Utility men

Scores are a barely adequate way of describing the outcome of a football match. For example, at the start of a game the position is described as 0-0; if it is still 0-0 at the end of the game it would suggest that nothing has changed. In the intervening 90 minutes much has changed, not least a point has been won. The point describes the ‘utility’ that is gained from the game. That is, not the output (the basic product) but the outcome (benefit).

However this also fails to fully describe the position. Added to this are several weightings – for example, the nature of the opponent – a 0-0 draw away to the team at the top of the table is considered far better than a 0-0 draw at home to the team at the bottom. Then there’s the context of the table and the season – three points against the team at the top is less valuable than a point against the team at the bottom if the latter score line means promotion and the former means relegation.

Added to this is the general fortune of the club; happiness is not a common currency when you’re a football fan and it pays to be miserable. Manchester United and Chelsea fans gain far less utility from a victory than Torquay, or ourselves.

Then, if goals are scored, each one carries a proportionate weighting; the first goal is has the most utility because it is a release of pressure, the second is a relief, the third is party time and all subsequent goals are simple fun. You don’t jump around like an insane baboon, you simply stand up and clap with a smug grin on your face. These effect is counteracted by any goals conceded.

There was a palpable sense of disinterest pulsating through the Kassam last night; the title has gone, the play-offs – a rusty consolation prize – appear a formality. All the utility weightings have been set to zero – win, lose or draw, score or don’t score, it didn’t really feel like any of it mattered. Jim Smith‘s baffling team selection suggested that either his bottle has gone (4 wins in 5, a blip on Saturday so completely transform the team and system?) or, more likely, he is sharpening up the fringe players in preparation for the run in.

In fact, it rather back fired, there was no interest in scoring a goal, let alone winning the match because there was no utility from doing so. It would be unfair to suggest that we scored no goals – but there isn’t a numeric sign for a disinterested shrug. We strolled around waiting for May to come. Kidderminster were probably the best team to have played at the Kassam, and we may have been beaten by a ‘worldy’, but this is what happens when complacency sets in.

Unfortunately, it is way too early to start easing up and experimenting, like a middle distance runner qualifying for a major final, we need to be careful that we’re not run out of it. It shouldn’t take much to avoid it, but we’re not quite good enough to turn on the style like a tap. Jim Smith has got to figure out how to manage this run-in, and fast.

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Oxblogger is a blog about Oxford United.

2 thoughts on “Utility men

  1. The previous post was “A Duff Idea”. Much the same could be said of the concept of applying the concept of “utility” to a football match, in which context it can only describe anything if it is shorn of all its particular meaning.Using economic terms to describe human needs and behaviour in general is unhelpful. And tendentious. And worse.


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