Tag Archives: Sports

Visualizing England’s Woes

I hope I’m proved wrong in this case, but this is a visualization that does what any great visualisation should: it lets you find your own story. In my case I’m convinced that England’s football woes lie in the fact that not only do foreigners squeeze the natural wellspring of talent in the domestic game, but that those English players that do thrive have so little experience of any other leagues—save a few games a season in European competitions—that they’re shorn of any real breadth to their play.

Here’s a chart that illustrates these two facts brilliantly. The first illustrates how many other countries’ squads have players in the English game (I don’t need to explain, but the squads competing are at the top and the country leagues are at the bottom):

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And here’s the other way: what leagues the English team play in.

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Yes, one. (Three in 2006, two in 2002.)

The graphic, by the way, comes from Brazil’s Estadão, and their data goes back to 1994. I don’t speak a word of Portuguese but it’s intuitive and telling. Good stuff. Now let’s hope I’m proved wrong and the English team somehow scrape through.

Firefox’s Billion, Amazon’s Misstep, and Facebook’s Hole

Here’s another appearance on Radio Australia’s Breakfast Club, now called something else, which after a hiatus is back on every Friday—around 1.15 GMT.

Here’s the audio of the segment (about 10 minutes’ worth).

Here’s what I talked about:

Facebook Wants to Be Twitter, While Twitter May Have to Be More Like Facebook

Here’s another appearance on Radio Australia’s Breakfast Club which is pretty much every Friday—around 1.15 GMT—and here are some links to the things I talked about this week.

Here’s the audio of the segment (about 10 minutes’ worth).

  • Facebook’s move to be more like Twitter. As I said on the show, Facebook fears that its network lacks room for growth; when was the last time you added a friend?
  • Marketers find Twitter. Australian company uSocial will go out and get followers for you, for a price. This isn’t underhand, but already twitter is becoming a place for spammers (from Habitat to the sleazeballs who won’t get out of my twitter stream.) As I mentioned on the show, Facebook is going to try to be more like twitter, while twitter may have to be more like Facebook.
  • Meanwhile Rupert Murdoch sees Facebook as a directory, MySpace as a place to share common interests. If that’s the case, then twitter actually trumps them both because it’s a real time search engine for both. (I didn’t have time to talk about this, but it’s an interesting point.)
  • (From last week) Researchers in Italy have been going around nightlcubs in Chieti asking people for cigarettes. Turns out if you ask them in their right ear, you’re more likely to be successful. It’s called the right ear advantage (via the Daily Telegraph.)

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

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

Soccer 2.0

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Photo: The Offside

In Soccer 1.0 the manager is king. But an Israeli football team is experimenting with a sort of crowd-sourcing, wisdom-of-the-Kop type approach, where fans monitor the game online and suggest starting line-up, tactics and substitutions.

Reuters reports from Tel Aviv that “diehard football fan Moshe Hogeg was so upset when star striker Lionel Messi was left off Argentina’s side for a World Cup match against Germany last year that he teamed up with an online gaming company to buy a club where fans decide over the Internet who will play and in what position.” Hogeg’s company, an Israeli social network for sports fans called Web2sport, teamed up with online backgammon website Play65 to buy Hapoel Kiryat Shalom, a team in Israel’s third amateur division.

Fans log on to the team’s website and make suggestions and vote in poll which are monitored by an assistant to the coach. Ahead of the season’s opening match some 6,000 people tried to log on to make suggestions. The team lost 3-2 to Maccabi Ironi Or Yehuda in injury time.

Needless to say, I have mixed feelings about this. I don’t think crowd-sourcing is going to replace the genius of Wenger, Mourinho or Ferguson. On the other hand, as a Spurs fan, I certainly think manager Martin Jol could do with some help.

Press Release: The First Web 2.0 Football Club in the World

How to Play Football With Nails and Popsicle Sticks

Well, actually if you do that you’ll be infringing a patent. I love reading patents, but I rarely understand them. This one I do, since it uses words I understand, like ‘roofing nails’ and ‘elastic bands’:

clipped from patft.uspto.gov

A board game for at least two individuals to play. The board game is a modified form of soccer that uses roofing nails pounded into a flat surface as “players,” a marble as a soccer ball, and a pair of Popsicle sticks as shooters. In addition, an elastic band is wrapped around into a rectangular fashion to have a rectangular-shaped playing field.

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 World Cup Changes

Maybe it’s cos I don’t follow other sports as slowly, but this World Cup is beginning to feel like a media watershed in several different — and surprising — ways.

  • First off, the supply of World Cup footage to YouTube, and “live” commentary by cellphone from those in the stadium to those outside threatens to overturn the tight FIFA controls on coverage and sponsorship. FIFA stewards can stop people wearing clothing or carrying banners that don’t support the official sponsors, but they can’t keep people’s cellphones out of the stadium. Can they?
  • Secondly the best writing has come from blogs, not from the traditional sports pages of newspapers. But these aren’t pure bloggers, they’re journalists blogging for their newspapers’ or TV stations’ websites. The Guardian, for example, has a stable of writers who have been pushing out excellent blogs. My favorite BBC blogger on the World Cup is Paul Mason, who is actually a business correspondent for the Beeb’s flagship program Newsnight. Of course there are other soccer blogs, but these bloggers not only write well, they write regularly and attract interesting comments.
  • It’s not just about the rise of the bottom up. Some lucky cable subscribers are getting very cool new services, such as commentary in different languages to three or four different viewing perspectives. Sadly where I live we don’t get any of these, but I’ve heard they rock. These are good services to provide and it’s great to see some imaginative providers offering them. Soccer coverage has usually been woeful: Not enough long view of the pitch, so the viewer has no real sense of who is where on the pitch, while commentators offer very little extra value. Time to change.
  • Some widgets have made following the World Cup action easier, although they are still somewhat primitive.

I’m sure there are lots of non media bloggers out there, but the mainstream media seems to be finally getting it, and the World Cup is a perfect place and topic to do it. Everyone’s an expert in soccer, and no one is shy about offering an opinion. In some ways it’s a great leveler and a great showcase for participatory journalism.