“Ball’s Eye”, by Nick Dale


Characters

  • Harry (eg Tim Lovejoy?)
  • Maddy (eg Gabby Yorath or Helen Chamberlain?)
  • Sparky
  • Lucy
  • Landlord

Opening credits

Soccer siren

A bloke wearing a suit goes up to the bar in a City pub and orders a drink.

Harry:          Pint of Pride, please.

The landlord pours a pint of London Pride and hands it over.

Landlord:    Three ten, please, mate.

Harry hands over a fiver and notices a rather stunning blonde standing next to him at the bar, also wearing a suit. He looks over to find she’s with another girl, but he makes his mind up and decides to try and chat her up.

Harry:          Can I buy you a drink?

She looks over, sizes him up wordlessly and then looks away again with a slight smile. As she carries on talking to her mate, he turns back to the bar and waits for his change. When he gets it, he starts to turn away but then looks back. She’s still waiting to be served, so he decides to go for glory one more time.

Harry:          Do you come here often?

This time, she doesn’t turn round, but you can see her smiling. Bemused, Harry turns away to find his mates. At that point, he bumps into Sparky, his flatmate, who’s also here to watch the Chelsea game

Sparky:        Harry. How do, mate?

Harry:          Fine thanks, Sparky. You here to watch the game?

Sparky:        Wouldn’t miss it. I reckon we’ve got a chance of putting seven past this lot.

Harry:          I’d like to see that. What are you having?

Sparky:        Very kind of you. Make mine a Magner’s.

Harry:          What? Since when have you been drinking that apple shite.

Sparky:        Just kidding. [He slaps Harry on the shoulder.] Give me a John Smith’s. What do you reckon to that Frank Lampard, then?

Harry:          They say he gets eighty grand a week.

Sparky:        Worth every penny.

Harry:          How can you say that? He was going to leave and he blackmailed us. They had to up his wages by thirty grand just to keep him!

The conversation goes on for a bit as the coverage starts and Sparky nips to the loo. Then, the girl (who happens to be one of the Sky Sports presenters such as Helen Chamberlain!) comes over and smiles at Harry.

Maddy:       I think I will have that drink, after all.

On a TV in the bar, there’s an advert on. He looks up, bewildered, to hear the tag line is “Get the power of sport into your life”.

Harry:          “Too right, mate!”

Sparky comes back and notices Maddy’s friend just leaving the bar.

Sparky:        Hello, love. What’s your name?

Lucy:          Lucy.

Sparky:        Juicy Lucy, eh?

Lucy:          [Curtly] No, just Lucy.

Sparky:        Where are we going?

Lucy:          Oh, let’s not spoil it.

Sparky shrugs as Lucy walks away.

Telly slot

It’s late, and we see Harry with a beer in his hand sitting in front of the TV, watching some late-night football show on Sky Sports…

  • Football face-off

Roy Keane and Patrick Vieira are doing an ad on a set that looks like someone’s living room, playing each other at the FIFA World Cup video game. It’s getting to the end and it’s so tense the veins are beginning to pop out on Keane’s forehead (!!). Then, Vieira scores to win the game. He cheers and Roy Keane throws the console on the floor and stalks off…

Keane:        Shit!

The tag line can be whatever you like! Cut to Harry, laughing and going to the fridge to get another beer. When he comes back, the show has started again.

  • Ref off!

Jeff Stelling (or another Sky presenter) is presenting a discussion programme of some sort about mistakes made by referees, accompanied by two guests in the studio.

Stelling:      Welcome back. We have Peter Shilton and Sol Campbell here with us tonight to talk about one thing and one thing only: referees. Now, you might be thinking, “What have these two got in common?” And, of course, the answer is, “They wuz robbed!”

Cut to footage of the England v Argentina game when ‘the hand of God’ helps put the ball past Peter Shilton to knock England out of the World Cup followed by a clip of Campbell scoring what would have been the winning goal for England against Portugal.

Stelling:      So, gentlemen. Is it fair to say you have a bit of a grudge against referees since those days? Peter?

Peter:          Well, that was obviously the low point of my career, and all the lads were furious for a while, [cut to clips of the England players surrounding the referee] but you just have to get on with the game, don’t you?

Stelling:      That’s very understanding of you, but didn’t you wish that the referee had had a TV replay or something?

Peter:          No, you can’t do that, can you? It would just ruin football, spoil the flow. It’s against the spirit of the game. If you had to stop play every time the referee made a decision, you’d never finish, would you?

