Ever wonder what the Bundesliga standings would look like if officials made no mistakes? A German website called "The True Table" corrects results influenced by refereeing blunders – and has just declared a winner.
In the real world, Bayern trail Wolfsburg in the table with two games to play and head coach Juergen Klinsmann has been sacked. But in the parallel universe of www.wahretabelle.de, where the men with the whistles make no mistakes, Klinsmann is leaning back in Munich celebrating his first title as Bayern's head coach.
The True Table website – the brainchild of four passionate football freaks from the northern German city of Hamburg – calculates that Bayern would have an unassailable lead over Stuttgart, if officials had done a better job.
The inspiration for this unique hypothetical exercise came from watching TV.
"Controversial scenes and refereeing mistakes are replayed and discussed just as often as goals," True Table head Axel Seemann-Kahne told Deutsche Welle. "They always say things even out in the end, but we wanted to show that that's not true."
For the past three seasons, Seemann-Kahne – a 37-year-old social worker -- and three editorial colleagues have corrected results and recalibrated the standings. The resulting "true" table often differs radically from the real-life Bundesliga standings.
The endeavor encourages soccer fans to get in touch with their inner statistical geek, and supporters are increasingly taking up the invitation. On average, the website attracts thousands of users per day – with up to 30,000 hits after particularly woeful officiating mistakes.
The success comes despite – or perhaps because of – the fact that the participants all know they're engaged in a very imprecise science.
In order to qualify as a true blunder, controversial refereeing decisions – penalties not awarded after fouls, for instance, or goals scored from an offside position – must be nominated by community members. The editors then analyze TV footage, compare match reports and add or subtract goals accordingly.
It's a process ridden with pitfalls. The system assumes that all penalties are converted, and it can't take into account how early officiating boo-boos often change the complexion of matches over a full 90 minutes.
"Obviously it's a pastime that indicates a general tendency and nothing more," Seemann-Kahne said. "We can't really integrate yellow and red cards, for instance, and there's no way of knowing how the ultimate results might have been affected."
Case in point: Bayern's most recent 3-nil win against Leverkusen. Even when their opponents are awarded two goals for early should-have-been penalties, Bayern still record a True Table win. But in the real match, had the penalties been given, the odds would have been against a Munich victory.
But what the exercise lacks in precision, it makes up for in passion.
Participants in the discussion forum often write about German referees in tones usually reserved for quarrelsome neighbors or off-the-wall acquaintances. "Nothing new for Kircher," grumbled one user after the 32nd round of play, while another opined: "Kinhoefer probably thought – that was such an absurd foul, I must have imagined it."
And the virtual table has attracted the notice of Germany's sports media. Most recently, the country's leading daily tabloid, Bild, ran an article, based on Seemann-Kahne's site, claiming that referees were cheating Bayern out of the title.
"It happens every season," the St. Pauli fan said. "In 2007, it was Cottbus, then last year Bremen. But when Bayern is involved, things tend to get more heated."
A thankless task?
According to Seemann-Kahne, the number of officiating mishaps is up slightly this season compared to the previous two. But he says that could be down to increased diving and theatrics on the part of the players, and he doesn't think referees are ruining the sport.
"For me, officiating mistakes are simply part of the game – just like strikers missing sitters," Seemann-Kahne.
And what do referees themselves think of the True Table? Seemann-Kahne says as far as he knows they are no first- or second-division officials among the site's regular users, and attempts to establish contact with the whistle-blowing profession were recently rebuffed.
"We had a referee who said he would talk to us, but than he cancelled the interview," Seemann-Kahne told Deutsche Welle. "I think he was mad about something we'd written about him."
That would be a pity since the True Table is less an ongoing tirade against guys doing a very difficult job than a forum for the football-obsessed to reflect on chance and fallibility – and imagine what might have been.
The website may have been founded with the aim of proving that everything does not even out in the end. But it also shows that to err is human and to forgive … well, there's always next season.
Author: Jefferson Chase
Editor: Nancy Isenson