Swear on ‘the bible’

OH, it’s just a little thing, but it really got on my nerves.

I was researching for a interview with former Manchester City goalkeeper Joe Corrigan, whose new autobiography has just landed on my doormat as I write this. And I wanted to find out when he made his England debut, and who it was against.

So I turned to the international section of this season’s Sky Sports (formerly Rothman’s) Football Yearbook. And I discovered, to my annoyance, that the book no longer lists every international game played by anyone who has turned for England – only the number of caps they have won.

Fortunately, I still have my copy of last year’s Sky Sports (formerly Rothman’s), and so – with a bit of cross referencing, I was able to establish that Corrigan won the first of his nine England caps as a substitute in a 3-2 friendly win over Italy in New York on May 28, 1976.

As long as I keep my old copies of the Sky Sports (formerly Rothman’s), I’ll be fine with any player who made his international debut before the summer of 2007. But this is going to cause a lot of problems in years to come. (And yes, I know there’s Soccerbase on the web. But that has its problems too, which I’ll come to in a moment.)

The Football Yearbook was never flawless, but it was the most comprehensive, reliable place for football facts, statistics and information around from its first edition, published in 1970. As far as I’m concerned, it still is.

Sky Sports took over the sponsorship in 2003. I’ve heard conflicting stories about why Rothman’s pulled out; one account suggests it was due to the increasing restrictions on tobacco sponsorship in sport, another that it was a straightforward commercial decision. I’m happy to be enlightened, if anyone out there has the definitive answer.

The new sponsors have, by and large, stayed true to the spirit of the book. Until you get to the fixtures at the back.

All of the fixture changes for live Sky matches made before the book went to press are listed. However, none of the changes for Setanta’s live matches are. Now I wouldn’t expect a book sponsored by Sky to flag up the sports coverage of a rival. But I would expect it to tell the reader if the date or kick-off time of a match had changed.

For Setanta’s games, it doesn’t.

So for the opening day of the season, we have Arsenal v West Brom listed as a 12.45pm kick off, complete with an asterisk to indicate that the game is live on Sky. So far, fair enough. But there is nothing to indicate that Sunderland v Liverpool was a 5.30pm kick off that day.

To make matters more confusing, Tottenham’s game with Aston Villa is listed as taking place on Saturday, September 13 – even though it was known when the book went to press that the match had been put back to the Monday night.

The phrase “fixtures subject to change” has become an ever-more important caveat for the Premier League fan, with four top-flight games moved for television on the average weekend. But when a respected reference book is prepared to flag up some TV changes but not others, it renders their fixture guide next to useless.

For the first Sky Sports Football Yearbook, in 2003/04, Sky’s leading commentator Martin Tyler wrote the foreword. This was a nice touch, as Tyler had links with the old Rothman’s going back to 1973/74, when he helped proof-read the pages for editor Jack Rollin.

This year, the foreword was written by Chris Kamara, a man who has made an “unbelievable” catchphrase out of his own inarticulacy. Perhaps next year, they can get Sheephead from Soccer AM to write it.

In fairness to Sky, they cannot be held responsible for the ludicrous editorial decision to lump post-1992 First Division and Championship title wins together with pre-1992 Football League triumphs in their honours section. That began in the Rothman’s era.

As a result, the book would have you believe that Nottingham Forest have won the First Division twice. Strictly speaking, they have: in 1978 and 1998. But only one of those triumphs gets Forest fans all misty-eyed.

And so it is that I find myself increasingly relying on Soccerbase. The website is a brilliantly simple idea: a database of results, team line-ups and player appearances that all links together. For some things, such as the history of a fixture between two sides, it’s invaluable. If you want to know when Plymouth last won at Derby, as I do, because I’m covering that fixture a week tomorrow, it’s easy to look up. (October 1985.)

However, it’s not 100 per cent accurate. For instance, on August 28, 1991, Soccerbase would have you believe that Norwich beat Manchester City 1-0 at Carrow Road. They didn’t. It was a 0-0 draw. Am I being anal? Yes; yes I am. It’s a wonder I have any friends at all. But what’s the point of a statistics-based website with inaccurate statistics?

In addition, Soccerbase is not that helpful if you want to research player histories any further back than around 1996. Oh, and they insist on crediting Wimbledon’s 1988 FA Cup win to MK Dons.

I did, about a year ago, stumble across another superb stats website – Football Club History Database. It is ideal if you want to check quickly on clubs’ league and cup records. Want to know how many times Middlesbrough have reached the FA Cup quarter-finals over the last 20 years? This is your site.

Except that I found a flaw here a few days ago, too. I was researching an article for the Manchester Evening News about how many games Manchester City could end up playing this season. Having started their UEFA Cup campaign in July, I had a feeling it had the potential to be a club record.

Well, I worked out that City would end up playing 64 games if they reached the UEFA and FA Cup finals. (That was assuming no FA Cup replays.) I have a copy of the original official history of Manchester City, which goes up to 1987 and lists every league game, European tie and Lancashire Cup match that the Blues had ever played up to that point.

My back issues of the Rothman’s took me back to the mid-1990s, so I just had a seven-year hole in the middle to fill to check the current club record. When I got to the late 1980s, I suddenly realised that Football Club History Database had let me down – because it has no record of the Full Members’ Cup.

Remember the Full Members’ Cup? It was played between 1985 and 1992, was exclusively for First and Second Division clubs, and no one with any pretensions of winning the league title ever went anywhere near it. (It was also, just to complete the circle, the first English football tournament that Sky Sports won the rights for, back in the late 1980s.) City reached the first final, at Wembley, in 1986, and had a couple of half-decent runs in it thereafter.

Even though few people took the competition seriously at the time, it was a first-team tournament – albeit one that seems to have disappeared into the ether. But you can find most things on the web if you search long enough – and, astonishingly, there is a website that contains a complete history of results from the Full Members’ Cup.

As it turned out, City’s longest-ever season wasn’t from the Full Members’ Cup era – it was 1969/70, when Joe Mercer and Malcolm Allison’s team played 61 games on the way to winning the League Cup and the European Cup Winners’ Cup. But at least I could be certain of that, having checked it out properly.

It was a fact I needed to know for my article, and it was one I couldn’t have found in the Sky Sports Football Yearbook, on Soccerbase or even Football Club History Database.

All of which proves two things. 1) There is no football ‘bible’, no one-stop place to check any football fact. 2) I need to get out more.

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