Tag Archives: Football in England

The Cup Final, the Uplifting Video and the iPod

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Hang on, let me check my iPod first

Technology, however small, can be the difference between winning a cup final and losing it.

Manchester United faced Tottenham Hotspur in the Carling Cup Final on Sunday, and it’s instructive how video technology was, in a way, the difference between the two sides.

After no goals in 120 minutes, there was nothing between the sides, and it came down to a penalty shoot-out. (Each take five.)

Now I’m a Tottenham fan, if that means anything to you, so this is painful to relate, but it’s striking.

The Spurs manager, old school Harry Rednapp, had got his staff to put together a six-minute video of Spurs’ previous cup final victories. “It involves some of the Spurs teams over the years winning cups and how great it was,” he told the BBC. “We will show that with a bit of music to it and show how this particular team has scored some of the goals on the way to the final.”

Nice, and uplifting, I’m sure.

The Manchester United backroom fellas had spent their time differently: collecting recordings of the Spurs players taking penalties. What they do, which side they put the ball, whether they hit it hard or place it. This in itself isn’t that unusual, but here’s the key bit:

No one knows in advance who is going to be taking those five penalties. It depends on a lot of factors—who has been substituted, and by whom, who is tired, injured, or just doesn’t want to take the responsibility. So it would be tricky for a goalkeeper to store in his head for 120 minutes or more all the vagaries of the other team’s players.

So the backroom boys stored the videos on an iPod (video or Touch, I don’t know) and showed it to the goalkeeper just before the shoot-out. Ben Foster is quoted as telling The Guardian:

“I did a bit of research for the penalties,” said the 25-year-old. “We tried to find out everything we could about Spurs beforehand and, just before the shoot-out, I was looking at a video on an iPod with Eric Steele, our goalkeeping coach, and Edwin [Van der Sar].

It’s not an amazing use of technology—there’s lot of it used in soccer, as with any sport, these days—but it proved to be Spurs’ undoing. Foster emerged the hero of the shoot-out, diving to his left to parry away the first Tottenham penalty by Jamie O’Hara. Foster relates:

It’s a new innovation he’s brought in since coming to the club and on it were some of Tottenham’s penalties, including one from O’Hara. I was told that, if he was taking one, to stay as big as I can.

The lesson to me is a simple one that every organisation seems to miss: Technology is not always the big stuff. It’s the Hinge Factor.

In this case it was the difference between one guy using it in a very non-specific way—splicing together a few clips of past glories to lift the lads—and another very specific way: anticipating the possibility of the game going to penalties, gathering videos of all possible penalty takers and then—most important—making sure they’re in a format that can be accessed on the pitch at the crucial moment.

But this in a company or organisational environment, and it’s the standard vs the unconventional. The corporate promotional video commissioned for millions of dollars vs a personalised twitter feed put together by one sparky individual in their lunch break. It’s the glitzy press launch with silly goody bags vs a blog. It’s the expensive software development project vs an open source content management system put together for peanuts and endlessly adaptable.

In organisations I’ve worked with or in, I notice that technology is always pushed into the background, usually literally: The tech guys have a cubby hole at the back, with cables and spare parts, being summoned to fix things but never to innovate. I’ve never heard their opinions being sought, and I’ve rarely seen non-technical people try to build bridges with them to try to marry technology with innovative ideas.

The result is that these moments of competitive advantage wrought by small but crucial deployments of technology are rare.

In this case it’s just one guy with an iPod that made the difference. Go figure.

Photo credit: Guardian/Matthew Peters/Manchester United/Getty Images

Website Members Take Over Football Club

A new model of football ownership? The BBC website reports that

Fans’ community website MyFootballClub has agreed a deal to take over Blue Square Premier outfit Ebbsfleet United.

The 20,000 MyFootballClub members have each paid £35 to provide a £700,000 takeover pot and they will all own an equal share in the club.

Members will have a vote on transfers as well as player selection and all major decisions.

What’s interesting is that the website has only been going since April. It has 50,000 members, 20,000 of them paying the registration fee. MyFootballClub was actually approached by nine of them clubs, none of them from the Premier League, before deciding on Ebbsfleet. The £700,000 was raised in 11 weeks.

I have no idea what the implications of this are. But given that the members/owners will now demand a say in the picking of the team, it could be more like the Israeli model I mentioned a few weeks back. Not everyone agrees it would work.

BBC SPORT | Football | My Club | Ebbsfleet United | Fans website agrees club takeover

Football: The New Kremlinology

Following football these days feels more like Kremlinology — trying to read into the minds of managers, players defecting like scientists and ‘agents’ cutting deals in exotic locales via dead letter boxes. As usual, in such games, information is power, which is why I liked this throwaway line from a Guardian report about this weekend’s Chelsea v Bolton game: Chelsea needed a win to realistically stay in the title race and hoped for rivals Manchester United to be held to a draw at Everton. Things looked good with Chelsea in the lead at one point and Everton’s two goal lead against ManU prominently displayed on the Chelsea scoreboard. But as Chelsea lapsed and ManU fought back at Everton the scoreboard seemed to get stuck, those operating it presumably hoping that players and supporters alike would perform better if kept in the dark. ManU scored four, eventually, though only those in the ground with radios, phones or TVs would have known:

Incidentally, the Chelsea thought police declined to update the running scoreline from Goodison Park when United went in front. At Everton 2 Manchester United 2, it mysteriously disappeared.

The Art of Ambience

I love this idea. A team languishing near the bottom of the fourth division (Coca Cola League Two) of the English soccer league prepares to take on legendary Manchester United by recording the sound of Manchester United’s supporters and blasting it through loudspeakers, as the BBC reports:

Barnet boss Paul Fairclough says his side will not be overawed when they face Manchester United in the Carling Cup at Old Trafford on Wednesday.”One of the quirky things we have done is train at our stadium with the crowd noise from the United-Tottenham game piped through the tannoy,” he said.”It made it very difficult for the players to communicate.”But they got used to it. Those sort of things get into the sub-conscious and they will be drawn out when required.

Great idea. Perhaps it’s been done already, but why stop there? Why not blast out similar recordings at matches where spectators have been banned because of prior crowd trouble, or where attendances are down, or supporters aren’t being vocal enough in their chanting? You could build a library of different sounds — clapping, singing, booing, chants lionising individual players — for every occasion.

Jeering the other team’s goalkeeper taking a goalkick, for example, could be automated so fans don’t have to wear out their larynxes. Away supporters could bring their own pocket-sound systems to compete.

Then of course, you’d have the soccer equivalent of a Milli Vanilli lipsync  when the guy in charge of the recordings plays a tape at the wrong time — during a minute’s silence for the early demise of the goalkeeper’s cat, say, or chants eulogising a centre-forward who has already been sold — and everyone would be briefly scandalised.