Stelling:      Sol? How did you feel after you scored what looked like a good goal, only for the referee to decide that it didn’t count, as a result of which England were eventually knocked out of the World Cup?

Sol:             Well, I was pretty angry. We all were. We blamed the ref and, sure, we would have liked someone to stop the game and tell him to change his mind, but you can’t think like that. You’ve got the final few minutes and then extra time, so you have to play on.

Stelling:      So, TV replays? What do you think? Should we be for or against?

Sol:             Oh, definitely for. I hear what Peter says about the flow of the game, but there’s too much at stake. I remember one year Liverpool got pipped to the final Champions League spot by Leeds on the last day of the season because United won 1-0 away to Derby thanks to a dodgy late penalty. Leeds went on to the semi-finals the next year, but Liverpool lost out on twelve million quid.

Stelling:      So what’s the answer? Do you use TV for everything, or just for penalties or…how would it work…?

We hear the door slam, and Sparky arrives. He hangs up his coat and drops down on to the sofa beside Harry.

Sparky:        Eh, up. Hazza.

Harry:          Hey, there. Have a good night?

Sparky:        Not bad. Not bad. The usual. I say, I saw the most gorgeous blonde bird in the pub. I thought, “Why not?” I’ll have a go. And then I saw who she was talking to…You! What happened there, then, mate?

Harry:          Well, we had a good chat. That’s all. End of story.

Sparky: Oh, come off it. You were all over her all night. I had to go and sit on my own. Are you going to see her again?

Harry:          I might. I might.

Sparky:        There you go. Enough said. I tried chatting up her friend, Juicy Lucy, but she blew me out.

Harry:          No surprise there, then!

Sparky:        Very funny. (Pause) What’s on telly, then?

Harry:          Oh, the usual. They’re talking about whether to use TV replays to help referees. It’s all a bunch of bullshit.

Sparky:        [With an affected tone of concern] Now, I think you should tell us how you really feel. Don’t hold it all inside like a typical male. You have to share your feelings…

Harry:          Shut up! I just don’t like the idea of it. That’s all.

Sparky:        You don’t like change. That’s your problem. How you ever got used to not wearing diapers, I’ll never know.

Harry:          Yeah, and I don’t think I’ll ever laugh at your jokes, either.

Sparky:        Give it time. Give it time. But you have to see the other side, too. Look at this.

On screen is a ‘Sky StatBox’ league table of the worst ten referees over the season to date, showing the percentage of decisions they have got wrong and how many points have been ‘gained’ or ‘lost’ because of corners, penalties, one-on-ones and goals that should or should not have been given. The background commentary is muted…

Sparky:        See? You can tell with that who’s the worst referee, and his name’s Graham Poll [for example]! You can run but you can’t hide, Graham! Maybe they should stop trying to protect the ref like an endangered species and tell the truth. They do their best, but they’re no match for TV. All this business of players getting booked if they swear at them – that’s bollocks. They’re only swearing at them because they make such crap decisions! I reckon that, unless there’s more than one goal in it, most games are decided by refereeing mistakes. Look.

The table switches to last year’s Premier League table, adjusted for referees’ mistakes.

Sparks:        You see that. If TV replays had been making the decisions rather than referees, Liverpool would have finished fourth in the table, and we’d have been spared all that hoo-hah about whether to let them into the Champions League or not.

Harry:          Yeah, but how would it work?

Sol:             Well, I think you’d have to bring it in gradually, like they’ve done in cricket and rugby. First, you’d use it for whether the ball crossed the line or not and then you’d bring it in for stuff like penalties – either wrongly given or not given. You might have to wait for the next break in play, but those things can be sorted out later.

Harry:          But that would mean that, eventually, you’d use it for everything, and there’d be no point even having a referee.

Sparky:        Well, hang on a sec. I’m not saying that. You have to strike a balance, don’t you. I like the way they do it in American football. Someone was telling me once that they have TV replays, but they’re only supposed to last 90 seconds and each coach only has three chances. If he blows them on decisions the ref got right, he loses all his time-outs or something. That would do me. If it’s wrong, it gets fixed; if it was right all along, the longest you’re going to waste is nine minutes –  and I’ve seen games with that much injury time over 90 minutes.

Harry:          I’m not convinced. You’re always going to waste time, and it’s never going to be perfect. I’d just sack Graham Poll and have done with it…

First date

Harry and Maddy go out on a date. We see them in a restaurant, enjoying a candle-lit dinner.

