Explaining the unpredictable results of Norwich, and others.

By Walter Broeckx


Football is a funny game. Or a funny sport. Come to think of it almost all sports are somewhat funny. The biggest fun in any sports however is the unpredictability. In fact lots of money is sometimes won or lost with this unpredictability.

Let us take Norwich as an example. Who would on August 15 bet money on Norwich to win at home against Arsenal and Manchester United. I think you could have earned a lot of money if you would predicted them to win 1-0 on each occasion.

And such a fact is one of the reasons why football is such a popular sport. This is only an example and we could find many more of these strange results in football. Now I know some might say that some of these results could be fixed in some way. But even so this is something that happens in all divisions and countries and even in leagues when it is safe to assume that nobody will bet money on the outcome of a game.

Thinking about this Norwich result against both Arsenal and Manchester United, isn’t it amazing that both these results came after an international match? We had a break before we went to Norwich and as Norwich hardly has internationals (two I heard at the time) they had a full 14 days to prepare for us and they did a great job. Well from a Norwich point of view of course. And now Manchester United also has been the victim of a small international break it seems. Even when Robin Van Persie moved from “injured” in midweek to suddenly being back fit in the weekend.

This just shows how difficult it is for any team that has a lot of international players to leave the club to play for their country and then come back play a game for their club again. Even Manchester United suffered from this. And if I may I would like to add this little footnote to United losing at Norwich, and what the possible impact might have been from the ref.

Now I must tell you I didn’t see the game; just a few highlights and it hasn’t been reviewed yet by our panel of referees, but if you have a look at this http://blog.emiratesstadium.info/archives/24266 and see at the bias index from the ref in charge in relation with these two clubs. I think it was a bad pick this one from Mike Riley. It will be interesting to see when Taylor gets his next United game. Norwich surely gets some “interesting” results when Taylor is in charge.

When looking at these two factors, things suddenly become a bit less unpredictable. An international break is always difficult for a team that has lots of internationals. And the ref….well we all know that they have their influence (just take a look at Referees Decisions

But apart from that there is something else that is important for the result of each game. In my mother language they say : “the ball is round” meaning that anything can happen. And in fact this is something important. Did anyone ever check if the football is really round? I know the ref has a look at the ball before the game. But how can he be sure that the ball really is a perfect round one? We assume it is but are we 100% sure?

But let us take it for a fact that it is round. Then we go to probably the most important fact of them all: coincidence.

We all know managers make all kinds of game plans trying to exploit their own strengths and trying to exploit the weaker things from the opposition. Managers can talk for hours to their players on how to do this and how to do that, but my theory is that all this talk goes out of the window from the moment the ref blows his whistle.

I say this because in theory a team could say before the game we pass the ball like this and player X runs over there and player Y runs to there and then the ball goes to player Z who gives it to X who gives it to Y and he scores.  Theoretical this is possible. But well we all know it just doesn’t happen like that. Why? Well because of the other team is playing its tactical part also. In stead of the opposing player running forward he might move backwards and the whole theory is dead.

I think most games plans end within the first minute. Because then something else takes over: coincidence and chance. The ball hitting a leg, a knee and the ball going in a completely different direction and suddenly there is a gap and a goal. How many goals are born out of coincidences and chance? I think more than 50%. And this means that luck is maybe the biggest factor of it all.

Of course it helps when a manager tells his player to do this and that and to look out for that player who usually does this or that. Because smart players will then anticipate things before they happen. But even then you still depend on a lot of luck during the games.

So we have external affects on each game (like internationals or CL games), we have the influence of the ref on each game, we have the influence of a manager on a game and then we have the influence of luck in each game. A good bounce or a bad bounce can win you a game or make you lose it.

Now I don’t know how much each thing has an affect on each game. Is it 25% each? Or does the influence of the manager has a bigger impact? Of does the ref has a bigger impact? Or does luck has the biggest impact? I don’t know for sure of course as there are no stats on this.

But my gut feeling would be

  • Extra games: 10%
  • Ref: 30%
  • Manager : 30%
  • Lady Luck: 30%

Sometimes two factors can work together in your favour or against you and then you are lost of course.

But this is something you can always keep in mind when you win or lose. There are most of the time more than one reasons to win or lose a game. Unless you have Cazorla of course. He can win you any game.

Editorial footnote from Tony.   Walter, myself and all the other contributors write our articles as we wish – we tend not to co-ordinate who will write what when.  Then, either I or Walter try and make a schedule out of the articles and release them through the day and through the week.   I only read this article from Walter about half an hour before I published it – and Walter did not know that by chance I covered a similar topic yesterday on the Arsenal History Site, where I looked at what Herbert Chapman had to say about planning.   If you want to see a historic comparison click on the link.

