The Best Start To a Season Since…

by | Oct 2, 2019

Autumn’s here, and that means that Gavin Saxton has something that he rather needs to get off his chest.

Winter is coming. The geese have arrived, the nights are closing in, it’s getting colder, and … the “best/worst start to a season” season is in full swing. This season hits its peak around September/October time, but it actually goes on for several months, from August to around mid-December, with occasional stragglers even having been known to linger into the new year. During this period, reading or watching any sports coverage is a dangerous business, because at any moment some lazy halfwitted footie journalist might be about to announce that Kickaball FC have had their “best start to a season since 1904.”

The question is – what is a “start”? And the answer is straightforward – a “start” is whatever number or selection of games suits you best in order to be able to produce this meaningless piece of reportage. It can be anything from about two to maybe eighteen games, which gives you a pretty large number of sample points to choose from; granted there’s a fair degree of correlation between these data points, but nonetheless there’s at least a fighting chance that any given club, at some point within that period, will happen to record their highest or lowest points total after some number of games, at least for the past decade or two.

Again there are no rules on how many years must pass – “worst start since 2017!” is not a headline that’s going to make many waves: as a general guideline try and make it at least a ten year gap. But once again you can make it up as you want here – the important thing is, you have to be ready to spot it, and as soon as you do, you have to pounce, and be ready to pull your “best start since 1973!” factoid out to the amazement of absolutely no one.

Occasionally in red letter years a team can even have both. In 2012/13 Crystal Palace lost their first three games before going on a storming run that took them top of the table after around fifteen games, and were declared to have had both their worst and best starts to a season (since 1726 and 1468, respectively) – almost certainly by the same journalists. And whole new vistas open up if you can choose either to include or ignore cup games, to suit.

Last year Liverpool were declared to have had their best start to a season (since 1281, at any rate) by winning their first seven games – which included a European game. This season, they’ve lost their first European game, but you can be sure this isn’t going to stop anyone from hailing their best start to a season again (since 683 BC) if they win a couple more league games. Charity Shields are likewise a very useful thing to be able to count or not count, as suits you best.

Now don’t get me wrong, the fact that a team has achieved their lowest ever points tally after, say, eight games, can be a mildly interesting stat in itself – if quoted like that. I am after all a cricket fan, so I’m all for an obscure data point. In the last Oval Test, England became the first Test side ever to bowl a team out twice without any bowlers taking a wicket in both innings; Joe Denly, during the summer, became the first England player to top score in two Test innings with scores of 23 or fewer; in 2012 Mitchells Johnson and Starc became the only two bowlers to share all ten wickets of a Test innings while also sharing the same first name. I love all that stuff.

But football doesn’t seem to be able to do this sort of statting on its own terms without taking it out of context and ratcheting it up to a new level of hyperbole. If you want to give the stat, give the stat and give it properly. If, however, you just want to be able to take any opportunity to say “best!” or “worst!” at every opportunity then go and commentate on Strictly or something instead, it’ll suit that better and I’ll never have to see it.

So please. I don’t know how many footie journos follow twohundredpercent these days – and I suspect the ones that do aren’t the ones I need to reach. But I’m asking you, if you can cut just one lazy cliché out of your journalistic vocabulary, make it this best/worst start nonsense. (And if you can make it two, then make the other one “should’ve scored” – that one really annoys my dad. Thanks.)