Someone is trying to fake football stats – and doing it rather well.

By Tony Attwood

I don’t normally have cause to mention the magazine “New Scientist” on these pages; I subscribe to it because quite a bit of my education and work is science based and I like to keep up with developments.  But it is not the place one might expect to find too many stories relating to football.So imagine my surprise when this week the digital supplement to the magazine ran the headline, “Football teams still get home advantage while stadiums are empty”.  It was written by Chris Stokel-Walker a regular contributor to the mag, and hence someone we expect to know his science.

And he writes…

“Football teams appear to retain an advantage over opponents when playing at home despite there being no fans in the stadium – puzzling those who thought the home crowd helped player performance.”

Now if you are a regular here you will know the variation in home and away performances during lockdown is something that has fascinated me and we have quoted at length the evidence from London School of Economics in terms of their research.  A place to start if you missed that, is here

But now this New Scientist piece on variations on home and away form during lockdowns says, 

“There were differences by country. In the English Premier League, the likelihood of home teams winning, losing or drawing barely changed, while in the German Bundesliga, home teams were 15 percentage points more likely to lose during the pandemic.”

But now let’s look at the reality, which is very different from that which New Scientist is reporting.   The figures below are taken from the three most recent completed seasons, and the current season.  

Games per season: 380

Season Home wins Away wins Draws Total games played Home win percentage
2020/21 99 115 68 282 35%
2019/20 172 116 92 380 45%
2018/19 181 128 71 380 48%
2017/18 173 108 99 380 46%

Clearly, the percentage of games that end in a home win is down from the range of 45% to 48% to 35%.    This is a drop of 24% in the number of home wins.   And yet an established and well-recognised science magazine is publishing an article that tells us that 

“Football teams appear to retain an advantage over opponents when playing at home despite there being no fans in the stadium – puzzling those who thought the home crowd helped player performance.”

The obvious question now is “why?”   Why would a magazine as eminent and long running as New Scientist publish something that is so obviously wrong?

A clue comes with the fact that this story has also appeared elsewhere of late, as it turned up in the Guardian as well.  That suggests that someone, somewhere is putting out a press release and getting magazines and newspapers to use it when they have a space.

If you are a regular reader here you will perhaps know that we rather like our science and the statistics it is built on (hence the subscription to New Scientist).  So why would they publish something so utterly incorrect?

I’m writing to them today to ask, but while waiting for an answer perhaps we can contemplate the implications of this.

Publishers cannot check everything they are given to publish, and they do have to assume that the writers are credible people who know what they are talking about.   But when it comes to home and away wins, this hardly take a moment to check.  It actually took me just a couple of minutes to put together the table above.

For more complex pieces we have a process of peer review, in which a couple of people in the same field as the writer, check the facts and use their knowledge of current research in the field, to validate the facts.

Two things are happening here.  Not only is no one checking, but also someone or some organisation is pumping out this story over and over again, as it has appeared in the Guardian newspaper.

What I wonder is why they are doing this. Surely PGMO hasn’t been putting out press releases has it?  I’ve no evidence of this, but what other reason might there be?

8 Replies to “Someone is trying to fake football stats – and doing it rather well.”

  1. Christ on a bike is it humanly possible to write a post duller than this one?

  2. Off topic but our Women have just taken the lead against Bristol City. Miedema scoring after just three minutes.

  3. Half time against Bristol City and we doubled our advantage just before the half time whistle. Miedema turning provider for Van de Donk to side foot home from six yards.

    Bristol a vastly improved side from last season when we won 11-1 with Miedema scoring six and providing four assists.

  4. Two quick fire goals in the second half. Mead and a second for Miedema. 22 minutes to go

  5. Final score remained four nil, could easily have been double that, four shots came back off the woodwork and the Bristol keeper made a fistful of good saves.

    In the other matches Man United lost so definitely advantage Gunners in the race for third place. Both Chelsea and Man City won so first or second looks unlikely.

  6. The German team responsible for the research quoted by New Scientist note that “Results support the notion of a crowd-induced referee bias” so I’d guess PGMO did not release the data!

  7. Well Harry, that is an interesting question. Dullness is not in itself an objective reality, but something perceived by an individual person, in this case you. Your perception is affected by your ability to take in knowledge and your ability to handle emotions. A limited ability to handle emotions combined with a limited intellect, will make the raising of an issue, such as why a person might be trying to fake football stats, seem dull. A person of greater imagination and intellect will immediately start thinking why is this happening, and what other stats are being falsified in the same way. Thus the answer comes down to your imaginative ability. Given the question you raise, I suspect it is rather low.

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