Rob Minto

Sport, data, ideas

Month: May 2016

Sport Geek #44: freak wins, poor cousins, and surefire failures

God, the sport just keeps on coming, doesn’t it? A friend the other day posted to a WhatsApp group: “England played and won a rugby game today, a fact I have only just discovered”. Amid the French Open, international football, drug stories, Mourinho and GP, there it was: England beating Wales, scoring five tries in the process. Did you miss it? I did.

Is there too much sport? There have always been four golf majors, four tennis slam events, and one FA Cup. But now there are 21 F1 GPs, a move to expand the Champion’s League, more cricket, more golf and tennis events packaged as premium. Rugby summer tours; football summer tours. Cricket all year. Athletics World Championships every two years. It’s exhausting.

Ironically, the Americans seem to be the only nation to keep things in check. The NFL? 16 game season since the 70s. NBA? The 82-game schedule has been around for ages, as has the MLB 162 games. Where’s the fixture inflation there? Although to be fair, that’s quite a lot already.

Sometimes, less is more. Let’s just hope the Euros, Olympics and World Cup stick at the 4-year cycle. Otherwise our heads will explode.

So to the choice items of the week. Accept no other substitutes. Continue reading

Sport Geek #43: chops, meteors, and brawls

Welcome. Let’s get on with it, shall we?


Why are there no English batsmen with over 10,000 Test runs (Cook’s impending milestone excepted)? Because England we’re shit in the 90s. (Me / FT).

Stuff you learn: chop. As in, why is Chris Gayle such a chop? (Guardian)


How it all went wrong for Louis van Gaal. (BBC). How one tackle by a bouffant Arsenal defender changed football forever (Vice). How Newcastle‘s theory of ‘winning’ totally screwed up (theallrounder). And how West Ham’s stadium defence is “bullshit” (Vice again).

Brilliant: measuring the cliche of tough places to go… (S Chicken) and talking of cliches, don’t abuse Michael Owen. (Vice) Continue reading

Sport Geek #42: cheap sumo, the rain in Spain, and Pop’s pops

No grand thoughts this week – just 10 bits of quality writing to make you feel smarter.

“People are celebrating Olympic champion winners, but we are sitting crazy and replacing their urine.” Amazing quote in a NYTimes story of how dozens of Olympians could be barred from Rio after 2008 blood samples have been retested. And there’s more to come.

NFL careers are short. No wonder many are preparing for a life after football at business school. (FT, free)

A wonderful interview with Ben Stokes, England’s most explosive cricketer. (Guardian)

STATS! An interesting look at how run rates change across a T20 innings. (DW)

Controversial cheap moves in sumo and hundreds of years of greatness compared – it can only by FiveThirtyEight.

If you thought Sir Alex Ferguson was tough on the media, check out the NBA’s Gregg Popovich. The problem is, he isn’t just slapping down journalists. He is doing the fans – the ultimate paymasters – a disservice. (The big lead) Continue reading

Sport Geek #41: What Trump and Leicester City have in common


Perhaps we should all just go and re-read the Black Swan.

Leicester City’s Premier League triumph and Donald Trump’s road to the GOP nomination may seem like strange things to compare, but they are probably the two most unlikely major things that have happened this year.

These were not simply one-off unlikely single events. They are long-run wins, persistently written off by the media until they were a near certainty. Now both events are seen as game-changing: Trump has “already changed US and world politics… Themes and ideas that were on the fringes have now entered the political mainstream, and they will not disappear if and when Mr Trump loses”, according to the FT’s Gideon Rachman. Leicester have shown how “every club in the league now has the financial capacity to compete” according to the Telegraph.

The odds were both ridiculous for a limited field. There are 20 Premier League teams: for one to be 5000-1 to win the title is extreme, as was Trump’s 2 per cent chance given by FiveThirtyEight.

What comes next? Here the contrast is stark. Most neutrals hope that Leicester can have a decent-to-good run next season, while hoping that Trump’s campaign at best stalls, or preferably implodes. The tragic outcome would be the reverse.

And so to the matters of the week. Continue reading

Sport Geek #40: replays, Rio, and Ranieri

A shorter newsletter this week because, you know.

You might be rather full of how-amazing-greatest-sporting-upset-ever-what-were-the-odds-5000-to-1 Leicester by now, but it still is a brilliant thing.

A few parting thoughts.

The Premier League is set up to keep the rich clubs on top. In the US the big main sports have three levellers: the draft, salary caps, and a knock-out playoff format which makes the winner more of a lottery. In the UK, a 38-game league format plus performance-related cash means the whole system is stacked to maintain the status quo. Previously, only oligarch money has broken the stranglehold at the top.

So do Leicester represent something new? Perhaps: Tottenham look good for another title run, and teams such as Southampton showed in the last few years that it is possible to challenge – for a while. West Ham look promising too.

The counter is that it is a fluke, a one-off, and nothing like it will happen again. Either way, this is a season to savour.


There have been sooooo many articles, it’s hard to choose. First, there’s the deep dive: the Guardian has the inside story of an extraordinary season. It’s a good read. What convinced Leicester to appoint Claudio Ranieri? Why are injured players pitchside at training on exercise bikes? And what have been the keys to a remarkable Premier League success?

Next, let’s go econ. Gavyn Davies does a great job on the odds and economics of football.

Lastly, the Economist on sporting upsets.

That should do it. Continue reading

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