Chance and goal scoring in association football

Martin Lames (2018) observed in a recent paper, Chance involvement in goal scoring in football – an empirical approach:

If one accepts the selected chance variables as indicators of uncontrollable or not planned aspects of scoring, the results of this study can be taken as empirical proof for the existence and widespread prevalence of chance involvement in goal scoring in football with many interesting consequences.

Martin looked at goals scored in the Bundesliga (n=875) and the Premier League (n=1056) in the 2011-2012 season. Martin defined chance in goal scoring “as goals involving uncontrollable or not planned aspects”. His analysis led him to identify six ‘chance variables’ (and their frequency):

  • defence involvement (22.5%)
  • long distance shots (13.1%)
  • rebound (9.5%)
  • post/bar (5.2%)
  • deflection (4.8%)
  • goalkeeper involvement (2.5%)

Martin undertook a lapsed-time analysis of each goal scored from video recordings of the goals in the two leagues in the 2011-2012 season.

The analysis was contextualised:

In order to study possible influences on the rate of chance goals, additional variables that are frequently cited as influencing match performance were collected per goal. The game situation was classified in both open play and set plays such as corner, free kick and penalty. Time of the match was characterized with the six 15 min intervals and stoppage-time. Standings were recorded from the perspective of the scoring team and with the number of goals scored so far. The location of a match (home or away) was registered, as well as the ranking of the goal scoring and receiving teams in the season’s final table.

Martin noted that “the global chance score for the Bundesliga was 46.9% and for the Premier League 47.2%.

In his conclusion, Martin noted “chance is associated with neither time-line nor home advantage”.

He adds:

The involvement of chance in constitutive aspects of the game, creating chances and scoring, may be assumed to be typical for the game rather than exceptional. (My emphasis)

This quote took me back to Charles Reep and Bernard Benjamin’s (1968: 585) conclusion:

An excess of shots by one team does not mean that, by chance, the other side will not get more goals and thus win the match. All this is so far removed from current soccer beliefs and tactics that general acceptance of the random element has been inhibited (though one of us, C. R., has shown that a successful style of play can be built upon it). It seems, however, that chance does dominate the game and probably most similar ball games. (My emphasis)

Martin includes Charles and Bernard’s paper in his literature review as a ‘classic study’. Amongst other references, Martin cites his own early work in this area (1999) and the follow up to the 1968 paper by Charles Reep, Richard Pollard and Bernard Benjamin (1971). In that latter paper, the authors note “since the chance of a goal being scored is not constant throughout a match, but is affected by prior scoring and other factors …” (1971: 624)

I D Hill (1974) also looked at chance in association football. He observed in his introduction:

I find it difficult to imagine that anyone, who had ever watched a football match, could reach the conclusion that the game was either all skill or all chance. That both skill and chance are involved seems too obvious. (1974: 203)

He concludes “using the classical significance test approach an inference can be made that skill does play some part in football”. (1974: 204) (See also, M J Maher’s (1982) analysis of a season.)

I am delighted that Martin has refocused discussions about chance in association football. There is a rich literature to explore that invites us to consider within game and between game ‘chance variables’ as they apply to individual teams as well as leagues as a whole.

Photo Credits

Strafraumszene (Mightymightymaze, CC BY-NC 2.0)

Malouda (Ben Sutherland, CC BY 2.0)

Coincidence, Serendipity and Synchronicity

An item on Radio National’s Book Program introduced me to Shane Maloney and Chris Grosz’s Australian Encounters. It is a “little book of literary trivia about chance meetings, and some influential ones too, between writers, politicians, artists, singers and activists.”

Subjects in the book include Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise, Donald Bradman and Boris Karloff, Margaret Fulton and Elizabeth David, Michael Hutchence and Kylie Minogue, Nana Mouskouri and Frank Hardy, Martina Navratilova, Winston Churchill, Gandhi, Brian Burke, Henry Kissinger, Allen Ginsberg, Robert Menzies, Helena Rubinstein, and many more according to news of the book’s publication.

I had not seen Shane and Chris’s Encounters when they appeared in The Monthly. Shane notes that:

As the title suggests, these are snapshots depicting a connection, relationship or meeting between famous or notorious Australians or, occasionally, an Australian and a famous foreigner. However unlikely they sometimes appear, all are real – and as accurate as I can make them, based on historical documents or interviews with the people concerned.

This is an example … Bob Hawke and Frank Sinatra.

As I listened to the interview I thought of the words we use about meeting important people in our lives … coincidence, chance, synchronicity, serendipity, happenchance, fortune, fate, destiny. I remembered too discussions long ago about the role serendipity plays in qualitative field research and the classical example of Robert and Helen Lynd’s Middletown studies.

More recently Allen Foster and Nigel Ford (2003) have observed that serendipity is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as: “The faculty of making happy and unexpected discoveries by accident.” It first appeared in a letter Horace Walpole sent to Sir Horace Mann on 28 January 1754.  They note that “Serendipity has been considered in the literature to form an integral part of the creative process in the arts and humanities, social sciences and the sciences. In each, however, the experience of serendipity may be different.”

I like Seth Baker’s approach to Happenchance:

Happenchance is for anyone who wants to do things better: creative people, adventurers, travelers, wanderers, and dreamers. Anyone who won’t settle for the status quo, who wants to rise above mediocrity and conformity, and do something exciting, amazing, or engaging.

This site is for people with an open and relaxed attitude towards life.

  • People whose passion and interests take them in new and unexpected directions.
  • People who don’t mind trying new things.
  • People who aren’t afraid of failing.
  • People willing to embrace chance and serendipity.

I believe that by making our own luck, embracing chance, and working hard, we all have the opportunity to make our lives richer, more satisfying, and more fun.

If you have an opportunity to listen to the Book Show interview with Shane Maloney then your journey will start with a story of a chance meeting with a young poet, Leonard Cohen, on a Greek Island, the purchase of a blue raincoat and someone called Marianne. Perhaps the chance encounter with this post will lead you on your own reflections about meeting people who have helped to establish your identity.

Photo Credits

To meet by chance


Unexpected meeting


Qu'est-ce que la chance?

Whilst catching up with my Facebook account, by chance, I found a post from a friend that linked me to this video Qu’est-ce que la chance ? on a French comedy site (‘Rechercher dans la plus grosse base d’humour de francophonie’).

There was no embed code for the video so having tried Vodpod, I used WordPress’s Press This to form the link to the video and embed it here.

If you go to the link it contains some remarkable visual examples of chance (or fate). I was predisposed to share this by a post in Stephen Downes OLDaily with a link to Karyn Romeis’s post. Both discuss the distinction between giving and sharing.

Does someone give us luck, is it shared with us or do we make our own luck? (This prompted me to revisit the Atheist Bus Website for inspiration.)


Photo credit