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02/05/2008 No.44
Kevin Pullein
Friday May 02, 2008
English fans want players to try their hardest even when they no longer need to. It is a strange desire but one that can encourage value-for-money bets in the final few weeks of a season.

Bookmakers tend to assume that games between teams with nothing to play for will be low-key affairs with very few bookings. This weekend there will be two such games in the Premier League and 17 in the Football League. Meaningless games do provoke fewer yellow and red cards than other games but only slightly fewer and bookmakers sometimes overestimate the decrease.

On bookings indices 10 points are awarded for each yellow card and 25 for each red. The average make-up in Football League games played during the past 10 seasons was 33. In games played during May between teams who both finished in the middle third of a table the average bookings index make-up was 27 - slightly lower than usual.

A similar pattern can be detected in the Premier League. The average bookings index make-up during the last five seasons was 35. In games played on a final day between teams with absolutely nothing left to play for the average make-up was 31.

The odd thing is that so many players in England are still cautioned or dismissed when they have no reason to lunge into a tackle or dispute a decision. It does not happen everywhere. Gianluca Vialli and Gabriele Marcotti in their book, The Italian Job, say that in Italy players think it is daft to waste energy unnecessarily. You can see their point but it is of little use to bettors as bookmakers refuse to lay bets on many Serie A games at the end of the season.

Bookings-related bets, both spread and fixed-odds, are much more widely available on the Premier League than the Football League. On the spreads you will have a good bet if you can buy for much less than 31 in a meaningless Premier League game between two ordinarily behaved teams with an even-tempered referee.
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