The books…

The sites…

34 Replies to “Explaining the unpredictable results of Norwich, and others.”

  1. Ahead of the game on Sat, Villa fan here ‘in peace’.

    As many of you will know, Villa captain (Stan Petrov)is still battling against leukaemia. To show our support to him on the 19th minute (he is our #19) Villa fans stand to applaud for 1 minute. Most away fans are brilliant and join in once they catch on to what is going on. After, banter continues as normal. Some stay silent, which is fair enough, I suppose. Sadly in last home game vs. Man Utd there were some pretty sick chants by a mindless few Utd fans.

    So, I am posting to ask for your help to put the word around Arsenal fans so that 19th minute on Sat is respected. I am asking as I just read this on the Villa website and it really moved me and reminded me that there are times when football comes second:


  2. Sorry, doesn’t look like the link works, but here is an extract:

    Stan Petrov admits he always feels like crying whenever he sees the fans applaud him during games.

    Supporters rise to their feet and clap enthusiastically on the 19th minute to coincide with the skipper’s squad number.

    Petrov, who watches Villa games he’s able to, says he gets emotional during the heart-warming tribute minute.

    He said: “I just feel like crying every time. It’s great appreciation from the fans.

  3. Just to put some water on your flames, Norwich did have 6 players away on International duty from what would be the first team. It might be that some players settle back easier when they return, which is something the clubs should be looking at in an attempt to improve the post international blues. In the case of Man U v Norwich, you also have to look at the expectations of the players (assuming an easy win) and the midweek trip to Turkey, this also would have a detrimental effect of some players. I have to add at this point, Norwich still deserved those wins as they played some very good football and it must be annoying to them and the fans to only hear how poor the opponent played, rather than how well they played.

  4. Walter,
    For many years now, I’ve been highly suspicious of teams from East Anglia. It’s that air from the North Sea that sweeps in and adds a secret weapon to their home ground fighting spirit.
    If you don’t believe me, older football fans will recall a certain Alf Ramsay and his Ipswich Town once capturing the former Div One title on a wave of 100% ozone.
    Beware folks….it could happen again!!!

  5. And Liverpool thrashed Norwich at home. Now a simplistic fan would wonder why Arsenal couldn’t do the same as we’re so much better than Liverpool. Football, unpredictable, who’d have thought it?

    As much as I admire your diligence in examining the performance of refs via a sitting panel of them you also have to allow for the conditions during a game.

    It’s all very well a panel of dispassionate refs sitting down over a cup of tea and making judgments on another ref’s performance but those refs weren’t caught up in the “heat of the game” where decisions have to be made fairly quickly. I imagine some of those refs would have made similar mistakes if they’d actually been officiating.

    Anyway there are myriad reasons why football games don’t go the way we expect them too. I fully expect us to beat Montpelier but then I wouldn’t have thought we’d lose at home to Hull a few seasons ago.

  6. Thanks Graham for your comment. As I mentioned it I didn’t know the real number but someone at the time mentioned it as being only 2. And I know on Arsenal they make a list of the players being out on international games but don’t know if they do this on other club websites to be honest. Or wouldn’t know where to search for it. So I went to the ‘heard it from another’ and that is usually not a good thing to do.

    Maybe playing at home after such an international break is also important?

    And just like MU also Arsenal had in the next week a CL game to play. What could have played a part in the mindset of players.

    But that is the toll you have to pay in a “top club” and part of the game. And good it is maybe. Because otherwise life would become too dull…

  7. You need to check a few facts my friend, Norwich had the same number of international players out the week prior as Man U did – we were just better. SIMPLE as that.

  8. rupert cook,

    wouldn’t 99,999% of us make the same mistake as any other player on the field makes if we would have been in the heat of the game?
    But we all are critical when a player makes a mistake and refer to it for days, weeks, months even years.
    How many times didn’t we say ‘Even I would have scored that one’ but we are not even close to even being considered to being on the field.

    So in a way we do the same with the refs. Of course we would make the same mistakes maybe on the field. But that still doesn’t make the wrong decision correct.

  9. LPizzle,

    maybe the MU players were not out because they were injured? 😉 They all pulled their saf-muscle…

  10. This is one of the longest versions of “the ‘little team’ just got lucky” that I have seen. I especially like the suggestions about the ref, who in fact comes from Greater Manchester (ah, must be a City fan then!). As for International Players, Norwich have nine of those, seven of whom played against United. The truth of the matter was that Fergie went for a solid but unpacey midfield in Giggs and Carrick who managed a lot of possession but seldom threatened with it. You’ve also ignored the fact that Norwich started the season with a new management team and 10 new players, who took time to ‘gel’ in the first 6 games. Since then they are unbeaten in 6 matches with 4 wins and 2 draws. This included knocking Spurs out of the Cup with a team that had only one player who played the previous Saturday (Spurs had 4, including Bale). If you’re going to go the ‘lucky’ route in future, please check your facts first!

