OK – if you’re expecting a serious piece on the current state of the NHS or anything else, don’t bother reading on – one of the best things about starting a blog like this is that it gives you the chance to get stuff off your chest, and today I want to do just that.
Mostly, the inanities of sports commentators make amusing reading, and those of us of a certain age think fondly of Colemanballs in Private Eye. But there’s one thing they do repeatedly which really gets on my nerves and which has me screaming in frustration at the TV set, and that’s why, still frothing at the mouth, I intend to unload on you all now.
I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but nearly all commentators have a tendency to simply tot up the missed chances in a game, add them to the actual final score, and say ‘If only they’d not missed those three clear chances, they’d have won 3-2’ Spot the fallacy? Of course you did, but they never do, and no-one seems to pick them up on it.
One of the worst serial offenders is Mike Stephenson, who is a regular commentator on Sky’s rugby league coverage (RL – a rough northern game that most of you won’t have heard of). Known by everyone as ‘Stevo’, he is an ex-international RL player, and his commentating style tends to be fairly dogmatic, which leads to him taking quite a bit of good-natured stick from his fellow commentators.
Stevo regularly adopts this simplistic view of missed opportunities, and their possible effect on the final score. There was a good example in the commentary on the first game of this year’s Super League programme, in which ‘my’ team, Leeds Rhinos, were beaten 10-12 at home by Warrington Wolves. As if that wasn’t bad enough, I was reduced to incoherent gibbering by Stevo’s assertion that if Leeds had kicked their three first-half penalty goals, they would have been six points better off, and would have won.
YOU CAN’T KNOW THAT YOU NUMPTY!
Look – if they had indeed kicked the first of those goals rather than kicking for touch and getting no return for it, the entire subsequent course of the game would have been different, because the match would have been restarted from the centre spot. Those second two penalty opportunities would therefore never have arisen, and depending on what did happen, Leeds might have lost even more heavily. Alternatively, they might have scored three brilliant tries and/or had half a dozen other penalties awarded and gone on to win handsomely, but THERE IS NO WAY OF KNOWING.
Sorry to keep shouting, but as you may have realised, this is one of those unimportant little things that can take over a chap’s waking hours. And Stevo – just in case you’re still struggling with this, let me explain more fully. Our lives (and sporting contests) are made up of a sequence of events, each one of which leads on from, and is a direct consequence of, what went before. Change one of those events by, say, missing an open goal or converting rather than missing a penalty, and you also change what comes after. So, you can’t simply look at a series of missed chances after they have occurred, add the points/goals/runs they would have generated to the actual total and produce a number that means anything.
Of course, quantum mechanics raises the possibility that there is a parallel universe in which Leeds did kick the first of those penalties, but if we had a way of seeing into that universe, we would find that we were watching a completely different game, from that point on, to the one that unfolded at Headingley last week.
I can’t surely be the only person to have picked up on this, and Stevo is certainly not the only offender. But I wish they’d stop it.