Maddy:       So, what do you do?

Harry:          Oh, I’m a trader with Warburg’s. They’re based just across the road from the anchor. What about you?

Maddy:       Well, it sounds very exciting, but it’s not really.

Harry:          Why? What do you do?

Maddy:       I work in modelling [with a sly glint in her eye].

Harry:          I should have guessed…

Maddy:       No, silly [with a giggle]. Not that kind of modelling. I build models to predict the stockmarket.

Harry:          Oh, I see. Do you have much luck?

Maddy:       It’s not about luck! You can’t bet millions on the roll of the dice. It has to be there in the numbers. That’s the whole point.

Harry:          Yeah, but I thought it was supposed to be a random walk, or whatever you call it.

Maddy:       Well, it is. Or it’s supposed to be, but you can spot the patterns if you’re clever enough.

Harry:          Like you?

Maddy:       Well, I don’t do so badly. I just love finding the patterns. You only need to find a couple of little things, and pretty soon you have half a per cent or more.

Harry:          [Mockingly] What? A whole half a per cent?!

Maddy:       Well, it doesn’t sound much, but that’s all it takes. Even a small percentage of a very big number is still a big number!

Harry:          Maybe, maybe. I prefer football, myself.

Maddy:       What’s wrong with wanting to know what’s going to happen? You can make a lot of money that way. What if I started forecasting football matches for a living? You’d soon change your tune then, wouldn’t you?

Harry:          Football?! No, that would never work. You’d never beat the bookies. You don’t know enough about it. And where would you get the data from? You’d need all the scores, all the shots, the shots on target…You could never do it.

Maddy:       Wanna bet?

Harry:          [Pause] All right. You’re on. If you can make me a grand next weekend, I’ll take you to the next Chelsea game!

Maddy:       Oh, thanks very much.

Harry:          Well, that’s the bet. And if you can’t do it, you’ll have to buy me dinner…

Maddy:       You’re on! [She sticks her hand out, and they shake.]

Harry:          …And maybe breakfast…!

Maddy:       [Rolling her eyes.] In your dreams. [She catches the waiter’s eye.] Can we get the bill, please? I think I’d better go.

Cut to outside the restaurant. The camera pans out. She kisses him on the cheek, and we see her walking off. Harry stands looking after her for a moment, then shakes his head and walks in the opposite direction.

Telly slot

  • Myth-buster

Harry gets back to the flat and assumes the position. Sparky hears him come in and comes out of his room, wearing not very much, and joins him on the sofa.

Sparky:        Well, you’ve either had a quickie on the tube and you’ve come home exhausted for a quick kip, or it didn’t go that well. My money’s on the quickie.

Harry:          You’d lose your shirt, mate. It was all going so well, and then I mentioned breakfast and she was gone faster than you could say Ken Bates.

Sparky:        Ah, you tried the old breakfast line on a first date. That’s like moving in with a twelve-year-old. It might be a good idea at some stage, but it’s too early to tell.

Harry:          I know, I know. Still, there’s always football. [He switches the television on and flicks to Sky Sports, where Simon Hughes is talking about football from his usual booth in the studio.]

Hughes:      Now, I like football as well as cricket, and one of the things I’ve noticed about other football fans is that they’re always so sure of everything. If a player gets sent off, they think they’re going to lose the game. If it’s a penalty, it’s just because it’s at Old Trafford. If Liverpool win a penalty shoot-out, it’s because they’re taking them at the Kop end. As a matter of fact, these are all urban myths, and busting myths needs to be done every now and again. Once you look at the stats, you find that getting a player sent off doesn’t mean you’re going to lose the game; if you’re already losing the game, you’re just more likely to get sent off. So, it’s the other way round. Equally, a lot of people think Manchester United get given more than their fair share of penalties at Old Trafford because the referee feels under pressure from the roar of 67,000 home fans, but, in fact, they get just about what you might expect. On the other hand, away teams there get fewer penalties, so it’s almost true – but not quite. Even stranger, you’d think that taking penalties – the most stressful part of the game – in front of your own fans would give you a massive boost, but the numbers tell a different story. In the vast majority of cases, it’s the other team that wins the shoot-out – not the home team or the favourites or the team shooting towards their own fans, but the team shooting towards the away fans. Some people just can’t take the pressure, I guess…

Sparky:        You know, I always enjoy this show, because you learn something new every day.

Harry:          Well, he might have a point, but you can’t tell me Simon Hughes knows more about football than the Sky Sports pundits. They’re all ex-professionals, for God’s sake.

