I am continually surprised at how partisan football supporters can be and then every year during the Six Nations I am reminded that it is rugby fans as well. Each set of fans has a different view on key events in the game or actions by the players or referee and the facts of the game depends on who they support. In fact probably all sports fans are like this. The partisanship, anecdotes and stories from the pub may feel like analysis, but it is not. Journalists often fall for this as well and all too often coaches use their intuition too much. Sports performance analysts know better as we try to understand sporting performance based on the data. But surely we all see the same game. Well it seems not.
There is a case study published in 1952 about a American football game “They saw a game”. It involved Princeton and Dartmouth and it was a rough game and tempers flared. From post-match reports, it was clear that both sets of fans were seeing the game through their own lens or different sets of lens. A questionnaire was completed and this was validated – most thought the game was “rough and dirty” and they broadly blamed the other side. Different people experience different events from a total matrix of events in the game that they could have experienced, based on the reactivation of previous experiences i.e. what they brought into the game. The games exist for each person and they only exist based on certain events that have significance for them. They select for themselves.
This is not just sport. In 1960, Angus Campbell and others published a classic text, ”The American Voter,” in which they argued that partisanship serves as a filter. A partisan filters out facts that are inconsistent with the person’s worldview and exaggerates facts that confirm it. Indeed it seems there is even a case that once people have formed an affiliation, they bend their philosophies and their perceptions of reality so they become more and more aligned with members of their political tribe.
But it gets worse, the more educated, the less likely you are to be factual wrong but you are still wrong a lot and much less likely to change your opinion even if shown to be factually incorrect.
So maybe it is no surprise that Spurs fans never see Wenger in a good light as they filter out anything that does not support their partisan view and emphasise those things that do. This is probably made worse as numerous studies have shown a close relation between the confidence expressed by an eyewitness and people’s propensity to accept that eyewitness’ evidence as accurate. So you could relate this to footballs pundits and your view may well be also influenced by the confidence with which they say it. And worse it is also shown that witnesses shown an increase in their confidence when a co-witness states the same thing. So once one pundits says Arsenal were “poor” then it is more likely others will too.
So we need sports performance analysis to get a better handle on things as after all we all see a different game.
Hastorf, A. H., & Cantril, H. (1954). They saw a game; a case study. The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 49(1), 129.
Campbell, A. (1980). The american voter. University of Chicago Press.