Bray Wanderers resume their 2020 First division league season with a home game against Cobh Ramblers at the Carlisle Grounds on Friday, 31 July. Due to Covid restrictions the match will be played with only 200 people allowed into the ground on the evening. This includes staff, players, media and a very limited number of spectators.
Due to the limited attendance there will be no match day programme printed. Instead our regular match day programme articles from Michael Duffy, Brian Quigley and Mícheál Ó hUanacháin will appear as part of our match preview on the website.
Friday’s game is the 36th meeting of Bray Wanderers and Cobh Ramblers in all competitions. Wanderers have won 19 of the previous 35 meetings with Cobh winning just six times. The sides have met 30 times in the league with Wanderers winning 17 and Cobh winning five times.
Cobh Ramblers have failed to win on their last thirteen league visits to the Carlisle Grounds and its over 22 years since the Ramblers managed to win in Bray in any competition. Their last win in the Carlisle grounds was a 2-1 victory in the Shield competition in January 1998. It’s almost 29 years since Cobh Ramblers last won a league game at the Carlisle Grounds which was a 2-0 win on 21st April 1991.
The results between the sides last season were even with one win apiece and one drawn game. Joe Doyle scored the winner for Wanderers in the league meeting at the Carlisle Grounds in March 2019. Ian Turner scored the winner for Cobh in St. Coleman’s park in May. The last meeting between the sides ended in a dramatic 3-3 draw at the Carlisle Grounds in August.
Cobh recorded their only league win this season in their last league outing in February with a 3-2 win over Athlone Town at St. Coleman’s Park. Brian Murphy, David Hurley and Ian Turner were their goal scorers. They were beaten in their two other league games to date, losing to Drogheda United (0-2) at home and a narrow 1-0 defeat away to UCD.
Bray Wanderers have only played two league games to date after the scheduled game away to Longford Town was postponed due to a flooded pitch. Wanderers were defeated away to Cabinteely (2-4) and beat Wexford FC (2-0) at home.
A Fresh Start
Mícheál Ó hUanacháin looks at our game as the 2020 season returns – or perhaps starts over.
There are League of Ireland fans active now, people who have been following teams and attending matches for years, but who have no experience of what’s happening at the moment. Because make no doubt about it, this is the start of a new season.
Because of a disease that spread across the world since last December, we have had a ‘closed season’ longer than any before, since 2020’s League campaign got off to an abortive start last February only to be pulled up short a few bare weeks later.
The few games played then, perhaps especially in the First Division, are little or no use as a guide to form as we end a new ‘pre-season’ and enter the real thing this weekend. It’s a lot more like the start of an old-style winter season, the one that used to parallel the British and most of the other European leagues. We haven’t played a full one like that since 2001/2 (the last winter season, 2002/3, was a truncated one).
And this will not be a full season, either. Many voices have been raised in the game arguing about what should be done about incomplete tournaments. Some have already been played to a finish, others have been closed incomplete, with the ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ decided by their latest table positions. Even more complicated formulae were suggested, including ones based on goal averages, which used to be a way of deciding tied places in the past, but those were generally rejected this time.
But make no doubt about it, this is going to be a very different season.
Bray Manager Gary Cronin is fully aware of it. It will be shorter than planned, but the prize remains the same – promotion. Every club relegated from the Premier Division yearns to return as soon as possible, and in that context 2019 was a bit of a disappointment.
“We lacked consistency during the last season, and we didn’t get where we wanted to be” he told me last week. He went on to explain that consistency, one of the crucial elements of a winning formula, is also one of the key things you can’t train into players.
The recent pre-season friendlies sort of emphasised that, in a way. It is hard to imagine the team that lost heavily to Cabinteely in a downpour last February beating Premier Division side Waterford, as they did last week, although beating Wexford the following Friday, all those locked down months ago, might indicate a team that could manage a draw away to Shelbourne.
But perhaps that also hides a significant change in the quality of football now being played in the First Division. “There’s a lot more tactical play in the division now than there was the last time Bray was there.” says Gary. “And there’s less difference between the two divisions in approach.”
“Sometimes people argue that you need a proven striker,” he goes on, “but what they really mean, I think, is a player who has what I call an instinct for goal. Sadly, it’s another thing you can’t train players for. They either have it or they haven’t.
“All the plans in the world depend on someone, at the end of a build-up, knowing the right moment to strike and seizing it. Some players do that almost without thinking. Others, and again you can’t train for this, can only do it if the plan calls for it”.
Military leaders have known this for some time – that no battle plan survives the first contact with the enemy. In various forms, military strategists like the Prussians Carl von Clausewitz and General Theodore von Moltke, the brilliant Napoleon and on to ‘Ike’ Eisenhower in the Second World War have expressed a similar thought. It may have been first outlined by the Chinese General Sun Tzu, who wrote The Art of War somewhere around 500 BC.
