BIG STICKS IDIOT (with stats!)

This morning, the Hawks are favorites, at $4, for next years flag. I’m sure they’ll find that thrilling news as they look back on The One That Got Away. It seems like a recurring theme in Grand Final history – a team that by rights – and by most stats – should have it in the bag yet somehow wind up with heads in hands come the final siren.

Yesterday’s game was one where Sydney earned every plaudit it gets this morning, grinding out a gripping win against a super-talented, highly-favoured opponent, all the while carrying injuries across what seemed like half the team. Goodes and Mumford probably wouldn’t have played after the first quarter in a normal game, and Ted Richards battled valiantly against Buddy Franklin on a dodgy ankle.

Yet, the real story is one of missed opportunity. Missed goals – gettable goals – seem to be what cost Hawthorn a premiership in 2012. Franklin kicked 3.4 with one out on the full, two of those shots at least were easily kickable. This is not to blame Franklin specifically. But. The effect of poor kicking surely was that Sydney hung on in patches where Hawthorn was on a tear. Ordinarily, scoreboard pressure in Grand Finals is enough to prevent too many comebacks. But for Sydney, seeing the tail end of a Hawks blitz from only two or three goals behind was probably enough to keep their tails up.

This got me to thinking about accuracy. I could recall, off the top of my head, at least two other Grand Finals in the past 15 years or so that saw a team kick themselves out of the game they should have won; Geelong in 2008, kicking 11.23 to Hawthorn’s 18.7 (memorable for Cam Mooney missing from 10 metres out), and Adelaide’s 15.15 to North Melbourne’s 8.22 in 1998, when North was well up at half time.

Basically, I thought, you wouldn’t win if you didn’t kick straight.

I decided a lazy Sunday morning would be a good time to crunch the numbers in greater degree, so I dug up the results of every VFL/AFL Grand Final, and tracked accuracy versus victory.

Before I dive in, a disclaimer; I’m no scientician. I can manipulate an IF function, and I know my way around a spreadsheet, but I can’t remember a thing from Econometrics 1001 in 1999. This is a rudimentary analysis, and if any number nerds out there want to crunch harder, please be my guest; here’s the raw data.

I tracked two simple pieces of data; accuracy of winning and losing team, as well as the number of shots on goal. The short story; taking more shots on goal is far more important to winning than kicking straight.

Of the 115 Grand Finals since 1900 (including draws), only 18 (16%) were won by the team with fewer scoring shots, while 44 (38%) were won by the team that kicked less accurately.

The results actually put the lie to my unscientific theory. Kicking straight doesn’t seem to matter. Also, these results are including those games where it’s certain that accuracy really had no bearing because it was so one-sided. What happens if we look only at games that were decided by three goals or less?

Even worse. Of the 44 games that had a tight result, nearly half (21, or 48%) were won by the team that doesn’t kick straight. Fifteen, or 34%, were won by the team with fewer shots.

Of course, this is not taking into account causality. There is clearly no great correlation between kicking straight and winning flags. Indeed, inaccurate kicking may simply mean that your opponent is applying more pressure in the forward line. But if you’re in the forward line twice as often as your opponent, it shouldn’t matter too much.

Even though goals are worth six times a behind, taking sufficient shots can easily override inaccuracy. The biggest difference in accuracy in a ‘close’ GF was the 1948 Melbourne vs Essendon game, in which the Dees scored 10.9 to the Dons’ 7.27 (!). Melbourne’s accuracy was more than 2.5 times greater than Essendon.

The result? A draw.

Essendon took enough shots that in the end they only scored three fewer goals than their opponents, despite shooting at about 20% accuracy.  This story pops up again and again.

It seems, in the end, that we have a bias to remember the close ones that teams lose from inaccuracy, but they aren’t in any way unusual. If you fail to kick straight, it basically doesn’t correlate at all with the margin you win or lose by. Shots on goal, however, correlates quite closely.

I guess, then, in the absence of any more detailed (or accurate) numerical analysis, the takeaway from this is not “kick straight” but “kick often”.

Again, if someone wants to take the numbers and offer a better analysis, please do.


So I graphed something. Below is the accuracy differential versus the score differential of the winners of GFs. That is, how much more accurate were you as a proportion of your opponent’s accuracy, versus what percentage of their score did you score?

As you can see, there is no real correlation to speak of.

Is this Australia’s most punchable face?

I don’t know Tom Waterhouse. I have never met him, been near him, or even seen him wandering down the street. Until recently, I didn’t know who he was, or what his family was (quasi) famous for. But today I hate him. He is the alpha and omega of my bile duct. The thorn in my side. The weeping ulcer between my cheek and lower jaw that refuses to heal. His grinning, punchable mug stares at me from my television screen, and it has infected my subconscious. And I don’t know how to make it stop.

My father was an engineer. His two brothers are engineers. Their father (and his father) and many of their children are engineers. Some of these engineers have been particularly successful, rising to prominence in the world of building large things that do stuff. It’s fair to say that my paternal genetics skew heavily to ‘being good at engineering’.

But I realised at a very early age that engineering was not for me. At the end of year ten physics I still failed to discern the difference between mass and weight (a negligence, incidentally, I have since rectified). So, instead i studied economics and the arts. Seemed like a sensible decision.

This would not have been my life direction if I was Tom Waterhouse. Had I been, my general approach to adulthood and career would have involved sleeping through university, arriving at the door of Downer EDI and insisting that because my relatives going back into the distant past could cobble together a half decent blueprint for a bridge that they should undoubtedly employ me post-haste.

