How we operate

This is Rich here.  I only clarify because I’m going to mention baseball. I am the British one, I just like baseball.

Growing up I played a lot of sport. Football was great but I had a nasty habit of falling apart mentally in school matches (besides myself I more or less half-blame a single teacher for this and were I to meet him today I would certainly consider pouring boiling custard on his pathetic head).  So I did come to associate football with stress, which was a shame because everything we know about youth development now suggests that it should be, you know, fun.  This all went away by the time I was 17 or so and I resumed playing in earnest, but by then the damage had been done and I wasn’t the player I thought I would be when I was nine (who is though, eh?). Then when I was 18 the damage was literally done – I tore a medial meniscus playing for my village side and it took four years for this to be diagnosed.  So I drifted out of the game (ha!) and focused more on other sports. 

One of which was baseball.  As our American readers will no doubt agree, there’s something quite refreshing about following another country’s sport.  Somehow the other people who do this are of a similar mindset and…. How can I put this?  I don’t know.  It’s fun though. I even played baseball for 2-3 years, only stopping when the games started to really drag on and whole days got lost standing in the outfield watching the day go by (then you’d be woken by the sound of a ball landing behind you and things would need fixing sharpish).

Anyway, the good things about baseball are many.  Its writing for one: some really good writers have turned their hand to baseball.  We say the same about cricket over here but I think that largely we’re fooling ourselves. I also like the fact that the game’s history is in many ways more important than its present.  To emphasise the point I couldn’t name a single member of the current Baltimore Orioles (Timmy’s local team, I suspect), but could happily talk about their golden era in the late 60s/early 70s. This could go on and on.  I know all sorts about baseball history’s ebb and flow, its greatest teams, its off the field happenings, its on the field changes.  I know all this because good writers have told me about them. 

Then there’s baseball’s information revolution. In the 1970s a few outsiders started counting things (manually, from newspapers) and worked out a number of truisms about the game that were a) demonstrably correct but b) not aligned to how baseball insiders (who played and ran the game) saw things.  Bill James and Pete Palmer knew that batting average and RBI were overrated, that pitcher wins were largely (but obviously not entirely) a function of teammates’ abilities to score runs at the right times, and a million other things.  But the game was the game and (aside from Branch Rickey, Earl Weaver (by instinct alone!) and perhaps some more unheralded others) it took until the 90s (arguably Sandy Alderson’s work with the Yankees) for the thinking to really seep into everyday operations, and it took Michael Lewis’ divisive book “Moneyball” to popularise some of this thinking and make people in positions of power take notice.   Now the game is very different, with teams’ front offices manned by Harvard graduates working on minimum wages just for the chance to work in baseball and give their team a competitive advantage from somewhere (harder than it was now everyone’s doing the same thing). 

Bill James did what he did mainly by questioning what he saw as lazy thinking, and seeing whether or not he might be able to prove or disprove it either way.   Sometimes he could, sometimes he couldn’t.  But the point is he tried and he managed to come up with some interesting ideas.

And that leads us to where we are now.  To be honest I am past caring about whether Stephen Kelly is impressed by his new teammate or whether Mark Schwarzer thinks QPR will be tough but fun or whether Aaron Hughes is going to be playing for Northern Ireland again. The newspapers might pride themselves on getting exclusives (as per the Capello thing the other day, which one journalist cited as an example of what papers can do that blogs cannot, to which the obvious answer was “I think we might have found out anyway!”) but in a lot of cases they can’t bite the hand that feeds them so can’t write anything that enriches our understanding of the game or the people within it (with a few notable exceptions, of course).

I read a quote somewhere the other day (I’ve forgotten where, or who it was from) and it said something like “If you don’t write to find out what you think, you might as well not bother” and that said a lot to me.  So – given that me and football are in a bit of a rut – here’s the challenge:

What about football do you want to know about?  Is it possible for us ever to know these things?  If so, how?  And can we at CCN have a bash?

Or are we thinking about too much already?

15 thoughts on “How we operate

  1. To be honest Rich, I just want to see more of the same. CCN has always been about tactics, understanding what is actually happening on the pitch using the tools available (chalkboards) and most importantly exploding myths about players and managers (albeit with varying success in terms of acceptance). CCN has never been about gut reactions or purely emotional, although emotions have certainly added flavour to the various posts.

    I guess the only thing that could be added is maybe a more circumspect look at the league, discussing other teams, although this is not only incredibly time consuming but also may not interest people since we all are primarily interested in Fulham. Maybe some more historical information about Fulham might be interesting, but that is about it.

    I get your increasing irritation with the media and their take on football. This has definitely been changing with the arrival of the likes of Michael Cox over at Zonal Marking but remains rooted in cronyism, prejudice and bland reporting. Maybe it is the anti-intellectualism of British football that is to blame, since other countries seem less affected by this (the Italians are pretty good at analysis and certainly always have a more descriptive take on games) or a general lack of interest from a large section of fans who dont really care about anything other than tribalism and making homophobic jokes about opposing players.

    Keep up the good work!

  2. Baseball is the best sport to write about. It lends its self history and statistics. You can compile statistics on every offensive and defensive aspect of a player, and a team, that ever played and understand his/their physical strengths and weaknesses. You can analyze and argue to your heart’s content over the best value today, and the best from the past.