Sparky:        Well, you don’t have to be a good player to be a good coach. Look at José Mourinho, Alex Ferguson, Arsene Wenger, Rafa Benitez…the list goes on.

Harry:          All right, all right. I’m off to bed.

Sparky:        Night, then.

Harry:          Goodnight.

Making up

“Later the next week…” is shown on screen.

Things have not gone well, but she gives him a call. He’s at home watching Sky Sports (as usual), when the phone rings.

Harry:          Hello?

Maddy:       Hi, this is Maddy.

Harry:          Oh, hi there. I wasn’t expecting you to call.

Maddy:       Well, we had a bet, remember?

Harry:          Oh, yes. You were going to prove that you could beat Andy Gray, Alan Hansen and William Hill all rolled into one and make me take you to a Chelsea game. Well, have you done it yet?

Maddy:       Well, funnily enough, I have. I happened to bump into a guy that works for this company that produces all kinds of stats about football, and he told me he’d help me in any way he could.

Harry:          I bet he did.

Maddy:       Now, now. I was just calling to tell you what we reckon is going to happen this weekend.

Harry:          Oh, it’s ‘we’ now, is it?

Maddy:       What? Is little Harry jealous?

Harry:          Get on with it.

Maddy:       Well, have you got the paper there?

Harry:          Yes, it’s here somewhere. [He looks on the coffee table and finds the sports section.]

Maddy:       OK. Just go to the fixture list, and I’ll give you the tips. [Harry leafs through the paper]

Harry:          All right. I’ve found it.

Maddy:       Right. Starting with Bolton Wanderers against Aston Villa, we reckon it’s going to be away win, home win, draw, home win, away win, draw, draw and away win, and then, on Sunday, Chelsea and Arsenal win their home games.

Harry:          Hang on a sec. [He writes them down and looks through the list.] You reckon Man United are going to lose to Everton.

Maddy:       Why? What’s wrong with that?

Harry:          You’re crazy. You’re going to owe me a very expensive meal out.

Maddy:       We’ll see. We’ll see. I’m going to put my money on Aston Villa and Everton, because that’s where we reckon the bookies have got their odds wrong the most. They’ll give you 10-1 on Everton, but we reckon they’ve got a 40% chance of winning, which means they’re favourites.

Harry:          [Slowly.] Everton – are – not – favourites.

Maddy:       Well, that’s what I’m betting on, but you can do what you like. [She puts the phone down.]

 

Wanna bet?

 

Sparky comes in, hangs up his coat and drops on to the couch next to Harry.

Harry:          How’s it going, Sparky?

Sparky:        Mustn’t grumble. I had to work a bit late tonight. The boss was having a panic attack. As usual. What’s going on back at the ranch?

Harry:          Oh, I just had a call from that bird I went out with. She’s decided she’s Mystic Mottie, and she’s starting forecasting football results. She reckons Everton are going to beat Man United!

Sparky:        Well, she’s obviously cracked in the head, but nothing that a good rogering wouldn’t take care of. Stranger things have happened.

Harry:          Oh, you can’t just throw a bunch of numbers together in a machine and expect to see the future. I’ve been a Chelsea fan since I was five years old. She didn’t even know who Frank Lampard was!

Sparky:        Well, as I say, stranger things have happened. Everton are at Goodison, aren’t they? What are the odds?

Harry:          What do you mean? You’re not going to have a bet, are you?

Sparky:        Why not? She’s got modelling experience, hasn’t she? [He raises his eyebrows and gives Harry a leer.]

Harry:          Yeah, but that’s the stockmarket. It’s different.

Sparky:        Come on. What’s the worst that could happen? I’ll chip in fifty if you will.

Harry:          What? Right now.

Sparky:        Of course. We’ve got a SkyBet account. Just press the red button on the remote.

Harry:          I’m not betting on Everton.

Sparky:        Get on with it.

Harry picks up the remote and goes to the SkyBet screen.

Sparky:        Now, you just click on ‘Premier League’ and it’ll give you all the odds. [Harry gets there in the end.] Cool. Everton 9-1. Time for mucho spondoolicks.

Harry:          I’m not betting on Everton. I’m just not.

Sparky:        Give it here. [He snatches the remote and plays about with it, entering the bet, the £50 stake and the other details.

Sparky:        Right. I’m all set. Your go…Go on.

Harry:          Oh, all right. But this is bullshit. [He starts entering his details.]

