THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

An American website could herald a new way of completely digesting football, as Ian Plenderleith describes

Looking back on historical sporting events, how much information do we really need to know? A California-based website called Match Analysis has been using its specially tailored software to provide detailed touch-by-touch breakdowns of football games, mainly to professional US coaches, for the past five years. Now it wants to expand that service to fans keen to focus on each kick, slice, header or fumble by every player.

Here’s the website blurb: “Match Analysis indexes and categorizes every touch by every player during a match (over 2500 distinct events) and provides coaches, fans, and the media with cutting-edge tools for analysis, player development, scouting, broadcast support, content creation, and video archiving.” Furthermore, it’s an “online fan nirvana. With every moment, every touch, every player indexed and categorized, fans can surf video like never before.” Now why on earth would you want to do a thing like that?

Well, say that you are a Gillingham fan who didn’t get to see his or her side’s 4-0 stuffing at Bury on November 22. Venting on the Gills For Life fan forum, you have rashly stated that it’s time to drop or sell or run defender Garry Richards out of town. Some cyber-comrade has had the audacity to ­disagree, and in very strong language. Rather than swearing back at them and getting a yellow card from the message-board administrator, you could hypothetically log on to Match Analysis, quickly call up the footage of Garry’s every touch at Gigg Lane, then report back with some stats-backed authority on his passing inaccuracy, the number of tackles lost, the aerial challenges he was beaten to, and his complete failure to pick up Andy Bishop on Bury’s third goal.

Or imagine you are an avid player of Fantasy League 2, and, as one of your chosen defenders, Garry Richards’ points accumulation has dipped into the negative. You want to trade him for Chesterfield’s Kevin Austin, but you’re just not 100 per cent sure if you’re doing the right thing. Once again, Match Analysis comes to the rescue and, after a few minutes carefully viewing both players, you can sleep easily with your final decision: Richards out, Austin in. Now try telling me you’re not convinced.

It’s easy to mock a new concept that has yet to catch on, of course, and, given the technological advances and the ease with which we can already access so much information in the web age, it would not be surprising if, a few years down the line, a large number of fans were obsessing over their team’s every moment using exactly this tool. It’s certainly easy to see why it has been a useful time-­saving device for coaches making decisions on scouting and team selection. And it might not be bad for journalists, too: in the future we could be able to sound like we actually know what we’re talking about.

Match Analysis can’t yet provide the above service to fans because it cannot broadcast footage already owned by leagues and broadcasters, but it’s currently in talks aimed at securing a deal. Its negotiating hand will be strengthened by the argument that highlight reels used by TV and internet broadcasters leave out tons of unglamorous but useful (not to mention marketable) footage. That is, as well as all the goals and thrills, there’s still money to be made out of the discarded images showing misplaced passes, clumsy fouls, and balls lumped into touch.

After that comes the problem of getting fans to pay for it. Match Analysis president Mark Brunkhart has said that one solution would be to line up enough site sponsors so that fans could pay a nominal fee or even get the service for free. Obviously the latter option would make the site extremely popular. Depending on how “nominal”, the former  would bring in plenty of diehards, too.

The company, which plans to expand into other sports as well, says it’s slated to make at least $1 million in sales this year, and its subscribers include 13 Major League Soccer teams, five Mexican sides and three Bundesliga clubs. Jürgen Klinsmann swears by it, although it didn’t help Germany or Ghana (another customer) win the 2006 World Cup. On the other hand, we can’t say for sure how far they’d have got without it.

For all those non-believers, the site wonders how many fans harbour video collections of their team’s most memorable games. And be honest, if you do, how often do you get round to watching them? “What if each fan could pick his favourite players or the greatest players of all time and watch every goal they ever scored, or every shot they took this season, or every red card they’ve ever registered?”

It’s yet another example of technology’s inexhaustible potential to speed up a task or activity, at the same time as providing us with another time-wasting distraction. Would we really need to zoom through a video sequence of Robbie Savage’s greatest dismissals? Of course not. Would we be tempted to watch such a stream if it was available at the touch of a button? It would be a lie to say no.


Site of the month – Boyhood dreams

It’s the sign of a quality blog when a match report involving teams you don’t support keeps you reading until the end, and then on to the next one, too. Boyhood Dreams is the work of a Hull City fan documenting the team’s first-ever year in the top flight. Take this evocative sample from Hull’s away game at Stoke, where “the fog was as dense as the football”. The entry describes Rory Delap’s long throw as “a freakishly effective weapon, and purism can’t deal with it, as Arsenal, Aston Villa and Everton have all discovered to their cost. Almost everything this team of uncultured enforcers did was designed to force the opposition into conceding a throw-in anywhere within their own half. Then Delap would get his grip right while the gangly, elbow-happy lummoxes all made their way towards the penalty spot.”

From WSC 263 January 2009

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