    But, as Yogi Berra said so well “Baseball is 90% mental, the other half is physical.” Baseball is also about the pitcher fooling the batter, players getting an edge, becoming hot, riding out a slump, and making mental mistakes. The mind dominates the body in baseball. Great writers, like Tom Boswell, tell us about this.

    Baseball writers also need to be experts at descriptive writing. They bring the game alive for the fans. Their goal is to make every old man think of his youth when he believed he could throw a one-hop strike from deep center field all the way to home plate.

    In short: statistics, the mental aspect, and beautiful descriptive writing. Does CCN do this? – yes. It’s just not as easy to do with football.

  3. @Rich, To me your best writing has always been about your musings, your stream of thought if you will. I’ve tried it and it just doesn’t work for me. For you, I think it’s a strength. Sometimes that means even writing about the ordinary. Perhaps more like an impressionistic painting rather that realism. Your write best about how you see the world, football and family through your eyes.

    I’ll leave you with this quote that I try to read every month.

    “It’s hard to make something that’s interesting. It’s really, really hard. It’s like a law of nature, a law of aerodynamics, that anything that’s written or anything that’s created wants to be mediocre. The natural state of all writing is mediocrity… So what it takes to make anything more than mediocre is such an act of will…”
    ― Ira Glass

  4. Keep blogging about football Rich…’re a refreshing change from the rest….the modern day Ralph Mctell of the cottage……did he really write ‘Streets of London’ while standing in the Enclosure ?

  5. I echo the encouragement for you to write on football and pretty much anything that takes your fancy. I admit to walking away from the counter in Marks and Spencers that deals with trying to quantify football through statistics, and Timmy’s chalkboards often leave me cold, but it’s the words and how you put them together that make this site. Keep up the good work.

    About baseball: the difficulty in describing it to people for whom its not endemic to they’re culture lies in the fact that it is the ONLY ball game in which the DEFENSE maintains possession of the ball. I’ve pointed this out to cricket fans and seen them digest this, and begin to understand the essential differences between the two sports. I’ve also pointed this out to Americans and they often look stunned — it’s something they’ve always seen but never questioned or examined in those terms.

    1. and that should read “their” culture, not “they’re” culture. YOu need an edit button here — especially for those of us who are rushing headlong into their dotage.

    2. Aha! Truth there. Ed Smith the cricketer made the same point. For a pitcher in baseball and a batsman in cricket it’s all okay until it’s not, at which point you’re completely done.

  6. It seems to me you’re looking for a ‘declaration of principles’ for CCN, but its not needed. What you are doing is always fascinating and some of your unexpected interviews are particularly insightful.

  7. Don’t worry Rich, most Baltimoreans couldn’t name a single Oriole either. This city, like our fine nation, worships at the altar of the Ravens/NFL. And that altar alone.

    1. I can’t let this go by—Rich mentioned Ed Smith & Tim is on about the Orioles–Where are the Orioles now??? ED SMITH STADIUM, SARASOTA, FL.

    2. You are right of course Timmy. Oh Markakis. So I named one. But there is truth only in exaggeration according to one old Frankfurter so your point stands since I can’t name two.

      As for Rich and CCN, I’ll just second what everyone else seems to be saying: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. I really came to love this blog when Rich distilled Hodgson’s compact, defense-first tactics. Rich hit his stride right as Fulham hit theirs. Now, it’s hard to get as excited. It’s not clear what Jol is exactly up to, though you boys are getting at it as well as anyone, and it’s hard to get excited about Stoke or Wolves or whatever when Hamburg is still such a fresh memory. But that will pass and the joy in figuring out Jol and watching the team figure it out on the pitch will provide plenty of material.

  8. There are actually a few reasons i regularly check-in at CCN. I very much appreciate the game reports, since I had to drop cable about a year ago my abilities to watch games has dropped considerably, and I find the match reports posted here to be a wonderful tool to stay connected to Fulham- honest and generally contain information or details that are not covered in the sports news websites. Then the analysis of the games during the week is great and usually relevant to what happened in games or why a person is used over another (Sidwell passing, the strikers trying to go straight up the middle) the consistent of using facts over emotions in analysis of the games is a nice change form 99% of the websites out there. The details provided on the website give a basis for an intelligent discussion of play and strategy. I tend to not return to too many web sites because the discussions are not debatable, i do not think i have ever read on this site that Player X is crap because he had a low transfer fee and that Player Y on other team is better because his transfer fee was higher. The positive based assessment of the players and how they work in the total system is a very welcome relief from most soccer sites. Thanks to everyone on the site for that.

  9. Rich, i Like the tactical side of the game and the stats and thats why I like reading this site.
    I might not agree with some of the results (You can show me a million stats and we will never agree on Etuhu) but its always a good read and now your not on FOF I need a fix of the Rich view of the game and Fulham.

  10. Rich: You gave me Roberto Bolano. I watch every single Fulham game & I’ve read all his stuff. Sometimes it’s hard to distinguish which is more bizarre. But CCN is sort of my daily breath. I’ll still breathe if you and Stanley ride off into the sunset, but the air won’t be the same.

  11. Your reports on Fulham have always been interesting and insightful. Your perspective on the sport has always made me interested in your opinion. I think that translates to the sport in general. So, if there is one thing I’d like a bit more of, it is your occasional opinions on broader things going on in the game. Your thoughts are always worthwhile, so the more the merrier i say.

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