Waterhouse is attempting to parley his family heritage at setting profit-making odds for mug punters or training large mammals to run fast while bearing a diminutive, whip-toting pilot into a suave, 21st century gambling empire. The bulk of this is done through plastering every sporting event in the world with his plastic, smirking mug via any medium possible.

Watching ads for is the worst thing that anyone can do.

The detestable little pustule even roped his poor mum into the ad to try to give him some kind of credibility, even though she is not actually a bookmaker but a horse trainer. This is pretty much like applying for a job as a RBA economist, then offering your qualifications as ‘my mum taught a TAFE course in household budgeting’.

He also decides to trot around the betting ring toting a big white bag with his name on it, clearly forgetting the number one lesson of stranger danger – children (and adults with the stature and appearance of pre-pubescent polo players) should NOT go out in public with clothing and accessories which have your name on it. Should Tom be abducted by a lolly-bearing murderess, it will deprive me of the possibility that, one day, I will be able to punch him in the face.

In essence, the Tom Waterhouse pitch is thus:

Some people to whom I am related have a history of taking money of people under the mistaken impression that they have knowledge about something that is effectively a crapshoot. In particular, the womb that I squelched out of 30 years ago has some tangential relationship to gambling. Therefore if you give me money to bet, you will lose less of it.

Never mind the fact that if reprehensible arsehat actually does have any greater understanding of how gambling works, it would be in his interests to offer odds that are MORE likely to make you lose so he can increase his profits. The ads he puts together give the distinct indication that his services will provide you with some kind of insight Рsome assistance to make you a more effective gambler. Looking at the site indicates that he is a bookie. A bookie with a solipsistic fetish for slathering all of his communications with that eminently, eminently punchable face.

The man has polluted my sports viewing for too long. I am an innocent man. I have done nothing in my life that warrants the sentence of having to see Tom Waterhouse superimposing his dwarflike self into a bunch of athletes looking athletic while trying to look cool. I don’t want to give him my money. I don’t want anyone to give him money. I want him to go away, to go home, sit in his bedroom with his posters of Bart Cummings and just live off his mum’s winnings. I just want someone to punch him.

So scroll back up to the top. Look at that face. And maintain the rage.

Pining for “Macavaney”

Whatever the field of endeavour, you don’t need to look particularly far to find some entirely unqualified prognosticator making a declinist argument about its inevitable doom.

Oftentimes, these are not founded in a genuine belief, but are a writer taking a brief moment of pessimism, caused by seeing something even more egregiously stupid than ordinarily visible (like accidentally reading an Andrew Bolt column) and extending the existence of that thing to its logical endgame.

Today: sport. More specifically, AFL. More specifically still, the coverage thereof. It’s hardly a trailblazing notion that the world of those who are paid to prognosticate about footy tend towards the ‘no sharp objects’ end of the IQ spectrum, but the undergraduate misogyny of those reprobates on The Footy Show isn’t where the problem is.

That august Thursday night institution, approaching its twentieth anniversary, is so mired in the grit of its own faux-controversial navel that it is easily forgotten that it was in 1999 that Sam Newman went blackface to attract the maxlols of the suburban intelligentsia. In fact, a little known fact is that ‘Sam Newman Controversies’ has managed to score its own Wikipedia page.

Likewise, the increasing level of exposure that the show has given us to footballers, along with the wider media’s obsession with the foibles of its players off the field, has left the world with a vanishingly small amount of respect for those who play the game.

Frankly, this sucks. I love footy. It is, even after the AFL rules committee have spent several years sodomising it with a broomstick, still one of the most wonderfully thrilling sports in the world. Fast, free-flowing, skillful, tough, graceful, it has everything. Including a bunch of heavily tattooed mouth-breathers making the watching all the harder.

When a sport is diminished by knowledge of the personalities of its players, trouble be brewing.

But this is not about trudging through the vapid sinkhole of scatology and shame that channel nine wheels out every year around March. Nor is it about meatheads who cross-dress while sporting giant phalluses from their skirts. Rather, the problem is the steep, worrying decline of what is ostensibly ‘intelligent’ football coverage.

Footy Classified is channel nine’s attempt at ‘thinky’ television. That sentence alone should be deeply intimidating. But in search of some sanity in the realm of football commentary, and with the rapidly fading memory of ‘Talking Footy’ dwindling in the rear-view mirror, I decided recently to dive in, in the vain hope of hearing someone say something smart about football.

What I was subjected to was an hour of three ostensibly smart men beating their heads against one another while seeing who could most insidiously belittle Caroline Wilson. Wilson, while not exactly Australia’s foremost sportswriter, at least knows how to leverage her Richmond pedigree into access into various footy nooks, and couples it with an ability to couch gossip with a decent veneer of ‘newsworthiness’. Craig Hutchison, Garry Lyon and Grant Thomas, on the other hand, are quite simply an inexplicable presence on our screens.

With segment names like ‘Good Call, Bad Call’ (where panelists are asked to provide two-word assessments of decisions by various players and coaches) and ‘Caro’s Arrow’ (seriously, I don’t even), Footy Classified has managed to take the dumbing down of sports to entirely new pits of despair.

Talking Footy was hardly Walkley Award-winning stuff, but at least it was a sensible conversation about footy between people who simply wanted to have a smart conversation about footy (and Malcolm Blight), and not a collection of fiercely stupid egomaniacs desperately seeking a new way to score points against one another.

It’s a damn shame. And I haven’t even written about channel seven’s actual coverage yet.