We had been warned that his illness was terminal, but this didn’t make his passing much less of a shock. The death of football statistician Tony Kempster, reported this morning, brings to a close the story of a man that arguably has brought more than anyone else to non-league football over the last ten years or so. Born and raised in Harefield, Middlesex he graduated in Mathematics and Statistics from Bradford University and spent most of his adult life in Yorkshire. Awarded the FSF’s annual award for Services to Supporters last year, Tony had been fighting cancer for a year before succumbing to the disease. He kept his followers on his website informed until the very end, and died yesterday evening at 7.45.
What, though, was so special about his site? After all, there was no jazzy design and to the end it was so unassuming that it didn’t even carry a name other than being “Tony’s Non-League Football Site”. The skill was all in the detail. Kempster seemed to revel in the statistics that bring the game alive, as if he could read as much into a team sheet, an attendance figure and list of the result and the goalscorers as you can into any amount of florid description. Moreover, “Tony’s Non-League Football Site” was impartial without being aloof or distant. In an era in which it seems sometimes as if it is almost impossible to just get the facts without the writer telling you what he thinks of them, Tony’s site did nothing more or less than tell you what had happened and what might happen in the future. To say that it was an invaluable resource to fans of the non-league game is no understatement.
His site explains the byzantine structure of the non-league game in a clear and concise fashion. How many people might have drifted away from this dauntingly tangled web of leagues and cups had his site not been there to guide them through it? We’ll probably never know. What we know for sure, however, is borne out – appropriately enough – by the statistics. It has been said that around 200,000 people checked his site every Saturday, and that almost 300,000 checked it on the last day of the non-league season.
In a typically unassuming way, Tony’s illness was communicated through a series of messages so dispassionate that one momentarily might have wondered he was actually ill in the first place. This, however, was the statisticians way of doing things. He sought no legacy (the site that bears his name was suspended at the end of last season and a replacement to be started for the new season seems unlikely to do so), but the outpouring of tributes that has been forthcoming over the last twenty-four hours and the fact that his congregation are so prepared to pick up his baton and carry on his excellent work demonstrates the depth of affection for a man who gave so much to the game for asked so little in return.