Are Goalkeepers getting taller?

30 Aug

This post began with a question posed by Andrew of the excellent Hopping Around Hampshire blog: Are football players getting taller? I promised to look into this. 

For a while pondered my approach. First, I’d need a data source. I tried some old league directories, but these didn’t have player height information. I then searched my old football box for my copy of the Official PFA Footballer’s Factfile 1998-99, but was hit by a niggling thought that It had been the one book I’d got rid of. I then tried the internet, buy though I managed to find data on current players at http://www.premierleague.com it only had heights going back a few years so back to the old football box. This time I managed to find a Merlin Premier League 97 album (minus stickers) which had what I was looking for, although not for every single player – just the ones deemed worthy of a sticker.

To begin with I decided to compare goalkeepers as height is regarded as a key attribute for Goalkeepers, providing them with an added advantage. I’ve also heard it said that at some point there was a decided shift away from shorter ‘keepers – like Leicester City’s former ‘keeper Kevin Poole 1.78m. As the Merlin Premier League 97 data was incomplete I decided to compare only the preferred ‘keepers in each team with their Premier League counterparts today.

The headline finding is that, on average, Goalkeepers today are 2cm taller than their 1997 counterparts at 1.91m compared to 1.89m. Today’s tallest Premier League Goalkeeper Southampton’s recent signing Fraser Forster also breaks the 2m barrier, standing at 2.01m. In 1997 the tallest was West Ham’s veteran ‘keeper Ludek Miklosko who stood at 1.96m along with Coventry’s Steve Ogrizovic.In total there are three goalkeepers today taller than Miklosko and Ogrizovic, as well as Forster these are Asmir Begovic at 1.98m and Thibaut Courtois at 1.99m. When it comes to the shortest goalkeepers in 1997 Mark Crossley and Neil Sullivan both stood at 1.83m, the same as today’s shortest goalkeepers Hull’s Alan McGregor and Leicester City’s Kasper Schmeichel.

Goalkeeper Infographic

The list:

1997

Ludek Miklosko 1.96
Steve Ogrizovic  1.96
David Seaman 1.93
Russel Hoult 1.93
David James 1.93
Peter Schmeichel 1.93
Dave Beasant 1.93
Tim Flowers 1.88
Dmitri Kharine 1.88
Nigel Martyn 1.88
Shaka Hislop 1.88
Tony Coton 1.88
Mark Bosnich 1.86
Neville Southall 1.86
Kasey Keller 1.86
Kevin Pressman 1.86
Ian Walker 1.86
Gary Walsh 1.85
Mark Crossley 1.83
Neil Sullivan 1.83

2014

Fraser Forster 2.01
Thibaut Courtois 1.99
Asmir Begovic 1.98
Joe Hart 1.96
Wojctech Szczesny 1.96
Ben Foster 1.93
Brad Guzan 1.93
Simon Mingolet 1.93
David de Gea 1.92
Adrian 1.90
Lukasz Fabianski 1.90
Tom Heaton 1.88
Hugo Lloris 1.88
Tim Krul 1.88
Vito Mannone 1.88
Robert Green 1.87
Tim Howard 1.87
Julian Speroni 1.86
Alan McGregor 1.83
Kasper Schmichel 1.83

How Football Manager Games Changed the World

17 Aug

Old Skool Computer3

The news that the Football Manager database will play a role in informing real clubs recruitment decisions via it’s integration into the Prozone Recruiter tool took me back to my earliest memory of playing a management sim. It was round my mate Kev’s house; us both poring over a green screen I forget the title of the game, but it was pretty basic. Players would have a position and a simple rating and formations were limited to a few 4-4-2 variants. You’d choose your team, set the passing style press a button and after what felt like an eternity you’d receive the result.

As technology developed the management sim became more sophisticated and immersive. Players gained new attributes: heading, aggression, pace, even personality types. Formations multiplied and individual and team instructions could be given with tweaks made real-time during games. It was at Kev’s house again where I was first introduced to the Championship Manager series which would in the guise of Championship Manager 2 claim a large chunk of my adolescence as I worked on my project of enabling Ajax to win every single available honour available in one single season.

In parallel games where you could be a player were also improving rapidly. From the ball-glued-to-foot days of the Commodore 64 came the independent ball physics of Sensible Soccer on the Amiga (which in my view remains to this day the best football game ever), and in turn this was superseded by the isometric view offered by FIFA International Soccer.

Near thirty years of striving for realism has led to the point where such games offer such faithful recreations of stadia and players that walking into a room it can be easy to get confused between a game on a Playstation, or X-box and one happening for real. But, for all this visual slickness and authentic-looking camera angles there is still a yawning chasm between the game and reality. Kicking a ball for real isn’t anything like pressing a button and, for the foreseeable future at least, nor will it be.

Management sims have also made strides towards realism with the effect that attempting to play a recent incarnation of Football Manager resulted in the same sort of stomach churning feeling a WWI Sopwith Pup pilot would feel when confronted with the controls of a modern passenger jet, so overwhelming were the number of buttons. But more than just mimicking reality however, the management sim has been influencing it.

