Gerald Sinstadt: Manager merry-go-round makes life tough for the quiz masters
ANYONE who has ever compiled a quiz for fun or profit will know the dreaded moment when a given answer is challenged.
Friendships have been known to founder. Prizes have had to be withheld.
If you don't want to be sorry, be sure.
For those who won't entirely trust Wikipedia as a source of football fact, there is always the Sky Sports Football Yearbook. Now in its 40th edition, it is still referred to by many of us as simply Rothman's, its original manifestation.
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There is not much anyone would wish to know that cannot be found in its pages, which have grown from 992 in 1971 to 1,056 today.
The first volume had many errors. That criticism could not be levelled now – except in one category.
Turn to the club records and check the names of current managers.
Approximately one in three will not be correct.
Chelsea and Blackpool have both had to seek two replacements since August. Twenty-five other clubs have a new name on the office door (as the old joke goes, written in chalk).
The situation vacant sign is still out at Blackpool, while yesterday Doncaster appointed 57-year-old Bryan Flynn until the end of the season.
At Bristol City, Sean O'Driscoll may be getting to know his players, having been appointed on Monday.
Sky's Yearbook shows him as manager of Crawley from May 2012. Before a game was played he had moved on to Nottingham Forest.
Now he is at Ashton Gate. Earlier he was in charge at Bournemouth and Doncaster.
What is striking about that CV is that it is not exceptional. Few clubs have the courage to appoint an untried manager.
Imagine the governing body of, say, a pharmacy inviting applications. How much time would it devote to a would-be candidate who had been sacked by three other pharmacies?
But this is football. Different criteria apply. A board of directors cannot be oblivious of the supporters who buy season tickets or pay at the turnstiles.
It is the clamour from those very supporters that leads the board to issue the standard consoling pat on the back to the outgoing boss.
"We thank him for his efforts ... wish him well in the future ... time to move on ... the good of the club ..."
Between the lines he will read a different message. "Don't come to us for compensation, you know we haven't got any money. And when you pick up your P45 you can take your assistants with you."
The board's next job is to placate the supporters with the name of a successor. Possibly someone they agreed a deal with in a secret meeting at a motorway service station last week.
The supporters will look at the new man's record and cross their fingers. Or, at Chelsea, remove the welcome mat.
In some cases they will be assessing how warmly to renew old acquaintance. Between 1997 and 2006 (minus a three-week resignation) Brian Laws was in charge at Scunthorpe United. Now, via Sheffield Wednesday, Burnley and Shamrock Rovers, he is back.
In 1993, John Ward started out as a manager at Bristol Rovers, then moved on to Bristol City, Cheltenham, Carlisle and Colchester.
Now, having had no fewer than 10 other managers in the interim, Bristol Rovers have taken him on again.
Can it really be the case that appointments are made on no stronger grounds than "better the devil you know"?
There are other criteria. Not to be found in Sky's Yearbook, but discoverable with a bit of effort. One useful factor: how many games has he won?
There is an obvious benchmark: Sir Alex Ferguson. In a career management record of 2,131 games, 58 per cent are victories. Granted, a quarter of a century at the helm of a wealthy Manchester United has helped, but the club had to be managed. He has made mistakes, but not many.
The best record among this season's new appointees belongs to another Scot.
Alex McLeish, whose 780 games include Scotland and Rangers, has a win ratio of 46 per cent. Yet Nottingham Forest fans seem still to be in need of persuasion.
In any case, besides statistics other factors need to be considered.
From two spells at Stoke City, a club not known for proffering open cheques, Tony Pulis's win ratio of 36-37 per cent is no more than average. But check the Premier League table.
For Micky Adams, in very different circumstances at Port Vale, a 44 per cent win record with the club is more than just respectable. The signs suggest it will look even better come May.
Interestingly, both Pulis and Adams are managers who returned to their present clubs after relatively brief spells away.
Both clubs may wish that circumstances had allowed the relationship to remain unbroken. Which may suggest that besides getting the right statistics in the first place, continuity counts.
Finally, a word of warning to quiz compilers.
I believe the facts in this column were correct at the time of writing.
But I haven't checked in the last half-hour.