Sparky:        [In a parrot voice] That’s the way to do it.

The camera zooms in on the TV again…

Telly slot

  • Puppet vs pundit.

This is rather like those two Muppets who sit in the box at the side of the theatre – Statler and Waldorf – except that one of them is the real-life Andy Gray. He takes a topic or a player every week (eg “How good is Steven Gerrard?”) and gets into arguments about the game with the Statto-type nerdy puppet with glasses, who tries to prove his point with a bunch of stats.

Gray:           Hello, there, and welcome to this week’s bit of nonsense, where I get to play a puppet in disguise and the real puppet here gets to shoot all my ideas down in flames. God knows why I do this, but I couldn’t do it without Waldorf here [Waldorf nods] who knows nothing about football but everything about statistics – so we’ve given him a pair of glasses. [He hands the puppet a pair of NHS specs and helps him put them on.]

Waldorf:      Thank you, Andy.

Andy:          And what do you have for us this week, Waldorf.

Waldorf:      Well, I just wondered why we never saw a list of the best players. You have them all the time in cricket, where you get the best batting and bowling averages of all time, the best for England against Australia, the best for England vs Australia at Edgbaston, and the best for England vs Australia at Edgbaston during June with a left-handed groundsman who supports Manchester United! What you don’t get is the top ten footballers in England, so I thought I’d do it myself with the aid of a little magic from Merlin, my little laptop model. It’s a little tricky to use the keyboard with these [he holds up his paws], but I get by. And here they are. [The camera pans to the cinema screen, where a table is shown with the best players in England, ranked by their overall percentage goal ratio and showing their defensive and attacking goal ratios as well. Andy looks at it for a minute.] [The following table is just an example showing selected players. The real one would have 2004-5 numbers showing the percentage goal ratio – attack, defence and overall – plus points per game and value to their teams for the top ten Premier League players]

Name Club(Position)

Points Per Game

Value

(£mm/year)

Frank Lampard Chelsea (Midfielder)

0.41

5.8

Roy Carroll Man Utd (Goalkeeper)

0.41

5.7

Rio Ferdinand Man Utd (Defender)

0.25

2.8

Sylvain Distin Man City (Defender)

0.25

2.8

Yakubu Pompey (Forward)

0.05

1.1

Andy:          So, why do we have Roy Carroll in there, then? There’s no way he’s as good as Frank Lampard.

Waldorf:      I’m glad you said that, Andy, because he actually had a very good season last season. Now, there are a few possible explanations for this. The first is obviously that the model is wrong, and that’s possible. It’s very difficult to capture everything that happens on the football field and we don’t claim that our model is perfect, but it’s the best we’ve got. It’s also true that when people see numbers, their standards go up. While they’ll happily listen to a commentator saying, ‘He’s one of the best players around’, they’re a lot more picky when everybody gets a precise score and a ranking. There’s a lot more to argue about! The other question to ask is, ‘What do you mean when you talk about ‘the best players in the Premier League’?’ For most people watching football, reputations get built up over the course of five or ten years and not just a single season, so most would happily say Ryan Giggs is a better player than Stewart Downing, even if he happens to be having a very bad season. It’s also true that performing on the big occasion leaves a bigger impression on people than scoring in Chelsea’s  6-1 drubbing of Coventry…

Harry:          We were at that game! Do you remember?

Sparky:        I do indeed. I’m very touched. We had a bit of a moment there, didn’t we? [Harry shakes his head.]

Waldorf:      …while our model watches what every player does in every game. We’re just trying to tell people who played well and who played badly (after adjusting for the quality of the opposition), not trying to predict who would do well at international level or pick the England team.

Gray:           But what good is this model if it doesn’t try to predict the future? You measure a good manager by his ability to spot promising talent, but that’s not what this does. How can it help a manager looking for a new signing?

Waldorf:      Well, it may not predict the future, but it does tell managers what players are really worth. Have a look at an England XI. [This is an old example. The real one would have Cole in for Dyer and Robinson as well, updated for 2004-5.]

