Tag Archives: soccer

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

Radio Australia topics, Nov 7

I make an appearance on the excellent Breakfast Club show on Radio Australia each Friday at 01:15 GMT and some listeners have asked me post links to the stuff I talk about, so here they are.

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Follow football on your cellphone through vibrations: a team in Scandavia has come up with a way to convey movement of a ball via vibrations. This would allow folks wanting to follow a soccer game with the phone in their pocket, in theory.

This is how it would happen, as far as I can understand it: someone would watch a game and input data whenever the ball was kicked. This data would translate into vibrations—short if the ball is in midfield, longer and more insistent as it got nearer the goal. The researchers claim that users quickly figure out what is happening and can follow a game pretty well.

Reminds me of when I was a kid trying to follow a soccer match on a bad radio: You kind of guessed when things were getting exciting by the rise in crowd noise and the voice of the commentator.

Obama’s victory has quickly translated into an opportunity for bad guys. Sophos reports that 60% of malicious is Obama related, including what looks like a link to his acceptance speech, but which is in fact a trojan which, among other things, captures keystrokes and sends information back to the Ukraine. Obama-related malware has even been seen in the sponsored ads appearing on Google News.

EA has made another boo-boo: some copies of its Red Alert 3 CDs are missing a character on the serial number. “Try guessing the last character,” explained the support site until someone pointed out that this was dumb and encouraging amateur cracking.

Lost in translation: The continuing saga of Welsh being a language that non-speakers are never going to be able to guess at took another twist with a sign that, in English, reads  “No entry for heavy goods vehicles. Residential site only,” but which in Welsh reads “I am not in the office at the moment. Send any work to be translated.”

I don’t think I need to explain more, except to say that the sign has been removed—apparently by the council that installed it. What Welsh truck drivers made of it has not been recorded.

Photo credit: BBC

Europe’s Top-heavy Leagues

Lg-spain Spanish Primera Liga (48%)
Lg-bundesliga German Bundesliga (54%)
Lg-epl2 English Premier League (47%)
Lg-france French Ligue 1 (47%)
Lg-greece Greek Ethniki Katigoria (6%)
Lg-holland Dutch Eredivisie (25%)
Lg-italy Italy Serie A (24%)

Lg-champ English Championship (29%)
Lg-scot Scottish Premier League (29%

This doesn’t have a lot to do with technology, but it’s an excuse to play around with sparklines, Edward Tufte’s approach to feeding data into text in the form of small data-rich graphics. And they might tell us a bit about soccer, competitiveness and which country is the powerhouse of Europe. (These ones are done with Bissantz’ excellent Office plugin.)

What started me off here was the comment on the BBC website that English soccer, while strong at the top (Man U, Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal), drops alarmingly in quality. Is there really no competition in the English Premier League? The absence of English clubs in the final 4 of the UEFA Cup would seem to indicate it’s true.

But I thought another way of exploring it would be to grab the points gathered by each team in each of the main European leagues, and then plot them as a simple sparkline, each bar indicating the points one by each club in the table. The steepness and evenness of the sparkline gradient should give a pretty clear impression of which leagues are split between great clubs and the mediocre rest.

Visually, Spain is clearly the most competitive league (with the exception of England’s second league, the Championship, which has an impressively smooth gradient.) The German Bundesliga comes second, with the English Premier League third. All the others, frankly, look too top heavy to be regarded as having any depth (Italy doesn’t really count as it’s in such a mess at the moment.)

The figures in brackets show how many points the bottom club has as a percentage of the top club, a figure that’s not particularly useful as, for example in Greece, the bottom club Ionikos doesn’t seem to has won only two games in 26.

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.