  11. Not disagreeing with you Walter, just saying you have to take what I said into consideration.

  12. This is nonsense!

    Players away on internationals – Norwich & ManU both had 3 of their starting 11 away on internationals a few days before.
    14 Days preparation – both teams played the previous Saturday.
    Check you stats rather than presuming!

    Refs – Most people think big teams get the rub from refs. I don’t you can really prove anything.

    Managers – To suggest that managers don’t try to win every game or don’t influence play is rubbish. For Norwich bad managers (Roeder & Gunn) result in poor performance and going down the league, whilst good managers produce good results (Lambert & Hughton).

    Lady luck – yes there can be some luck involved, but winning teams tend to ‘make their own luck’.

    To me you’ve missed the big issue, which explains why Norwich beat Arsenal & ManU , as well as Spurs. The key issue is commitment. Arsenal are a bit inconsistent at the moment. ManU dependence on individual rather than team effort is well noted in the press as has their defensive weakness. We, Norwich, have had problems to. but the manager has addresses our weak defence (conceding 1 goal in 5). They overriding thing is that we are playing with commitment and confidence. These games were all at home, which also helps.

    Both Arsenal & ManU turned up at Carror Road with their usual arrogance and got stuffed! Great to see the goliaths feld by david again.

  13. Andy Lochhead in the Air, it is terrible about Stilyan Petrov, and I hope you get co-operation from the Arsenal fans on the 19th minute.
    Very interesting ref link, Walter. It’s hard to believe something like that is coincidence.

  14. Well well, but I still think tomorrow we should rest Carzola, Giroud and Wilshire. Aston Villa is our biggest game this week, besides, if Theo plays in the centre, The Ox starts at right midfield, Coquelin plays in central midfield, it wont be a bad team.

  15. for the Norwich fans who came over here: I never really attempted to give my opinion on Norwich.

    The article was more in general about what things can have an influence on surprising results. And well excuse me for saying so but the results from Norwich against Arsenal and MU can be put in the category ‘surprise’.

    If next week MU would lose at home against QPR I would call it a surprise result. No matter how good QPR might play and no matter how they would deserve it.

    But I do think that with the ref on the day you(Norwich) were lucky(against MU). Another ref might have tried to tilt the game a bit if you know what I mean. We will see how his score is in the referee review of course as I haven’t seen the whole game.

  16. To Andy Lockhead, Villa fans and Stan Petrov, wishing all the best.

    If I am not wrong, we also have ex Arsenal player that get cancer?

  17. Rupert Cook

    I get the feeling you are anti the ref reviews for one reason or another but your comment (above) in my mind actually reinforces the need for the ref reviews and for something to be done.

    If refs are unable to make the right decisions then it means they are incompetent and unable to keep up woth the game (I don’t mean that in a derogatory way, more that they are not superhuman) and another system that is up to monitoring todays game has to be brought in.

  18. Well Walter, if you want to blame the ref for ManU ‘surprise’ result, you’re welcome to.
    What about the Arsenal ‘surprise’ result. Was that the ref too?

    What was maybe seen as surprising for these two results is that on both occasions neither of the opponents delivered their potential. Potential in the sense of the overall worth of the teams. Potential in terms commitment to playing. Potential to score goals. Potential to dominate and control games.

    But if you want to pin it on the ref – its your choice.

  19. @Chris
    Why so sensitive, the purpose of the article is not to put Norwich down, well done for both results (Arsenal and Man U). All Walter is trying to do is give some reasons for surprising and unpredictable results. You offer another explanation by suggesting The Canaries had more commitment, probably a valid point. Another reason was that Arsenal were going through a period of poor form and Norwich a run of good form. The referee point is a valid one, the referee reviewing from last season showed that some refs favour certain teams and seem to have it in for others, maybe not deliberately, but they do. For example we have won only 1 game in the last 14 with Mike Dean as ref, that is surely stretching coincidence to it’s absolute limit.

  20. http://www.football-observatory.com/Indicators
    @Walter you might find this website interesting they also linked up with Birkbeck (university of London)on a few reports on the state of football. The above link will take you directly to the indicator table which will give you the percentages of internationals across the different leagues as well as the differences from top teams to lower teams.

  21. Walter,
    Adams link has just reminded me, did you manage to get that data as per the request I received?

  22. So much baloney being written on here it’s unbelievable…

    1) Re comments about ref bias towards Norwich – hardly, have you seen the sh*t refereeing we smaller teams have to put up with? Norwich’ve regularly received zero help from refs over the years. Just look at our record in terms of penalties awarded for/against us if you don’t believe me (and for the record, we haven’t had a pen in ages. Not a single one in the calendar year 2012 I believe! And I have seen some stonewall decisions not given in our favour in recent weeks – the Vlaar foul in the 1-1 draw at Villa when it was 0-0 and we were firmly in control springs to mind.). Why are Arsenal fans so short-sighted as to think poor refereeing only afflicts them?!