Value (£mm) Chelsea Arsenal Manchester United Liverpool Recommended Transfer?
Ashley Cole -30.8 -24.4 -14.1 -27.2

Too expensive

Sol Campbell 19.5 24.6 25.3 7.7

Move to Man Utd

Rio Ferdinand 9.4 14.9 17.2 0.5

Stay at Man Utd

Gary Neville -67.3 -59.1 -43.9 -50.9

Too expensive

Frank Lampard 30.6 -5.3 35.7 22.9

Move to Man Utd

Steven Gerrard -42.2 -64.1 -23.8 -28.9

Too expensive

Kieron Dyer 1.7 -31.9 13.1 1.8

Move to Man Utd

Phillip Neville -4.8 -37.0 8.5 -2.4

Stay at Man Utd

Michael Owen 16.3 10.5 0.4 46.2

Stay at Liverpool

Wayne Rooney -73.7 -77.0 -66.7 -25.9

Too expensive

Gray:           Well, it looks like most players are either at the wrong clubs or are not worth having in the first place, because they’re too expensive.

Harry:          [Shaking his head] That’s bollocks.

Waldorf:      That’s exactly right. Now, I know this is controversial, but, again, you have to understand what we’re trying to do here. We’re not saying these are all bad players and they won’t improve, but we’re saying that they’re far too well paid and highly valued for what they do, even Gary Neville and Wayne Rooney. What that shows is that it’s not just Chelsea that are trying to ‘buy’ success. If you want to win the title these days, you have to be prepared to sacrifice the shareholders. Owners and fans will always be in conflict in sport. Clearly, though, that doesn’t mean there aren’t one or two bargains out there. On this list, his name is Frank Lampard, and it’s amazing that Chelsea almost lost him last year. He suddenly realised that at fifty grand a week, he was getting a lot less than the other stars, so he threatened to move on if he wasn’t given a living wage. Chelsea had to decide whether he was worth it. They reckoned he was and persuaded him to stay by paying him an extra £30,000 a week. Now, that’s a lot of money in anyone’s money clip – apart from Roman Abramovich’s, of course! – but let’s just see what Merlin would have done.

[We see the first line of the table. As Waldorf talks us through the table, the subsequent lines are revealed. This needs updating for the 2004-5 season]

2003-04
Lampard vs Average Premier League Midfielder* +15.3%
Extra Points Per Season due to Lampard 4.9
Chelsea Wage Bill with Lampard £77.4m
Expected Wage Bill to get Extra Points £90.8m
Gross Value Added by Lampard Each Season (A) £13.4m
Lampard’s Latest Transfer Fee £11.0m
Comparable Fee – from Manchester United signings £7.5m
Lampard’s Transfer Premium (B) £3.5m
Length of Average and Lampard’s Own Contract (C) 5 years
Net Value Added After Transfer Adjustment (A-(B/C)) £12.7m
Weekly Wage Equivalent £295,000

He’s 15% better than average…which means he gets Chelsea an extra five points a season…The current wage bill is £77m…but you’d expect it to be more like £90m…which means Lampard is worth £13m a year. Now, the other side of the coin is the transfer fee. If you look at his latest transfer fee…and the comparable average fees paid by the top clubs…you’ll find Chelsea paid £3.5m extra for him…spread over five years…which means that the deal was worth around £13m to the club…and that means a whacking £295,000 a week.

Gray:           Well, it looks like Chelsea made the right decision, then, doesn’t it?

Sparky:        As I said the other night, sometimes thirty grand is a small price to pay…

You betcha!

Harry and Sparky are down at the pub, both drinking pints and screaming at the big screen, where Manchester United are playing Everton. Everton are 1-0 up in injury time.

Sparky:        Come on! You can do it. That Cahill is a genius. Come on!

Harry:          This’ll keep us top of the table if Man U lose.

Sparky:        [Jubilantly] And make us a grand richer!

Harry:          I can’t believe it. How did she do it? She doesn’t know anything about football.

Sparky:        [Teasing] Yeah, but I bet that Opta bloke was giving it to her. All those late nights at the office. All those lovely figures. It must have been so tiring for her. The poor girl.

Harry:          Oh, fuck off!

Sparky:        Yeah, right. Take it out on me. Just because she’s a gorgeous blonde with the brain the size of a planet who happened to turn you down for some spoddy stat-meister. But is she happy [he says, nodding mock-sympathetically]. Listen, [suddenly serious] I want you to make me a solemn promise.

Harry:          What’s that?

Sparky:        I want you to promise me that if Everton win, you’ll go out and screw this girl to the wall.

Harry:          That’s all I’ve wanted to do since I met her.

Sparky:        So, do you promise?

Harry:          Yes, if Man United don’t score from this corner. [We see the ball come across and Van Nistelrooy hits the bar with a header.] Oh, Jesus! That was lucky. If they don’t score, I’ll take the pledge.