Just because it’s old doesn’t mean it has lost its reality. “I can draw all I like on the tactics board in the dressing room. I can’t take the board onto the pitch, though, and even if I could no matter how good my plan may be, there’s another team out there with its own plan. That’s where plans break down” says Gary.
There’s another element to be factored in, too: there’s a danger in over-planning. “You can’t spoon-feed the players” he says. And perhaps even if you could, you shouldn’t have to: the tactics board has to stay in the dressing room.
Cronin is echoing many managers before him when he muses that “The game is unpredictable”. In a sense, that’s why we like it, but it’s also what makes the manager’s role a difficult one. He tries a variety of plans, he tries to instil a general view of how to manage a game, he can’t train consistency, he can’t train an instinct for goal.
He can expect his senior players to encourage the inexperienced ones – and even to notice when it’s time for players who have been rushing around to take it a little easier for a few minutes. He can try to build a squad that can expect the unexpected, and take steps to deal with it.
The unexpected, after all, is what you have to expect in football.
COVID-19 was unexpected, and the lockdown it brought with it was unprecedented. The only uncertainty facing us now is whether we’ll win tonight, taking each game as it comes. And whether the global enemy will take a hand to halt our sport again.
Fingers crossed, on both counts.
‘Ranking Full Stop’ Brian Quigley
1992 was a memorable year for football; not only did it see the introduction of the English Premiership, it was the year that gave birth to the FIFA World Rankings. I’m a fan of the rankings, although I’d be a fool not to acknowledge the blatant flaws they have had over the years.
I think my liking of the rankings stems from my liking of music. Growing up the weekly singles and albums charts were a constant topic of conversation amongst my friends. Everything seemed to be in order with the world if there was a current chart, and if there was a current chart then somebody had to be Top of the Pops, Number One.
Then again maybe my fondness for the FIFA list is a mathematics thing. I’ve always liked maths, and the various ways that the FIFA rankings have been calculated over the years have had a mathematical appeal, even though they have been far from foolproof.
Germany were the first nation to head the chart; at the time of writing (July 2020) Belgium are in pole position. Belgium are one of the team’s that have provided regular ammunition for critics of the rankings over the years – when they first ascended to the FIFA summit in 2015, they hadn’t played in a Finals tournament in 13 years. Switzerland have been in the firing line too for a perceived artificially high ranking over the years, as have Norway, although unlike Belgium neither nation has made it to Number One.
The critics are right to be concerned about a disparity between perceived quality and actual ranking. It is obvious that the rankings have been gamed since they began, in the same way that music charts were gamed – you could ensure a high chart placing for a single at the end of the week if you released it on the first day that counted, and if you had it in all the shops whose sales counted for the official chart. Record companies employed ‘chart consultants’ and with the same aim football associations employed ‘rankings consultants’ (perhaps they were the same people in some cases!).
FIFA have been gracious enough to respond to the critics. The initial rankings had no weighting for quality of the opponent or importance of the match. Play lots of friendlies against weaker teams and you could place amongst the best teams in the world – Norway were masters at this in the 1990s. Subsequent re-writes of the rules saw weightings introduced (allowing for the system to be gamed by playing little or no friendlies) and also the number of years’ worth of results considered reduced.
The current ranking system – introduced in 2018 – is probably the most complicated mathematically, and it remains to be seen if it proves to be the fairest in terms of synchronizing quality and ranking. The actual formula derives from a formula developed by Alfred Elo – a Hungarian-American Professor of Physics – for chess, and takes into account an ‘Importance’ co-efficient and a complicated number derived from the difference between the actual and expected result of any given game. Right up my street!
Analysis of who has been Number One in the 28 years since FIFA introduced their rankings doesn’t throw up any surprises – if you discount Belgium. That’s not to say that there haven’t been many anomalies lower down, but at least the top spot has been sacrosanct (apart from Belgium!). Few can argue with a list that consists of Germany, Italy, France, Argentina, Netherlands, Spain, Brazil and Belgium – apart from Belgium all have won World Cups and/or continental titles.
One major problem with the rankings has been how to treat a nation that is hosting a major championship. They are reduced to playing friendlies because they don’t have to qualify, and after the 1999 update to the ranking criteria, friendlies were weighted less. Hence Brazil hosted the 2014 World Cup with a ridiculously low ranking (for them) of 22, and Russia hosted the 2018 World Cup with a ranking of 70 – the lowest at the tournament (obviously it was wrong, and they got to the quarter-finals).
Back in my youth the music charts used to highlight a ‘mover of the week’, namely the band that had jumped the most places since the last chart. FIFA used to do the same in their end-of-year analysis, awarding a ‘Best Mover of the Year’ to the nation that had finished the year having jumped the most in the rankings. Bahrain won it in 2003, Mozambique in 2007 and Qatar in 2019, just to mention some of the most exotic recipients.