    2) As for the link to the page about Anthony Taylor – is the simpler explanation not that he merely got a few decisions wrong and they just happened to be in games feat. Norwich? It cuts both ways you know, and boy do Norwich suffer poor luck with refs…

    3) double standards – so we “got lucky” because “Another ref might have tried to tilt the game a bit if you know what I mean.” wtf?! first, we are favoured by refs, now you state that it should be unusual that the big club is not favoured by the ref? CRAZY!

    4) international players – utter rubbish as already pointed out above. So I won’t repeat what has already been said. Although I would add that, given the potential for much lower squad depth with the lesser resources at hand for Norwich, our players being away on international duty is even more damaging for us than it is for the so-called bigger clubs. John Ruddy sitting on a bench all through a cold Weds night in Sweden is hardly good for our preparation, but nevertheless our defence was well-organised and Ruddy himself in imperious form. Credit where credit is due, right?

  23. @Mick. Not sensitive. I just don’t buy, as its suggested, that its down to refs, etc.

    I’m just commenting on the real reason behind these results. They are only a ‘surprise’ because of the presumption that that big clubs win all the time. But, as I say, these results are in large part because the big club ‘didn’t turn up’ and on both occasions they were out played.

    The other point worth adding is that in the first few games of the season our (Norwich) new manager was settling in, chnaging the formation and team selection and finding the best team. Most of our early games were delivering performance but not results. Everything came together for the first time against Arsenal.

  24. OK Chris, all your reasons are valid and obviously all Walters are nonsense. Nothing like seeing the other blokes point of view!!

  25. Andy

    I’ll be there Saturday. Hopefully the details of the tribute will be published and Arsenal fans will respond appropriately. Also I hope the small minority of the Villa fans that have made sick chants about the Eduardo leg break at the last few games between the sides at the Emirates will also refrain

  26. What Norwich fans miss obviously is that if it would have been let us say Reading who would have won those games I would have used the name Reading, Southampton, or …

    When 9 out of 10 event X happens and suddenly event Y happens twice in a row I just was thinking at what could be some explanations of this. Next time I will use team Z 😉

    But obviously it is forbidden to name any other team in your article. And if they would have understood the article they would have noticed it is’nt about Norwich at all….. Oh well…some just are a bit touchy I think….

  27. Chris,
    to put it simple: Taylor is a ref that has only brought good results to Norwich in the games we have reviewed last season. It could be that all the other refs are against you. (You could check that if you want on this site) but that isn’t the point at all.

    If the ref would have been Webb last Saturday…. Wouldn’t you run to the bookmaker when you went 1-0 up to put some money on a Utd penalty in the rest of the game? I would have done it….

  28. Canary chibba,

    As we have reviewed 40% of the PL games last season we do know what we are talking about. Each and every decision of referees in those 40 % of all PL games have been checked.

    On this site you can find reports on each team and on each ref. I admit Norwich was a team that had only 11 games reviewed. That is just under 30% of their games. In those games we had 10 different refs. 6 were negative for you 4 were positive.

    You can find it on the site. You can ignore those numbers. But you just dismissing it is rather weak. All the games are published in detail and each decision we judged can be seen. So go ahead and prove us wrong.

    And even if we are not 100% right I know damn well sure that the trend we see in most cases is correct.

    In the current season we have published a few Norwich games:
    Against Aston Villa you had the bias of the ref against you
    At Chelsea the ref has a bias in your favour (just noticed it was Taylor again 🙂 )
    Against West Ham the ref his bias was against you
    At Tottenham the ref made a complete mess of his decisions and most went against Norwich
    Against QPR most decisions went against you
    At Fulham most decisions went your favour

    So 4 games the ref against you and 2 in your favour (but you lost those games anyway)

    But well what do we know right… But hey don’t let the fact that we know you are hard done by and that we say it like that get in the way of calling us whatever you want to call us.

    It is just that Taylor is the ref that we have seen giving crazy decisions your way. Remember Norwich – Bolton last season? The farce he did at the end of the game….

  29. Thanks Steve,
    I wasn’t aware of the Eduardo jibes at Villa Park – just goes to show every club has mindless idiots. Lets hope they are not heard over the support of the vast majority of decent fans from both teams on Sat.

    Right, no more from me – Gooners. Good luck for the rest of the season (apart from Sat, of course).

  30. Canary chibba,

    Being as your point is based on your own point of view and emotion and Walter is using evidence and cold hard facts, I’m gonna side with Walter on this one.

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