Sparky:        I’ll drink to that. [He clinks glasses with Harry.]

Harry:          Look! They’ve had their three minutes. Why doesn’t he blow the whistle?

Sparky:        Almost there. Almost there. [We hear the referee blow for full-time.]

Both:           Yes!! [They hug each other and spill their pints.]

Harry’s mobile goes off. He answers it.

Harry:          Hello.

Maddy:       So, when are you taking me to Stamford Bridge, then?

Harry:          Ah, Maddy. You’re a treasure. How did you do it?

Maddy:       Oh, just a little Monte Carlo simulation I threw together this morning.

Harry:          Well, what are you doing Wednesday night? It’s the Champions League game against Bayer Leverkusen if you’re up for it.

Maddy:       Sure. That sounds good.

Telly slot

  • I am the law

Cut to Harry back at home watching TV with Sparky.

It’s a Call My Bluff-style variation on myth-buster with Urs Meier, Pierluigi Collina and Clive Thomas, giving three explanations, only one of which is true. Questions are designed to show people’s ignorance of various laws and recent rule changes. The question master is John McEnroe!

Meier:         …I think everyone knows when a player is offside. It’s quite simple.

Harry:          You’re the simple one, you bastard.

Meier:         You don’t get players and fans complaining at the referee because he has misunderstood the laws of the game.

Harry:          Oh, yeah? Tell that to all the England fans out there.

Meier:         They shout and swear because they think the assistant referee has made a mistake. But it’s very difficult sometimes, with forwards running towards goal and defenders running the other way to play offside. The only recent rule change is that there has to be clear space between the attacker and defender.

Harry:          Or between your ears!

McEnroe:    You cannot be serious. Pierluigi? Surely you can do better than that?

Collina:       A player is offside if he is in the opposition half and there is only the goalkeeper between him and the goal when the ball is played. The only exceptions are if the defender plays the ball or if the attacker is not interfering with play. Now that is the grey area, and that is why people do not like it when Ruud van Nistelrooy takes advantage of this. When someone plays a long ball to another attacker, he waits on the other side of the pitch and runs up in support. Now, he is not interfering with play and therefore not offside when the ball is played, but he has maybe a 10-yard head start on all the defenders. If Giggs, say, crosses the ball and van Nistelrooy scores, then the fans will be unhappy.

McEnroe:    You cannot be serious either, Pierluigi! Clive? You’re our last chance.

Thomas:     I think it is the other way round. Rather than assuming players are onside, the way to look at it is that everyone is offside when the ball is played unless he is either in his own half or he is not interfering with play or the ball is played by an opponent or there are two or more opponents who are level with him or nearer their own goal. Simple…

Sparky:        I think he’s right. There’s no mystery to the laws. It’s just that people like Graham Poll keep getting it wrong.

Harry:          Yeah, but what about the daylight there’s supposed to be between attacker and defender?

Sparky:        Well, it may be in the rules these days, but they never play to it. How many times have you seen an attacker given onside just because a thread of his shirt was ‘overlapping’ with the defender’s? It just doesn’t happen. That’s one of the problems in the game. There’s one set of rules in the rulebook and another set that refs play to. Then, if they get it wrong and happen to follow the book, they can always say, [in a whiny, mocking voice] ‘Well, it doesn’t say anywhere in the laws how much contact there has to be, just that there has to be contact’. There’s contact every single time players compete for the ball!

Harry:          Yeah, why didn’t Urs Meier think of that when he disallowed the England goal. Those continental referees seem to play to a whole different set of rules altogether. You raise your foot more than six inches and it’s ‘dangerous play’, and any time you dare to challenge the goalkeeper’s right to catch a high ball, it’s always a free kick.

Sparky:        Plus ca change…

Harry:          …As they say in Switzerland!

A match made in heaven

Harry and Maddy are walking up the steps to the stands at Stamford Bridge. Both are wearing jeans. Harry has a Chelsea shirt and scarf on, and Maddy a silk blouse and sweater. As they emerge, a massive roar greets them.

Maddy:       Wow! I never knew it could be like this.

Harry:          That’s what they all say, baby.

Maddy:       I meant the noise!

Harry:          Come on, let’s get sat down. We’re over here somewhere.

He leads her up the steps, and they sit down.

Harry:          So, do you actually know anything about football?

Maddy:       A bit more than most girls, I suppose.

Harry:          But not much.

Maddy:       Well, I’ve just never watched it. I’ve never even had a boyfriend who was a mad keen footie fan, so I didn’t have a reason to watch.

