Back of the Net!

Follow our particular coverage of the Euro 2012 tournament here.

‘You cannot compare football and politics’, said the Greek player Georgios Samaras the other day.  Still, we thought we’d give it a try.

For the last two weeks, we’ve been tweeting a series of Euro2012 tweets, mixing up football and politics.  How well were Euro countries doing against non-Euro countries?  Or constitutional monarchies against republics?  Which country had the largest Parliament?  Which games pitted unicameral against bicameral parliaments?

Most people got that it was a bit of fun, and we had lots of positive tweets back.  Every now and again someone took it all rather literally: ‘What difference will that make? It’s a football match’.  Well, thanks, we did kinda know that…

Anyone who’s read the brilliant Soccernomics, however, will know that some factors do matter.

Just as in Soccernomics, it was no surprise to discover that population size and GDP were both good predictors of a country’s footballing success.  Population size and points achieved in the first three matches – those of the group stages – correlated at 0.36; GDP and points correlated at 0.55. Or, for those who don’t like correlation coefficients, here’s another way to look at it: of the countries with a population of below 30 million, five are out, just three remain; of the countries with a population of above 30 million, five are in, just three are out.  Similarly, of the countries with GDP of above $1,000,000,000,000, five are still in, only one is out.  Of those with a lower GDP, just three are still in, seven are out.

Our other, more political, criteria proved less successful as predictors of success.  Despite initially struggling (it took five matches until a Euro Country beat a non-Euro one), by the time all the group games had been played, the Euro countries had managed 1.5 points per game (ppg), those outside 1.3 ppg.  And we found similarly small, or non-existent, differences when we compared constitutional monarchies (1.3 ppg) vs republics (1.4 ppg), or former communist countries with those from the West (1.4 ppg each) (we split Germany 50/50).

Countries with bicameral parliaments (1.5 ppg) marginally outperformed those with unicameral parliaments (1.3 ppg), although given that that bicameralism is a proxy for population size – larger countries being more likely to have bicameral parliaments – we expected a larger effect, if anything.  (Similarly, the size of a country’s Parliament – another proxy for population size – and its points in the group stages correlated at 0.49).  Former Imperial Powers (1.8 ppg), however, outperformed non-Imperial Powers (1.0 ppg).

The currently very fashionable spirit level thesis – crudely put, that things are better the more equal a country is – provided absolutely useless at predicting anything (a correlation between the Gini coefficient of income equality and points of just -0.08).  Praying doesn’t seem to help either: the correlation between a country’s belief in God and points in the group games was an even more feeble-0.03.  (For the record: Catholic countries:1.5 ppg; Protestant countries 1.3 ppg; Orthodox countries: 1.2 ppg).

Similarly, whilst tweets about the percentage of women in a country’s Parliament proved popular (when Ukraine played Sweden, for example, it pitted the country with largest percentage of female parliamentarians against the one with the lowest percentage) there was overall no relationship between the feminisation of a parliament and a country’s success at football (a correlation of just 0.06).  Ditto for variables like the country’s Transparency International Index (just -0.10), or its Freedom House Score (-0.02), or its Press Freedom Index Score (0.03).  You can be as corrupt as you like and it won’t make an impact on the football pitch.

And whilst there is something lovely about the fact that the country that spends the lowest percentage of GDP on defence (Ireland) was also the country that conceded most goals (the correlation between Goal Difference and GDP on defence was 0.30, or about as important as population size), we doubt very much any attempt to establish a Military Industrial Football Complex is going to work.

But here’s a thing.  There has been a relationship so far between a country’s age of consent and its success in the tournament so far.  The correlation between age of consent and points is -0.54, effectively the same strength of relationship as GDP, and negative, meaning that the lower a country’s age of consent, the better it has done.  Of the countries with ages of consent of 16 or 17, four are out, just two remain.  Of those with ages of 13 to 15, six remain, four are out. It’s obviously spurious (or at least we assume so?), but we’ve no idea what’s causing it.  Ideas below, please.

And so onto the next seven games… It is now an entirely EU affair, with all but two of the eight remaining countries also being in the Euro.  The first Quarter-Final pits a unicameral parliament against a bicameral one, an ex-communist country against one from the West, one of just two non-Euro countries against a Euro country, and the country with the (joint) highest belief in God of the 16 against the one with the lowest belief in God.  And, on the basis of what we’ve seen so far, none of that should matter at all…

Philip Cowley

N.B. You can now see all the Euro 2012 tweets on our Storify account.

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