Issue The Prediction Plague

As told by Michael Wood

Much of the maladies of the modern media can be put down to a move from reporting events as news to doing it as preview and prediction.

This is true in all spheres of life – I didn’t vote for Dave or Nick but I’m at least prepared until they do something I don’t care for before getting annoyed at them – and especially true in football that talking about a thing that may happen is given the same breath as talking about something that has.

So as we stand on the eve of the kick off if the 2010 World Cup there is barely an element of the next four weeks that is not speculated on.

The performance of various teams for sure is a subject as is the behaviour of Referees, the organisation of matches, the quality of football, the flight of the ball and the after effect on the host country.

Some interesting, others not, but surely not a problem. Prediction, aside from in gambling, never caused much of a problem.

It seems that prediction, which was once the province of the pundit, is the stock in trade of the watercooler and everyone is fulsome in their opinion.

Where once a confident Cloughie would talk of events to come as if he were recalling the past now everyone relates the future as if it were past events. From Rodney Marsh and his damnation of City in the Premiership to that bloke Roger who wants to tell you England will be knocked out in the quarter finals and that you can’t look past Germany everyone seems to want to tell you what will happen, rather than telling you what they thought about what has.

As an example consider Joe Colbeck the ginger haired right winger who divided opinions for City for a few years. Those who had decided that Joe would never make it as a professional football heaped abuse on him in games. Science has a law about it – the act of observation changes the result – but in common parlance they tried to nobble him.

Which is to hit on the problem with prediction in that the predictor too often attempts to ensure that what they have said comes to pass, or at least seems to.

So football writers who dismiss Emile Heskey devote column inches since his selection to talk about what a bad decision it was rather than waiting for the outcome of that selection and reporting.

In that reporting too one can often – when reading the back pages or the front – wonder if an even hand is given or if the agenda supported is to ensure the prediction appears to be right unless proved manifestly wrong.

One has to wonder what the point of prediction that England will lose in the quarters are or that Spain will win the World Cup. These things will be evidenced in short order.

There is a chap – nice chap – who sits in front of me at Valley Parade who confidently declares “Its in” whenever the opposition put a cross into City’s box. Should the ball be converted he will nod and grimly state “Told you” but should – as most often occurs – the ball be cleared he will not confirm his mistake nor acknowledge it. It is harmless enough but also pointless enough the only real analysis being that sometimes the ball goes in and sometimes it does not.

Pick any of the teams kicking off in South Africa this week and one could say the same. Sometimes they win, sometimes they don’t but being wise after the fact if a prediction is correct – particularly a negative prediction that something will not happen rather than something will – is hardly impressive.

I could predict that Spain will not win the World Cup but considering how infrequent wins are and the fact 31 other teams are trying to it is probable that they will not. I could predict that Peter Taylor will leave Bradford City without the club having been promoted and considering that of the club’s near 100 seasons of play only eight of them have resulted in elevation I’d be favoured by probability that I would be correct.

Predicting negatively – saying what will not happen – has never impressed me and I predict it never will.

If predicting what will not is easy then saying what will is guess work and one easily becomes the guy warning if crosses coming into the box. Often one is proved right in the fullness of time but only because eventually all things happen. My brother is keen to point out that for the one time he was wring about Southampton being relegated from the top flight he had been accurate in saying they would not many times previously.

Me, I prefer to wait and see for England, for the other nations and for City. Reporting on what has happened is analysis, saying what will is guess work.

It is astrology vs astronomy. I could tell you, fear reader, that I see a last four if England, The Dutch, Brazil and Ivory Coast and that with gun to my head I’d say Holland but I’d much rather talk about why those guesses are proved wrong – should they be – than take credit for sooth saying if they are right.