Saturday, 15 December 2007

Losing the prediction race

First published in The Grecian, 15 December 2007, Exeter City -v- Salisbury City, FA Trophy First Round

So, to sum up… Sven Goran Eriksson was sure that England would qualify for Euro 2008 under Steve McClaren. Then Plymouth Argyll were convinced they’d hang on to boss Ian Holloway (not much sobbing about that around here, of course!) And at the beginning of the year just about everybody who was anybody in football punditry said that David Beckham’s international career was finished. Definitely.

On a less high-profile note, back in the dim-distant-past that is 8 October 2007, I wrote that Blue Square Premier referees were really doing a pretty good job, all things considered, and that we should give them a break.

As naturally as a photocopier breakdown precedes a Really Vital Mailing, the official at the Grays game (in which City scraped a 1-0 win) gave, how shall I say, a less than stellar performance. Especially when he failed to act on what looked like a rather blatant last-man offence right near the end. Hey-ho for my programme note.

Still, I was pretty confident after our FA Cup performance against a certain Stevenage Borough In November that the Grecians could get a competitive bounce and leap on ahead in the league. We lost 1-4 at home to Burton Albion, our biggest defeat margin for four years. Thank goodness I didn’t mention that one in particular.

For today’s game, then, I am definitely keeping schtum. In fact I’m tempted to forecast a disappointing result for City, because even though I’m not at all superstitious, there’s a bit of me that always figures “even thinking it is the kiss of death.” It must be something to do with being a Scotland supporter.

In short, if ECFC win this afternoon, it was because I didn’t say we would. If we lose, it’s because I secretly thought we wouldn’t. And if we draw, it’s because the football gods like to toy with our fragile sporting emotions like Georgie Best on the edge of the box. Well, at least I’m certain he won’t score a goal this weekend, bless ’im!

The point is, football rests on failed predictions as much as glorious triumphs. That’s how the bookmakers make their money, it’s what makes for the best stories in the papers and on the telly, and it’s what enables each and every one of us entertain the illusion that we really know just as much as the expert at the end of the ether.

The really big guessing game of late, of course, has been the England manager’s job. Everyone is pointing out that there’s plenty of time to get this right before taking on the might of Andorra, Belarus and Kazakhstan. (I shall politely omit Ukraine and Croatia.)

That the FA will indeed take its time is a dead cert, I’e been telling friends. So knowing my luck, an announcement will have been made not long before you read this – and it will be our own Paul Tisdale heading to Wembley on a garland paid for by Exeweb. Only kiddin’.

Actually, ‘Klinsmann for England’, noted in this column weeks ago, is the prediction I’d really like to get right. First, because I nicked it shamelessly off my London flatmate and popular culture guru James Edward Smith. Second, because he’s 16-1 at the time of writing. Third, because both Motty and Franz Beckenbauer would finally have agreed on something.

Finally, of course, England needing a German manager to have a serous crack at the World Cup again feels so right in terms of football’s love affair with blatant incongruity. Oh, and I’d have got something right for once.

It’s not going to happen.

(The author predicts that his wife will fall in love with football. Yeah, right...)

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