What is (Beta) By the Numbers?

I was looking for something different to do with my FM20 beta save whilst I waited for my Tahiti database. I needed some time to prepare Tahiti but I wanted to to be playing and recording in the meantime. So I went back to my statistics routes. I had put together a mini-series on using stats in FM19, and thought that using some of the principles in them would be good. I also had some articles on Dictate The Game that were very stats heavy. Rather than being guided by gut or footballing instincts (which I don’t really have) the plan would be to do everything By the Numbers.

These could be the statistics in the game, or these could be ones I created. In a lot of cases it would potentially involve using some convoluted spreadsheets to extract every extra bit of data out of the game. Some of the really useful and common real-world stats like xG aren’t in the vanilla game.

The plan was to use the help of these extra stats and numbers to guide me to get extra out of the team. Even a few percent here and there, a few goals extra over the season, a few more clean sheets, could all make a difference. Especially as I was planning on starting at the bottom of a very low reputation league – Northern Ireland. Without much money or reputation, it’s a tough league system to find success in.

Gunshots and Goalposts

I was drawn towards Northern Ireland not just because it would be a challenge but because I had been reading Gunshots and Goalposts. A book that covers the history of football in Northern Ireland in the context of the troubles.

The book by Benjamin Roberts is a great read. It’s not very tactics or statistics heavy but it covers a very turbulent period of time with a lot of very heated rivalries. I initially came across the book because of the Tifo series. If you find the playlist above interesting then the book is well worth buying. It covers a huge span of time, and plenty of teams and developments. Both domestic and international.

Belfast Celtic

I was drawn to one team in particular: Belfast Celtic.

By the Numbers Belfast Celtic

A team that was in the thick of it title wise and conflict wise from the very start. To the point where the club eventually folded due to the threat of violence and reprisals. It was uncommon for gunshots to be heard at games, for there to be riots, and in one case a player set up by the fans and beaten until their career was ended.

That wasn’t the end of Belfast Celtic. Although they folded in 1949 they have returned via a controversial route. Sports and Leisure Swifts, a team already based Belfast, took the name over in 2019 when they were relegated to the Ballymena & Provincial Intermediate League. Many don’t recognise them as a continuation of the old Belfast Celtic and there have been many disagreements over the appropriation of the name.

But for my purposes it meant Belfast Celtic, the long time nemisis of Linfield, were back in the game.

1000 goals: The Danny Roberts Challenge

Another draw to Northern Ireland for me was the fact I could remember a challenge on the old SI forums. A challenge to get your players to score over 1000 goals in their career. It was (and remains) a great thread to follow on the forums, with there being a separate thread for many of the older games. The challenge is named after one of the players who reached 1000 goals first but the real stars were players developed by forum user Nepenthez (now better known as a FIFA YouTuber).

Whilst managing Knockbreda they created an all-conquering team in FM07 or 08 with players such as Paul Wallace (1073 goals) and Andrew Smylie (3145 goals) banging them in. All of this in Northern Ireland. Other users also managed the feat, with another getting even more than Smylie but for East Belfast.

I’ve always wanted a striker like that, and playing in Northern Ireland, squeezing out performances with stats, seemed like a good way to achieve it.

Where are we with By the Numbers?

Well, we’ve gone past the Beta so we’ve dropped that from the By the Numbers title. At the time of writing we are over 8 seasons into the save and have made progress. It’s not been straightforward, and sometimes we made some poor decisions but we’ve got there. Not 1000 goal strikers with an all-conquering team there but we’ve made progress considering our limited resources.

I holidayed for the season, and then took over Belfast Celtic with the manager Ronnie Hotdogs, once they were promoted. This meant we started as the smaller team in the lowest vanilla playable league in Northern Ireland. The Premier Intermediate League, the third tier. One of the most confusingly named divisions I’ve ever played in considering you get promoted to the Championship.

It took a little while to get started. Especially as we had to deal with being semi-professional but essentially amateur when it came to contracts. We were also dwarfed in terms of the transfer budget at pretty much every point.

By the Numbers Salary
Less of a salary gap and more of a gaping financial chasm

You can catch up on YouTube but as we are over 80 episodes in by now I imagine you won’t want to trawl through them all. Let me catch you up. Despite being minnows the extra edge we’ve gathered using statistics and our By the Numbers approach has meant we have been promoted to the top flight. We have survived here as well, and although it’s been tight, we are managing to survive despite being massively outspent by pretty much everyone above us.

I’d also like to point out we are pretty violent as a team as well. This isn’t a throwback to Gunshots and Goalposts. I just like my teams to play Wimbledon style Hoofball.

By the Numbers Yellow Cards
A record and leg breaking 2026 season

What statistics does By the Numbers cover?

Over the 80 plus episode so far I’ve covered a range of different stats. Here’s a quick short cut to the particular episodes. You’ll (eventually) find more on this blog or on Dictate The Game.

xG or Expected Goals

I’ll not get into the nitty-gritty of what xG is here (check out my other posts) but you can see here how I initially calculated it. I’ve applied it to help with my striker choices. Determining whether they were good or wasteful, or whether my team just wasn’t producing enough.

There’s also a follow up here. I returned to xG a lot as it’s probably one of the most useful but painfully absent stats.

xA or Expected Assists, and Pitch Impact (or Received Pass Position)

This is a much more recent approach, and you’ll definitely find more about this on Dictate the Game from me as well. It covers two concepts, how much my strikers were producing in terms of chances from their passes (were they passing into good positions). This is expected assists and I use a very rough and ready version of it.

The second concept is that the position the strikers receive the ball in. Not where they’ve shot from, but where they received the pass. This is sometimes referred to as Pitch Impact in real-world football. It’s not quite the same but it’s the closest concept I could find based on my basic stats from the game.

Player Comparisons

We all like a good spreadsheet. And whilst I’ve got a few of my own I really like the Female Football Manager’s sheet. I use it here and explain how it’s changed the way I approach my team selection. It produced a lot of surprises for me.

xG Against and Goal Keeper Efficiency

This is a twist on xG and basically compares what you would expect to concede based on xG and what your keeper actually let in to see if you’re getting value for money. Very useful for assessing the back of the team, whereas xG is definitely about the top. It makes it easier to select keepers By the Numbers that matter rather than by gut feel.

And there’s more…

Or there will be. I’m planning on keeping the series going on YouTube. I’ll also be carrying on with the statistics. As a big life change approaches though (the pitter-patter of tiny feet) I’ll likely be blogging more and recording less. So there’ll be a lot more stats and By the Numbers on the blog.

If you want to try you hand at basic xG, xA and Received Pass/Pitch Impact calculations you can try my basic spreadsheet