Harry:          Get the power of sport into your life, love. I’ve been a Chelsea fan nearly 25 years, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Maddy:       So who do you think’s going to win tonight?

Harry:          Oh, it has to be Chelsea, hasn’t it? With the form they’re in, they’ll give these Krauts a good hosing.

Maddy:       I bet you always say that, though.

Harry:          Most of the time, but you can’t go against your own team, can you?

Maddy:       Well, what’s the score going to be then?

Harry:          Oh, I don’t know. Maybe 1-0.

Maddy:       I reckon it’s going to be 4-1 to Chelsea.

Harry:          That’s a bit optimistic, even for me! Why do you think that, then? You haven’t got your laptop in that handbag, have you?

Maddy:       No, although I did bring a few notes [she says, rooting out a sheaf of papers from her handbag]. This is just all the stuff the model predicts. It’s not just the result that matters, you know. If you want to bet properly, you have to be able to say what the score is going to be.

Harry:          Who came up with that, then? You or the spotty nerd from Opta?

Maddy:       Now, then. I did all the modelling. He just gave me the data and explained how things worked.

Harry:          So what’s it based on? Do you get all that just from previous scores or what?

Maddy:       Well, the Opta guys record almost everything that happens on a football pitch, so I thought I’d tip everything into the mix and see what came out.

Harry:          What are the most important ones?

Maddy:       [Consulting her notes] For knowing how many goals you’re going to score, it’s shots on target, total shots and total attempts including blocked shots. If you have 10% more shots on target, you’ll get 9.8% more goals, so that’s really what you should be doing.

Harry:          I could have told you that.

Maddy:       The point is, most people could tell you it’s important, but what they wouldn’t know is exactly how important it is and which things are more or less important. If you’re defending, reducing those three things are three of the four most important things you can do, but the most important of all is clearances, blocks and interceptions – which I’ve lumped together. If you have 10% more of those, you’ll concede 4.3% fewer goals, so it’s not quite as clear-cut.

Harry:          [As the noise of the crowd rises and we see the players about to kick off] Well, I suppose that’s fair enough. We’ll just have to wait and see. It’s almost kick-off.

The referee blows and Bayer Leverkusen kick off. The midfielder plays a through ball too far for his striker, but John Terry steps on the ball and presents a gift to the Leverkusen striker, who chips in beautifully. The crowd goes silent.

Maddy:       [Jumping up] Oh, my God! That was amazing!

Harry:          [Pulling her down] Get down! Whose side are you on? If I’d done that, I’d have gone home in bits. You can’t sit in the Chelsea end and get all excited when the other team score, you know.

Maddy:       [Contritely] Sorry, Harry. I’m not used to it. I was just so excited. It was a well taken goal, though, wasn’t it? You’ve got to give me that one.

Harry:          Well, that may be, but I don’t think that was quite what most people were thinking when that went in. This is bad news.

Maddy:       Well, it may not be 2-0, but I’m still happy. [She squeezes his arm.]

Harry:          [Mollified] I suppose we’re going to score four times now, are we?

Maddy:       You never know…

Cut to a few minutes later, when Chelsea score after a free-flowing move. Harry and Maddy both jump up and cheer.

Cut to the same thing happening again, with a similar reaction.

Cut to the same thing happening again, when they give each other a hug this time.

When the fourth one goes in during injury time, they hug and exchange a long, passionate kiss.

Harry:          I can’t believe it!

Maddy:       What, us or the score?

Harry:          Both, I suppose. [The referee’s whistle blows.] Now I wish I’d put a bet on.

Maddy:       Well, I figured you wouldn’t, so I put a tenner on for each of us at 10-1. That sounded like good odds to me.

Harry:          Oh, you’re gorgeous! [He cups her face in his hands and kisses her firmly.] Come on, let’s try and beat the rush!

They leave and run hand in hand down to Harry’s BMW, parked in the car park. They drive home almost in silence, but looking at each other every now and then with a secret smile.

Cut to Harry’s place, where he unlocks the door and bounds in, dragging Maddy with him as they kiss passionately and impatiently. Sparky is on the sofa watching the post-match interviews.

Sparky:        Oh, hi, there, Har…

Before he has time to finish, Harry and Maddy have run upstairs, shedding clothing, handbags and shoes. They eventually make it to bed…

End credits and post script

Afterwards, Harry leans back against the headboard and reaches for the remote for the TV in his room.

Harry:          Fancy watching the highlights?

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