed he was either Gandalf the Grey, or Albus Dumbledore, or possibly both.

With Dr Williams’s successor we must bear witness to a marked decline in the archiepiscopal phenotype. Far from resembling some wand-waving sorcerer, and despite all the rich caparisoning, Justin Welby still looks like exactly what he is: a superannuated Old Etonian oil executive from west London with a sideline in religiosity. His is not a bonny countenance; rather, he resembles a constipated tortoise with sunburn. Frankly, he could do with a beard – the more patriarchal the better – simply to cover up that sourpuss.

Doubtless Welby’s supporters will find such a description rude to the point of impiousness – but for those of us who live in an uncloistered world, the most significant indicators of his true nature lie first in his appearance, and second in the manner of his ordination.

Welby is one of Sandy Millar’s men. (And I say “men” advisedly.) When Welby heard the call to be ordained in the late 1980s he was initially rejected by the then bishop of Kensington, who said: “There is no place for you in the Church of England.” Prophetic words, indeed. It was Sandy Millar, one of the founders of the evangelical – indeed, charismatic – Alpha course, at Holy Trinity Brompton, in London, who came out to bat for Welby. The evangelicals must have been delighted when they got one of their own into Lambeth Palace, yet ever since he took up his crosier he’s been insidiously sticking it to them. I’m going to explain why, but first a word or two about evangelicals.

It’s disconcerting the first time it happens to you: you’re standing up in church, ready to groan your way apathetically through another fusty Victorian hymn, when instead of the moaning of a clapped-out organ, an electric guitar strikes a resounding chord and the worshipper next to you bursts into enthusiastic song. Worse is to follow: for, as she warbles, she slowly raises one arm, extends it, and begins to wave it about like a tree bough while the other arm remains rigidly at her side. Looking around you, you see that the congregation is like unto a forest: so many raised and undulant limbs are there. Yes, you have fallen among evangelicals – and if you thought ordinary Anglicans were a bit too nice then you ain’t seen nothing yet.

Purely to show open-mindedness, my wife attended an Alpha course run by one of our son’s schoolfriend’s parents, who was an evangelical minister. After a few weeks she began to seem a little – how can I put it? – spiritually pained, and when I asked her what the matter was, she said she was having something of a crisis of no faith. “It’s just that they’re so very nice,” she said, “and the God they believe in is so very nice, too. They make me feel anxious I might be upsetting Jesus by not believing in Him as well.”

Nice as he may be, Welby remains an evangelical, and evangelicals have a tricky time when it comes to homosexuality, because although not exactly fundamentalists, they nonetheless cleave strongly to the Word of the Lord, rather than chipping up to the church fête from time to time to buy a few tombola tickets. So, simply by looking into his own heart, Welby knows the situation is intractable: those homophobic Africans and redneck Americans cannot be appeased, and though he personally is opposed to gay marriage, he has said he’s “always averse to the language of exclusion when what we are called to is to love in the same way as Jesus Christ loves us”.

Welby seems to feel Jesus loves us by letting us go, because he is now making noises about a “looser relationship” between the various Anglican churches: one in which – while they all remain attached to the Church of England – the connections between them become more attenuated. Some of his evangelical chums must be swaying with anxiety rather than enthusiasm but they should rest easy; on all other important matters the archbishop is behaving in an exemplary fashion.

Not a week goes by without him making some anodyne statement or futile gesture condemning food banks (then asking people to give to them), offering refugees tokenistic accommodation in the grounds of Lambeth Palace, and generally mithering on about the scourge of poverty while giving spiritual succour to those who’re doing very nicely out of the status quo. ’Twas ever thus: our Established Church may well be for all Britons, but, in Justin Welby, we have a prelate who speaks eloquently for the . . . few.

Next week: Madness of Crowds

Will Self is an author and journalist. His books include Umbrella, Shark, The Book of Dave and The Butt. He writes the Madness of Crowds and Real Meals columns for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 08 October 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin vs Isis