Ref! On statistics

The candid thoughts of Premier League referee Colin Preece, as recorded by our eavesdropping mole in the Duck and Peasant.


We all like to read about football, don’t we, lads? You can’t watch every game there is, so you read about some and use your imagination. But what’s been creeping in the last couple of years and really gets on my tits, is statistics. I don’t know if they’ve invented some computer program or what, but certain newspapers – and especially online – aren’t happy unless they’ve given you some useless facts.

I agree, Baz, they’ve always given us useless facts, but now they’re finding more obscure things that nobody’s ever thought about because they don’t mean anything. Stuff like “Spurs have never conceded a goal at White Hart Lane when the number 22 bus was going past.”

No, not really, Baz. No, I don’t mean they have conceded when the number 7 was going past, it’s an example. And a stupid example I agree, but then statistics often are stupid. No, I didn’t know the number 22 doesn’t go that way. It was an example, an idea plucked out of the air. Well, I suppose I should get my facts straight, if I was claiming it was true, but I’m not. It’s what they call poetic licence. Don’t you start, Dave, for Gawd’s sake.

There was one last week, somebody scored against Everton in his first game for his new club and the last time he was transferred he also scored in his first game and it was against Liverpool. Something like that. It doesn’t really matter because it doesn’t mean anything, anyway, it’s just a coincidence.

But this journalist with nothing more relevant to say trots it out like he’s just come back down the mountain with Moses, only Moses has got the ten commandments and he’s got the football results.

Cheers, Gary, I’ll have a pint of lager. What kind? Work it out for yourself, mate. Statistically, what am I most likely to want? What I always want when I have a pint of lager and somebody else is paying. Peroni.

Yes, that’s the 17th time this season that referee Colin Preece has had a pint of lager, and 13 of them have been Peroni.

It’s the internet that’s to blame for this. Because we leave tracks every time we log onto a site, they can work out how long we stayed on that page and make assumptions about why. And they’ve obviously discovered that a page full of insightful words doesn’t go down as well as one with a few random snippets.

Lazy, you see? The internet makes you lazy. If you’re sitting there with the Sunday paper, you’ve probably only bought the one, and if you don’t fancy a particular story, you can’t just switch to another paper. Unless you go back down the newsagents and get another one. And we’re too lazy to do that.

Which is why so many people don’t buy a paper at all nowadays and the printing industry is dying and chimpanzees are getting jobs writing for websites.





An insider’s guide to the local media

Picture this if you will: the function room of a fairly posh hotel. There’s a prize-giving going on and I’m here to cover it.

I arrived a few minutes early because that’s what I like to do. The kids who are receiving the prizes are there, as are the organisers and sponsors – apart from those coming from further afield, who are delayed.

Look at me… no, not him, me

The event starts late – of course. One wouldn’t expect anything else. Excited Mums are stalking about the room, taking pictures with iPads held in outstretched arms (which can’t be good for the back and neck in the long run, but that’s their problem). I take an unobtrusive seat towards the back, making a few notes – scribbles, actually – in my notebook, just to pass the time. There is nothing happening, so nothing to write about yet. Nothing to photograph either, but try telling that to a Mum with a gleaming piece of birthday-present technology in her hand.

My own camera is digital, half-decent (or was when it was new, six years ago) but small, betraying the fact that I’m not a photographer, just a writer who doesn’t have the luxury of a Canon-wielding sidekick. It has a zoom facility, but not a breathtaking one – put it this way, you’re never going to see the craters on the moon through it. I sidle along the wall and take a couple of shots to see if I’m close enough to the action (guessing where the action will take place). In reality, this is an attempt to look like I know what I’m doing.

But then there appears on the other side of the room the real McCoy: a toggie, a snapper, a card-carrying member of the long lens club, with his swiveling flash unit pointing upwards and backwards, as they do, for reasons we mortals are never going to find out. He takes about a million test shots, checking each one and smirking occasionally. He takes a few without the flash and seems happy with that, too.

Eventually the ceremony begins and the MC stands up and thanks everybody in the room. Then a sponsor’s representative is called upon to say a few words. There is no microphone and she looks like she wasn’t expecting to have to do this. Even as she mumbles inaudibly you can see her cursing the airline, the taxi, the incompetent secretary – whoever is responsible for her colleague’s no-show and her promotion to articulator of business-speak. You can just make out the phrases she’s confident about, such as ‘learning tool’ and ‘social skills’, which can safely be slotted into any talk about young people.

Finally it is time for the presentations and I take up my pre-scouted position, only to find that Mr Shutterspeed is on the opposite side and badgering people into standing a certain way. Look at me. Smile. Blah blah blah. There is no alternative but for me to slink around the back and relocate just behind him. You have to get close, because in this situation he’s the alpha male (although I’ve seen alpha females with long lens syndrome as well) and all those being photographed are going to be looking into his top-of-the-range, handmade-by-craftsmen glass-filled tube. So if you’re not very close to the recipient of this grinning adoration it will appear that nobody was looking in your direction, because they won’t be.

newspaper office
Word factory: cover event, write up, forget, repeat

Don’t get me wrong: one of my best friends is a press photographer, but, like graphic designers, they live by the old chestnut ‘a picture paints a thousand words,’ an idea that, I have to point out, can only be expressed in a sentence, not a picture.

And talking of pictures, the media brigade in many parts of the world – or certainly the TV part of those parts – seems to consist exclusively of good-looking young women. Nothing wrong with that, I hasten to add, but isn’t it a coincidence? Don’t tell me they are recruited because they look good on camera – that would be too crass for an enlightened society (and all societies think of themselves as enlightened). It’s not the girls’ fault, anyway, if they have been given a job for a specific reason that adds up to a positive form of sexism.

TV crew 2
Georgina Gorgeous, Live News Corporation, at the Supreme Court. Note still camera getting a quick shot of her

Just because a girl is easy on the eye, that doesn’t mean she is underpowered in the brain department. But as nice as some of them are, it almost makes me glad to see the technocrat toggies and TV cameramen (because such is the adherence to stereotypes that the person behind the lens tends to be male, just as the undulating presence in front of it is unmistakably female.)

Women have been suppressed long enough. Let’s give them all the top jobs – as long as they can be seen, otherwise you might just as well appoint the best-qualified candidate, and where’s the fun in that?