This craze for daft facts is getting out of hand

It was thoughtful of Gary Lineker on Match of the Day, just before the Aston Villa v Newcastle match, to share with us that if Newcastle managed to keep a clean sheet, it would be the first time that they'd had three back-to-back clean sheets away from home in 110 years. You what, you what, you what?

I was so confused by this - I was thinking, "Does that mean 1891 or 1901?" and "Would Newcastle have been in the First or Second Division?" and "If it was 1891, were they called Newcastle United or Newcastle East End?" - that I missed the first ten minutes of the game.

I can see that these stats fill up time in an introduction, but they are becoming awfully annoying.

The next day, before the Man United v Chelsea game, we were overwhelmed by daft facts. It was Fergie's 2,054th game as a manager, compared to Mr Goodhouses' 92nd, which left me wondering about the referee - how many games had he reffed in his career and why were we not being told? And the ballboys - how many games had they ballboyed? What about the hot dog salesmen outside? I bet one of them was notching up his 100th consecutive appearance at Old Trafford, with or without a clean sheet. And Giggsy, if he had come on, would have been appearing for United for the
837th time - or was it his 8,370th or 8,370,111th?

Footer fans have loved facts and figures ever since leagues began in 1888 and Preston North End were nicknamed the "Invincibles", after going through that first season unbeaten. Now, that was an interesting fact. It's getting out of hand, though. Experts bombard us from every angle with ever madder facts, just because they can.

I blame computers - able to store forgotten footer stats going back to 1863 - but also the geeks, so many of them, coming into the game, the swotty, middle-class kids who sit in their bedrooms playing with their, er, "apps", whatever apps are.

I've just been reading my copy of October's edition of FourFourTwo, which was probably written and printed two months ago.

All glossy magazines get so far ahead of themselves that I feel that Christmas is already over. It is my fave footer mag, but it has become oh-so-dependent on statistics.

Stat of the nation

The issue devotes a whole page to boasting that it has teamed up with something called Opta to produce "the ultimate iPhone app that will change the way you watch football". As I understand it - and I might have got it completely wrong, as most of it seems to be in a foreign language - it allows the obsessed, the pathetic and the Billy-no-mates types to dissect and analyse every Premier League game this season while watching it.
You can check every player's passing, crossing and tackling and compare the stats with those of any other player, or whizz back to look at their performances in other games.

“Focus on a particular period of the game," the advert screams, "using the match timeline, by dragging the handles on the left and right to select
the time frame. Once you've found something of interest, share it. Humiliate your mates on Facebook or tell the world about your outstanding discovery on Twitter."

In other words, these twerps aren't really watching or enjoying the match. They're just using it to acquire stats and notch up stupid facts, and then show them off to other, equally deprived creatures.

I hurried on to find a proper feature to read, such as Ask a Silly Question, my favourite bit, in which someone from the magazine rings up a well-known player and asks him whether he would rather drown a kitten or a puppy, or, if he had to bed both Angelina Jolie and Angela Merkel, in which order he would do it.

Then another survey caught my eye, this time of Europe's top 30 clubs, ranking them by attendance. Barcelona had the highest average gate last season, with 79,200, but who do you think came a very close second, with 79,100?

Come on, indulge a poor, pathetic football fan with not enough mates. The answer is: Borussia Dortmund. Wow. Totally fascinating . . .

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 26 September 2011 issue of the New Statesman, The fifty people who matter