Cast in stone? Academics identify next footballers to be honoured with statue

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FOOTBALLERS Jimmy Dickinson, who played for Portsmouth, and Burnley and Northern Ireland winger Jimmy McIlroy are likely to be the next players honoured by a statue outside their former home grounds, according to academics from Sheffield University,

Over the last 20 years, more than 30 English football players have been depicted by a statue outside the stadiums they once graced.

Research by Dr Chris Stride and Ffion Thomas, to be presented at Harvard University on Saturday, September 24, identifies the factors that are most important in determining which football greats are immortalised in this way; to what extent such commemoration is based on merit; and which players are unlucky to not yet be set in stone.

Personal and team performance statistics from each player on the English Football League’s “100 Legends” list, who make up 72 per cent of statue subjects, were collected and analysed.

Loyalty was found to make a significant impact on the probability of being depicted, with “one-club” players most likely to be chosen as statue subjects. The odds of a “one-club” player being immortalised with a statue are three times those of a player with just 80 per cent of his appearances for his primary club.

However, career era was also found to play a large part, with players from the 1950s the most likely to be portrayed. Statues of players who played during the early years of the game or during the past two decades, meanwhile, are far less common.

Further predictors for subject selection were whether a player featured in the 1966 World Cup winning team, and the number of other legends at the particular player’s club.

Of members of the Football League 100 legends list, Jimmy McIlroy and Jimmy Dickinson are the players with the highest predicted probability of being a statue subject who are yet to be depicted.

Dr Stride, a statistician from Sheffield University’s Institute of Work Psychology, said: “Far from merely being memorials to past heroes, sporting statues say much about the preferences of fans and the increasingly sophisticated marketing strategies of sports organisations.

“They are not an entirely meritocratic honour; the eras in which a player appeared and the team he appeared for are influential in being honoured in this way.”

jeni.harvey@ypn.co.uk