"It's satisfying when all your work in the week comes off in a game and people think, 'blimey!'"
Not the words of one of Liverpool’s first-team stars but those of its official statistician.
“Stats can be very dry and very boring, and you can make a statistic do whatever you want it to do. But there is something really good [when one goes viral],” explains Ged Rea, the club’s resident fact machine alongside friend and colleague Dave Ball.
“People don’t see a player staying behind for an hour after training every single day and firing them into the top corner. It’s a bit like that with us.”
When the day job is done and the evening meal eaten, it’s onto the computer. Numbers are crunched, checked and double-checked.
“We’ll try to anticipate as much as we can, and when that comes to fruition generally speaking we know that it’s us because some of the information we have we don’t think anybody else could provide.”
Before Opta there was Ged and Dave.
"My family hate football. I come home, have my tea and then I'm on the computer until 11 o'clock. They get two weeks' summer holiday and Christmas Day and maybe Christmas Eve. Every other day is open season."
Reds fans alike, the pair bonded through their interest in quizzes, with the latter – BBC Radio’s ‘Brain of Sport’ for 1977 – the organiser of a league in the city centre for those keen to pit their knowledge against others.
His work for the popular TV show A Question of Sport soon set off a domino effect which led to both men contributing to the first official Liverpool FC magazine and subsequently assuming formal roles to supply the club with a range of statistics from the late 1990s.
“It has developed from there,” says Ged.
Requests can arrive from UEFA. Biographies and autobiographies need precise information.
Before each and every LFC fixture, a document authored by him will drop into journalists’ inboxes containing a wealth of details relating to the form of the team and the opposition, the history between the sides, player landmarks, historical benchmarks and much more.
The meticulous preparation carried out during the week allows for newspapers, websites, television channels and radio stations to report accurate facts and figures to their audience.
And then there is the matchday.
“We will be on standby in case the club needs any information about incidents that have happened,” Ged reveals.
“For example, in 2016 we were in the press box when Ben Woodburn scored against Leeds to become the club’s youngest ever scorer.
“The club wanted to know immediately whether that was correct. We told them the answer and then that becomes a story through the football club, the media and Liverpool’s in-house media. That becomes the story.”
It is fair to say Mohamed Salah has kept the statisticians busy this season.
The Egypt international notched 23 goals in his 29 Liverpool appearances in 2017, having only joined Jürgen Klopp’s side from AS Roma that summer.
As the No.11’s tally increased with each passing week, he began to near a record set by Roger Hunt back in 1961-62 for the most scored by a single player for the Reds in a campaign before the New Year.
“You’re always dealing with the now but you’ve also got one eye on things that are looming,” notes the civil servant.
“Salah’s goalscoring this season; we had the Hunt record and Ian Rush and all the other people that he has been moving up the ladder and equalled and bettered. That was sitting there.
“Every time Salah scored he would move up the ladder, and we would just be hoping that he would do something spectacular and wouldn’t get injured. The two goals he got [against Leicester City] elevated it to a worthy statistic.
“We have a database containing an awful lot of information. Sometimes you’re trying to anticipate quirky things that might happen.
“For example, Jürgen Klopp is close to winning his 50th league game for Liverpool – so we will have a comparable record with every other Liverpool manager of how long it took them to get to 50.”
Ged’s journey has taken him from ‘a teenager with Liverpool scrapbooks’ to first-name terms with many of the heroes he used to idolise. “Stupid and impossible and unrealistic… but it happens and it’s great,” he smiles.
More than that, the story goes that one particular statistic pleased a former manager so much – and with justification – that it was referenced in the Reds dressing room.
“Gerard Houllier was very particular and keen on statistical information,” Ged recalls.
“I’m pretty certain that in the early 2000s he had become the first Liverpool manager in history to win three successive away league games at Goodison Park. And it got back to us that it was mentioned in the dressing room immediately after the game.
“Gerard was very intense and loved stats. I took a couple of phone calls from Gerard at home once because he was challenging one or two statistics that had been put out by his own players.
“Rafa [Benitez] was a lot more laid-back. Jürgen does what is important to him, and Brendan [Rodgers] was pretty much the same.
“Of them all, Gerard Houllier was probably more into his statistical information than the others put together, I would suggest from the feedback we used to get.”
The aforementioned Opta platforms, among others, have played a significant role in putting football statistics at the heart of debate on matches, players and teams.
The growth of social media and the rising interest in the numerical information around the game has both helped and hindered the process, in Ged’s opinion.
“Social media means that it’s easier to find the information. The downside of that is fake news; you’ve got to research it even more thoroughly and make sure that it’s right and get it right and get the tone of the stat right. It does have its pros and cons,” he states.
“Of course, there are a lot of people out there who are probably better than me at what I do. So you’ve got to make sure it’s right because you’ll have people correcting you.
“There are times when you press ‘send’ on social media and you think, ‘oh my God, that’s wrong!’ and you’re trying to recover it.”
Don’t get him started on ‘assists’, however.
“I’ve never ever got them really; I saw a goal scored the other day, a player gives the ball five yards to somebody who dribbles past four players and smacks it into the top corner, and he gets an assist,” comes the groan.
The frequency of matches means most statistics are only temporarily stored in Ged’s mind.
Take the recent festive period, which included 11 competitive fixtures for Liverpool between November 29 and January 5 and provided its annual challenge as ‘six or seven’ games’ worth of detail was juggled.
“Because you’re always moving on to the next one, you tend not to retain a great deal of information about what’s gone. It’s almost as if it’s filed, there’s a place for that and then it does move on,” he says.
“It does wane! As soon as people find out what you do, they’ll go ‘right, when was the last time X, Y or Z…?’
“I haven’t got a photographic memory, I never have had. But what I do know is where to get it.”
Ged speaks to Liverpoolfc.com for this article at Anfield on the night Liverpool claim a dramatic FA Cup victory over neighbours Everton courtesy of a winning goal from Virgil van Dijk on his debut.
He leaves the stadium with plenty of information to update: Merseyside derby totals; players to have scored in their first Reds game; penalties won and converted in club history. To name only a handful.
He heads home with a familiar feeling of pride, too: “Even though it’s the most minute cog in the biggest wheel, we’re still part of it.
“It’s when other people find out what we do that you really appreciate fully what you actually do, not that either of us take anything for granted.
“And it’s fantastic when Liverpool are doing well. It’s only the positives that get you out of bad times so you’ve got to concentrate on the positives. That’s what we like doing.
“I’ve been sitting there with ‘19th league title’ for God knows how many years. I’m desperate for that.”
‘Behind the Badge’ is a regular feature on Liverpoolfc.com which aims to tell the individual stories of the numerous men and women who work tirelessly away from the spotlight in an attempt to make Liverpool FC successful.
We speak to various members of staff across the first-team, Academy and Ladies set-ups who dedicate their lives to the club each and every day, covering a variety of different roles that make a vital contribution in preparing the Reds for action.