Friday, 31 May 2013

Football In Hay-On-Wye

The Welsh town of Hay-on-Wye is an unassuming dot on the map just over the Wales England border in Powys. Difficult to find, it is even harder to leave. The brooding presence of the Brecon Beacons, ten miles to the west makes the small market town a sat nav black spot and those who manage to arrive by way of a major road often leave via a more singularly tracked lane, following antiquated road signs indicating Hereford 25 miles (via toll bridge). Apple orchards or hop fields abound.

The town's worldwide fame is due entirely to the shops. Every other one is either bookshop or a food shop or quite often both. Every year in May, navigating the town becomes even more difficult when Hay hosts a ten day literary festival. Giant bubble machines and make shift organic kitchens spring up on every street corner, every available area of green space suddenly sports at least one yurt and the town's temporary population skyrockets. And when Abergavenny has done with the rain, it sends it over the Brecons to remind everyone they are in Wales.

Deckchairs at Hay-on-Wye, but sometimes without the sunshine.

The festival site is a mini Glastonbury, with Noah and the Whale headlining instead of corporate megaliths such as the Rolling Stones. Daniel Dennett, Will Self and Rowan Williams vie with the likes of Michael Vaughan and Darra O'Briain to attract audiences to the many tented lecture halls.

This year, following in the footsteps of that other famous American, Bill Clinton, Chris Anderson and his co author David Sally filled the Digital Stage to promote their new book on football analytics called "The Numbers Game" in a game of one half (with 15 minutes injury time for questions) refereed by Clemency Burton-Hill.

Spotting Chris strolling with his family around the festival site was relatively easy as he was one of the few in attendance who seemed capable of saving a penalty kick. He displays in real life the same passion and good humour that is the hallmark of his excellent blog, "Soccer By The Numbers". Within five minutes of meeting Chris, my wife, a rugby fanatic with little interest in the beautiful game, had demanded I purchase another ticket. By the end of the evening she was interrogating David Sally on the relative merits of the first and second goals in football.

I won't describe the lecture or review the book, because all you really need to know is the book is essential reading for anyone remotely interested in football (and even die hard rugby fans). The arguments put forward are relentlessly, yet simply constructed, leaving you convinced and eager to learn or discover more.

Football may lag behind other sports in the amount of data that has been available and the scale of analysis that is in the public domain. But one accolade it can now claim is that football has a book that is worthy of a place in the top three books written about sporting analytics.

"The Numbers Game" by Chris Anderson and David Sally.

It really is that good.

No comments:

Post a Comment