Statto, the king of soccer nerds

PROFILE: Angus Loughran: The statistics freak from 'Fantasy Football' is not quite the anorak he portrays, but it's a close call, says Steve Boggan

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Angus Loughran could scarcely have felt more vulnerable if he had been wearing his trademark pyjamas and dressing gown. He was in a bar in Amsterdam about to be beaten up by a group of Ajax fans when he decided only one thing could save him.

"I'll take you on," he told them, "but in a quiz about your football team."

"It was typical of Angus," said Paul Austin, one of his closest friends. "They answered 10 questions each - Angus got nine and they got three and they ended up buying him beer all night. Actually, Angus was a bit disappointed he got one wrong."

The Ajax fans were astonished that an Englishman should have such a knowledge of their team, but the encounter was hardly fair. Little did they know that the mild-mannered man in the tweed suit was no ordinary geek; this was Statto, a walking encyclopaedia of sport, a statistical anorak catapulted to cult status by Fantasy Football League, BBC2's Friday night apres-pub show.

Today is one of the biggest in Loughran's life. This afternoon, he will be commentating on an England match for the first time in his other career as sports analyst for Eurosport. "It's an absolutely massive thrill for me," he said. "I do a lot of commentating, but this is something special." A lot of commentating is an understatement. He is on an aeroplane most days of the year, travelling to sporting fixtures in all corners of the globe.

Since Fantasy Football League was launched by the comedians Frank Skinner and David Baddiel, the status of Statto, the bespectacled butt of the jokes, has steadily grown. He is the saint of sporting statistics.

Sitting behind the breakfast bar in the lads' fantasy flat, wearing his dressing gown and pyjamas, Statto is called upon periodically to recall how many goals Frank McLintock scored in 1971 or how many beers George Best had during lunch on September 7, 1969.

To the sound of the audience chanting "STAT-TOHH, STAT-TOHH", he usually gets it right.

Angus Loughran was born 30 years ago in Glasgow. His father, James, was a conductor of the Halle Orchestra. When not jetting around the world, he still lives with his mother, Nancy, in Altrincham, Cheshire. His friends believe he may be the most listened-to football analyst on the planet. His other passion is gambling and the two dovetail perfectly.

His career in both began early. "I started doing 'unofficial' bets at school when I was about seven years old," he said. "My 'official' betting started the following year. I backed West Ham to beat Fulham in the Cup final, which they did, and I had a few bets on the horses. I am good with statistics and I have a very good memory, but my main talent is for spotting value bets, good odds."

A passionate sportsman who was not actually very good at sport, Loughran threw himself into games at Ampleforth, the prestigious Catholic public school in north Yorkshire, by taking bets and commentating on rugby matches from the touchline.

He was in St Oswald's House, where, according to his younger brother Charles, "they were all very arty and nerdy and took a great pride in being dreadful at sport. They always used to reduce games against other houses to chaos and, while they did, Angus would commentate from the touchline and sort out the betting."

Among his more colourful enterprises were the books he ran on the number of monks who would turn up for morning mass and the type of food on offer for lunch. His academic work was interesting, too. Charles recalls that one English exam posed the question: "What is courage?" Rather than write an essay, the young Loughran replied simply: "This is."

Perhaps inevitably, his school report concluded: "This boy has Strange Ways. And he will probably end up there."

Not yet, he hasn't. His twin passions steered him toward a job at Ladbrokes as one of their in-house racing commentators. "After the job interview, I remember thinking that I seemed to know more than they did, and that surprised me. After the second interview, I asked the interviewer what my chances were. He said there were two of us and we were evens, so I asked him for a pounds 100 bet on the other guy.

"I thought if I didn't get the job, I might as well at least get some money. But they wouldn't take the bet, so I knew I had the job."

The story is typical of Loughran. He now commentates for ESPN in America, Eurosport in Europe and Star TV in Asia, as well as the World Service and a myriad individual clubs. He is believed to make a fortune from his words and his bets.

He only sleeps two hours a night, but even they seem to get in the way. "The hour before bed is vital," he said in a recent interview. "If there's a punting opportunity that stands out, you can often get it the night before rather than wait until the next morning when it's in the papers and the odds have changed."

Always on the look out for a good bet, a 15-year-old Loughran once made pounds 300 by marching on to the Oval and handing the batsman Chris Tavare a stool during an interminably long and boring innings. The crowd went wild and the young Statto (wearing a brown jacket and tie and those same nerdy specs) found himself on the Nine O'Clock News.

But before pulling off the stunt, Loughran had had a quiet word on the boundary with the Indian all-rounder Kapil Dev to make sure he wouldn't be stopped as he carried on the stool. Loughran then returned to his friends and casually offered 10-1 that he would give Tavare a stool to sit down on. "I figured I'd probably be arrested but the fine would only be pounds 100, so I'd still be pounds 200 up." The wheeze went down so well he was offered life membership of the Oval.

According to Austin, Loughran is a marvellous racontuer who has "many girlfriends but no one girlfriend". His brother Charles says women simply don't fit into his lifestyle. "He's not the other way inclined, or anything like that," said Charles. "He's simply married to sport."

His sporting life became more hectic with his discovery by Andy Jacobs, producer of Fantasy Football League. Jacobs was looking for an anorak type as the third, nerdy, member of the Fantasy Football League household and bumped into Loughran while he was commentating on Spurs at White Hart Lane. "He struck me as being quite eccentric," said Jacobs.

In a recent interview, Jacobs added: "We couldn't use an actor, but we needed someone who could perform. And it is a performance. Statto is not Angus. Statto is an infinitely sad character, totally pathetic and a bit unsavoury. Angus isn't, though I'll admit it is a fine line."

Loughran's partners on Fantasy Football League are no kinder. "Angus has, in fact, got thousands of friends from all walks of life," said Frank Skinner. "And they all take the piss out of him. He's doomed to have that relationship with the world."

But it's a relationship he allows rather than endures. "If he wanted, he could hit back 10 times funnier each time someone took the mickey," said Austin. "But it's part of the deal that he doesn't hit back on the show.

"He doesn't hit back much in life, either, although he could. He's a bit like a sponge. He soaks it up with a smile and people love him for it."

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