Can’t believe the cantankerous negativity which surrounds the relatively innocuous introduction of an extra point for the early-round League Cup group. This competition is our least precious, below the Scottish Cup, League title, Champions League, Europa League and at the top of the tree, the Petrofac Cup. Its purpose should be to experiment, especially in the early rounds.
My only issue with the change is its overwhelming conservatism. If you’re going to make changes, be bold.
An objective of any change in our domestic game or competitions should be to increase excitement and drama. Some work has gone into this with the research paper, Suspense and Surprise, by Ely, Frankel and Kamenica, who collected data from 24,000 ‘soccer’ matches across 67 leagues to “compute suspense and surprise generated from each soccer match”. It’s a weighty document, but in brief, they conclude that football is characterised by having plenty of suspense – during any minute a critical goal can be scored, but surprises, either during the game or with respect to the outcome, are few. They write:
“In any given minute of a soccer game, it is very likely that nothing consequential happens. Whichever team is currently ahead becomes slightly more likely to win (since less time remains). There is a small chance that a team scores a goal, however, which would have a huge impact on beliefs. So belief paths in soccer are smooth, with few rare jumps. This sustained small probability of large belief shifts makes soccer a very suspenseful game.”
So your game is suspenseful as a result of nothing consequential happening during any particular minute. It’s that “nothing consequential” line which is a tad disturbing.
The reason I’m referencing this is that on analysing his paper, Frankel accepted (in his academic terms) what kids and five-a-side players have known for decades. A football game where the winner is not decided by the team which scores most goals, but where the “next goal’s the winner” rule holds true, adds crushing drama and excitement to the suspense of the game.
Winning by six goals? So what, it’s next goal’s the winner now – and your chances of winning are no better than 65%. I’m not advocating a competition with this rule – football fans are far too conservative for that, but it’s worth considering why people watch sport, or any other pastime. Put the question differently, a ‘next goal’s the winner’ sport would never drop its dramatic finale to adopt a system which would allow teams to create winning lead with 75% of the game remaining.
Football has come a long way since the formation of the Football Association in 1863. It has cultural resonance and occasionally athletic brilliance, but for the most part the game flourished without that brilliance. It simply offered better entertainment than was on offer elsewhere. Football has never been dependent on skillful wizardry, for the most part this is a rarity. Don’t listen to people who tell you style or ability determines interest in the game, it doesn’t and never has done. The game will live or die on its ability to throw up drama and suspense.
My guess is that the game will last another 150 years, but it will be completely unrecognisable from the sport you and I know. It will be forced to change by increasingly sophisticated and diverse entertainment options.
Always play ‘next goal’s the winner’ at fives, unless it rankles your conservative tendencies too much.