IT WAS Mark Twain, the great American author, who once wrote: “There are three kinds of lies; Lies, damned lies and statistics.”
And it’s the third kind of ‘lie’ which I’m talking about today.
A supermarket in Boston sells very cheap sausages (I used to buy them to feed the dog! Honest). On the front of the pack it proudly proclaims ‘contains 29 per cent meat’.
But for all I know, the other 71 per cent of stuff packed into the skin could be used bandages, lead and drainwater (perhaps it’s best to point out that I’m being facetious and don’t actually expect any sausage to be packed with these items before the legal letters start arriving on my desk).
Stat jacking could be used for anything, from school exam pass rates, police arrest figures, the rise in council tax. The pro mob will use them to say they’re doing a cracking job. The naysayers will twist them to suit their counter-argument.
And it works the same in football.
There’s been a dark cloud hovering over York Street in recent week, and the stats haven’t made pretty reading. Before last Saturday’s victory at Colwyn Bay, the Pilgrims had lost four matches in a row.
Those sharpening the blades and looking in the direction of manager Jason Lee looked further back. They stated that United had lost 10 of their last 14 matches.
Of course, they failed to add that last season’s run of four wins and a draw in their last five matches coincided with the side’s realisation that they couldn’t reach the play-offs, and that slightly more experimental sides were sent out as younger players were bedded in.
But that’s the beauty of statistics, you can manipulate them to suit your argument.
Let’s look at striker Mark Jones.
He joined Boston in the summer and scored twice on his competitive debut, the Lincs Senior Shield match at Lincoln United.
He also endeared himself to the fans with a hat-trick in the side’s first home match, the 6-0 thrashing of Histon.
Fans of the striker could claim he has five goals to his name already and is the side’s joint-second leading scorer. Those not so keen could number crunch and proclaim Jones has only scored in one of the Pilgrims’ eight league matches.
You could look at keeper Dan Haystead and say he has kept clean sheets in 40 per cent of matches this season (decent).
You could debate he’s conceded 15 times in 10 competitive outings (not so good).
Boston United may have lost four league games in a row this season, but they’ve now also won as many as they’ve lost. Add the two Shield matches and you now have a 60 per cent win rate.
Are Boston United three points away from the play-off spots?
Perhaps they a mere six points off relegation?
Twist the stats to suit your preference. That’s how it works.
And that’s probably why footballers often prefer to just come out and say: “You’re only as good as your last game.”
The stats may suggest Boston have had better times than of late.
But judging them by their performance over Chester on Saturday, they’re flipping brilliant.