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.

The murky cycle of sponsored news articles by Ian Plenderleith

It sounds like a late-night conspiracy theory to maintain that corporate interests dictate the news agenda, especially when we’re talking about something as relatively unimportant to human destiny as football. But it’s not untrue to say that the internet has allowed the game’s major sponsors to have a say in the way that news is generated. A closer look at one of October’s headlines demonstrates why.

Online scouting resource or commercial venture, asks Ian Plenderleith

According to Tom Bower’s book Broken Dreams, Israeli agent Pini Zahavi made £3 million on the transfers of his client Rio Ferdinand from West Ham to Manchester United via Elland Road. Rio’s such a nice bloke that he’s still doing his agent favours, endorsing a new scouting website founded by Zahavi that claims to represent “the world’s biggest ever football database” on players.

Ian Plenderleith ploughs through the ruminations of Setanta's pundits

I once worked for a website that took contributions from professional footballers, but the only player who regularly sent us copy was so inane that the impossibility of turning his column into something interesting or readable caused you to take the only option available – to bury your head in your hands and weep. Another player we approached who had written some sensible blog entries on his own personal site turned us down politely on the grounds that writing a blog had been fun for the first few weeks, but then it had started to seem more “like homework”.

You Are The Ref challenge is back and testing would-be refs, writes Ian Plenderleith

In the future, everyone will be a referee for 15 minutes. Ruud van Nistelrooy’s goal for Holland against Italy at Euro 2008 not only prompted a fervent discussion about the offside laws, it also exposed the fact that players, ex-players, pundits and fans alike for once had something in common – very few of us are truly familiar with the laws of the game. By a nice coincidence, the BBC website chose Euro 2008 to revive the You Are The Ref column that puts exactly such unusual scenarios to its reader, and then lets them get on with exposing their own ignorance.

The complaints of the traditional media that the internet has lower standards is turning out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy, Ian Plenderleith discovers, as major organisations sully their brands

It’s well documented that the traditional print media were suspicious of this whole internet thing for years. Despite the worry that sub-standard but low-cost online journalism was going to take away all their readers, they were slow to respond to the ink-free new world, as though by competing they would taint themselves with product deemed to be a mediocre shadow of the revered printed word.

Everyone has a novel inside them, the cliche says, while failing to point out that most of them would be unreadable. A similar principle appears to apply to football podcasts and, as they are easier to produce than books, there are a lot of awful ones out there, though Ian Plenderleith does find a few worth a listen

 Are podcasts an important part of the brave New Media era, or just blogs with sound? I’m not that good with new stuff. I abandoned vinyl as late as was decently possible, and took a while to catch on to the idea of downloading music and having songs on your hard drive instead of on your shelf. Until a couple of years ago, I didn’t see what broadband could do for me that wasn’t already available through my dial-up connection. And neither had I listened to a single podcast, even though the concept had been nagging me unpleasantly for a while. As in: “I suppose I ought to listen to one some time.”

The internet’s infinite size has led to a huge rise in the number of people writing about football, but as the game occupies more and more of cyberspace the clubs and FAs are frantically trying to control the message and quash negative headlines. Ian Plenderleith examines how the thought police are getting on

Complete control
In January, the German press said Bayern Munich had put together a list of 20 “relevant” media outlets, and that they were planning to grant information and interview access only to those they thought fit to cover the club. Bayern were presumably thinking that if they could keep a close eye on who was reporting on the team, they could better spin the stories and curb any criticism. It’s unlikely that there were many independent webzines on the list.

Around the turn of the century, individual club webzines started to sign up to broader networks that in theory offered support, money and more users. But the results have not always been pretty and since Sky took over the Rivals group disaffection has grown. Ian Plenderleith analyses a splintered market

To the indifference of a cruel and doubtless unsuspecting world, a conflict has been brewing in the hard-boiled realm of the webzine, and things are about to get dirty. No fewer than six umbrella networks are now striving to claim the mantle of that timeworn marketing tool, “the voice of the fans”, and are fighting it out for a limited share of the readership and the revenue.

A week of hopes and fears for Scotland and England led to double failure but contrasting reactions online, as Ian Plenderleith found out with the help of a folk singer and various dead writers

England’s and Scotland’s failure to qualify for Euro 2008 not only proved there is no longer a British team in the continent’s top ranks. The contrast in home reactions to that failure also showed us that, although the end result may be the same, an underdog country’s sporting patriots generally maintain a healthy perspective, while a Bulldog Nation’s repeat anticipation of glory only perpetuates its misery and ill-humour.

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