It’s easy to forget just how incredible a player Alan Shearer was. The dire and dour style in which he presents Match Of The Day totally betrays the enthusiasm and passion for the game he showed when he played. I consider myself lucky to have grown up watching him at Newcastle United, I was 12 when he signed and 22 when he retired. Those two points themselves serving as bookends either side of the ten year period of my own passage from a child to an adult. I ‘grew up’ in it’s true sense, watching Alan Shearer.
During that time there was no Opta, no Prozone, and no chalkboards. Statistics existed purely in the factoid form favoured by commentators such as Motson; a stream of information that was for the most part trivia, simply numbers and dates, the Guinness Book of Dull Footballing Miscellany - not analysis or insight in any useful form..
And it’s almost impossible to go back to games from this era and analyse pass completion, distance covered, chances created, interceptions made etc. We are left with video footage of goals, a few key incidents and matches, but little else. The advantage or charm of a more mathematically innocent time in football would be an interesting discussion for another time, but we are left with the question of how to represent how our heroes played when the only ‘raw’ data we have is piecemeal or static..?
A fascinating video appeared on YouTube on the 22nd January, I’ve no idea how they did it, but someone has complied all 206 of Alan Shearer’s goals into one 25minute marathon down memory lane. The video is found below. It is well worth watching in it’s entirely. In full screen. A good few times.
Obviously I am a fan of the numbers of football, but more importantly how to display them in a format above raw data. How can we represent in a more graphical fashion, or in a way more evocative of our actual experience of these moments.
The planar nature of the chalkboard always grates on me; football is a game played in three dimensions. A difference in the height of a pass of only a foot can result in hugely different outcomes. A pass shown on a plan-format chalkboard can look short, simple easy - it shows nothing of the trajectory it’s made from, the direction the player is actually looking, the pace taken off the ball etc.
From this juncture, I ask myself, if Alan Shearer scored that many goals, what percentage of the 17.86m2 area that the posts and crossbar frame did he actually pass a ball through? Were certain areas targeted more than others? With the shear(!) amount of goals scored, a visual exploration of this question would be fascinating. But there’s no Opta, there’s no chalkboards, no quick-fix, no readily accessible information, how does one do this? I had an idea, but it would be laboursome. If I can watch every goal, I can log every goal - I can input the raw information myself. And luckily in my job I use 3D modelling software nearly every other day.
As I watched Shearer’s goals rack up, it reminded me just how ‘complete’ a footballer was. A particular sore point of mine is the ‘average’ position. It’s about as arbitrary and intangible a graphical representation of a player’s positioning as you could possibly find. Totally without context. It’s conceivable that a player will never actually have been in his ‘average’ position over the course of a game. I digress… Alan Shearer did not have an ‘average’ goal, or rather his goals did not fit a ‘typology’. Much unlike reductive analysis of Andy Carroll’s “game”, in that ‘he’s the big man scoring headers’, a proper analysis of Shearer would show no such simplistic theme.
How did he score then? Well, like this…
The above diagram plots the trajectory of all 206 of Shearer’s conversions in a single goal. It perhaps would have been nice to illustrate Shearer’s goals with a separate Leazes/Gallowgate diagram, and maybe for away goals too, but using a single goal we get a ‘truer’ and more complete sense of where these strikes came from.
It’s a stylistic indulgence to present the goals in the above way, it looks cool. It shows the variation in range, and it also shows the variation in the point at which the ball crossed the line. Now I have the model, I can view it from any position in 3D space, and I’ve spent a lot of time exploring this; how does it look from the dugout? what’s the keepers perspective? what about a ‘true’ architectural elevation, with no perspective? There are countless ways to view the goals, all with their own idiosyncrasies.
Contrast this with the below, the ‘chalkboard’…
Obviously it still looks pretty decent - we know it’s all the goals scored (the club record), by a player of unquestionable loyalty and passion, born and raised in the city that that he dedicated a decade of his playing career to. Amazing. However the diagram still lacks something that the above has though, a more emotional or nuanced representation of the shots, that is somehow lost when viewed from above.
Everyone has their favourite Shearer goal, but what about the man himself’s top three? Thankfully he’s not kept them secret, in this video he describes them: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lZcjCi0IkEw&feature=related
#3. Newcastle/Villa. 3rd November 2001.
A floated Rob Lee pass finds Shearer at the corner of the six yard box. It’s volleyed obliquely past Schmiechel in front of the Gallowgate. The goal we all dream of scoring. Shearer himself says, “There’s still a part of some people that think that was a cross.. But it wasn’t”. I believe him.
#2. Newcastle/Chelsea. 25th April 2004.
Shearer receives the ball over 20 yards out. Desailly is turned, and the resulting shot loops over a motionless Ambrosio. Shearer takes us through it: “I’ve thought ‘he is too tight to me here’, I can turn him, and that’s what I’ve done, I’ve moved it.. and just sort of shot.” An absolutely outrageous strike, and still probably only the 5th longest goal Shearer scored.
#1. Newcastle/Everton. 1st December 2002.
The 86th minute, time running out, Shearer produces probably one of the best goals I’ve ever seen, out of nowhere. A stunning goal from outside of the area. Shola assist. “It was just a matter of hit it, and see what happens.. 499/500 of them I think would have gone in the top row of the Gallowgate end.” I disagree Alan, I think you’d easily be hitting 1 in 10 of them. Incredible.
The 201st. Newcastle/Portsmouth. 4th February 2006.
Now there’s a happy accident if ever there was one.. It’s just been brought to my attention that it is 6 years to the day that Alan Shearer broke Jackie Milburn’s goalscoring record in front of the Gallowgate against Portsmouth. I had no intention of coordinating such an anniversary with this post, but it’s only right to illustrate such a special goal alongside Shearer’s own top three. I especially like this goal because other than the fact it was the 201st, there really isn’t anything ‘special’ about it - it is simply vintage Shearer: running onto a through ball on the edge of the box, using exceptional strength to hold off a challenging defender, and then still have the composure to calmly slot the ball just to the right of an advancing goalkeeper and into the centre of the goal. It’s exactly the sort of chance we expected he would take, and invariably did. You can find it at around 25:22 on the above video.
Alan Shearer scored 46 penalties for Newcastle United, 22% of his total goals scored. The graphic below shows the variety of scoring. Left, right, centre, high, low. Apart from Shola Ameobi, I’ve never been so confident when watching one of our players preparing to take a spot kick. One thing this graphic can’t convey is the velocity that these penalties are hit at. Shearer wasn’t a ‘placer’. Every single one of these was lashed in as hard as he could. Often the successful strikes down the middle are not due to the goalkeeper guessing incorrectly and diving to one side, but simply the ball being hit so hard they are incapable of keeping it out.
The logging, modelling and exploration of the data I collected over the course of a few hours last night was hugely enjoyable. I’m often the first to moan about Shearer’s shirts and Shearer’s views on MoTD, but writing this has brought about a much needed re-setting in my opinion of him that had been unjustifiably lowered. What does a punditry career really have to do with a playing career anyway?
I’m glad I’ve been reminded, this is the Alan Shearer I want to see in my head when I hear his name, not the inoffensive BBC-man with his peach satin shirts. I want the vociferous, scrapping, bloodied, elbowing, net-bursting, bastard in the above video - one arm in the air in celebration, peeling off to gaze into his adoring Gallowgate looking back at their hero, in the way and the place that the hero himself used to look back at his.
That’s what Alan Shearer looks like.
Note: thanks to the http://www.shearer9.com/ website for filling in a few gaps, and to the uploaders of both the videos cited.1 year ago • 7 notes • view comments