Strangely this has come about because of the genres early limitations. In the late 80’s and early 90s Professional football management was still a largely intuitive business. Apart from a few notable exceptions, such as the Charles Reep notebook school, analysis consisted of the manager and his staff relying primarily on their ability to read the game visually. Early management sims – in effect sophisticated calculators – however, utilised every ounce of processing power in number crunching. There was no room for visual representations so to play the game gamers relied on numbers in the form of an increasing array of performance statistics.

Then in 1996 came the launch of the Opta index – an attempt to systematically log performance data. Much of the data gathered would would have been more than familiar to gamers: goals, assists, passes completed, shots on target, crosses into scoring zone, dribbles.It was just the beginning of a change which would see the scientific data-driven approach rise to ever greater prominence among both fans and clubslast season it was reported that Manchester City were employing no fewer than eleven data analysts. The work of an analyst typically spanning recruitment, identifying weaknesses, developing training plans, tactics and analysing the opposition. This often involves using statistical tools. The victorious German World Cup reportedly utilised a sophisticated software programme called Match Insights which at first glance bears more than a passing resemblance to the match-screen of a management sim.

You can argue that all this may have happened anyway, that there was a certain historical inevitability as technology made it quicker and easier to gather, store and analyse data, but whatever the case management sims were an important primer changing the very way we read the game and in doing this changing the game itself. Looking into that green screen with Kev, neither of us could have imagined how much impact that simple management sim would go on to have.

August v Football

15 Aug

Thursday morning and the texts begin, becoming progressively becoming more desperate as the day goes on. If we’re going to play tonight we need players. Anyone will do. Contact books are wrung for every last possibility.. it doesn’t matter if they can actually play football we just need someone. As lunchtime slips by we’re getting into I-would-but-it’s-too-short-notice territory and things still aren’t looking great.

Normally getting a team together for 5-a-side is no problem, in fact, there’s often more people than there are playing-slots so a rotation system has to be used, but then August comes along; Holidays, weddings and stag-do’s all conspiring to rip the heart out of the team.

11-a-side doesn’t have this problem. The pitches at the park currently lie fallow, recovering from being torn up over the winter as the goalposts slumber in a park-keepers lock-up. 5-a-side though, played on hard-wearing all-weather pitches, has no such break. As soon as one ‘season’ ends straight away another begins. There is no time for putting feet up to reflect on achievements, or else to re-group.

This incessant nature is driven by the pitch and league operators to squeeze every last drop of revenue from their 3G pitches. At around £50 per pitch per hour having a break for August would represent a huge loss of revenue for them. Better instead to leave it to players to scrape teams together to make it through to September when normal service will resume.

There is a trophy on my mantelpiece won, not through any on-pitch prowess, but through pushing the very limits of social-networking technology in pleading, prodding and cajoling a series of reluctant non-football players onto the pitch ensuring that the lead we had built up in the league before August was not lost through forfeiting games.

Some times this can result in some unusual situations. 5-a-side is an intensive game which can be unforgiving for those unfamiliar with its stresses, more so in the August heat. One time, shortly after kick-off, and with us in the lead by one goal, a player, red cheeked, simply walked off leading to puzzled glances and a sheepish expression from the player who’d brought him along. Five minutes later, having regained his breath and refreshed at the water fountain he returned, but by that time, a player down, we’d shipped four goals.

Evening comes, and waiting for the train home after work I receive the text. “footies off, not enough players.” My heart sinks a little, but part of me also welcomes the break. The never-ending season combined with ever advancing age has placed its strain on my body. Still, September can’t come soon enough.

Football Clubs on Twitter – An analysis

11 Aug

At first the issue of a clubs Twitter followers might seem unimportant, flippant even, but as a measure of clubs profile it is actually quite a good gauge. We’re used to seeing attendance used as a measure of underlying support and by extension its revenue generating potential, but there are two issues; firstly the big clubs are held in check the difficulties with expanding capacity in terms of planning constraints, land availability and the ability of transport infrastructure to support development. Twitter however, is, in economic terminology, scalable in that there are virtually no physical limits to how many Twitter followers a club can attract therefore it can reveal the true differentials between clubs profiles. Secondly commercial income been growing in importance to clubs and according to Deloitte overtook match-day revenue for the first time in the 2010/11 season, so what matters more to clubs is not the number of people who physically watch their games, but how many replica kits they can expect to sell and how much sponsors will pay to be associated with the club.

Top 10 followers (1)

What looking at the number of twitter followers does reveal is a massive inequality. Based on figures gathered on the 5th of August the combined number of followers for the top four clubs: Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United, significantly exceeded the total for the rest of the football league – some 14.2 million compared to 8.6 million – and that’s not even including the followers of the foreign language Twitter feeds that some of the bigger clubs possess to engage with their overseas support. Manchester United’s official Spanish language account, for instance, has over 130000 followers which is more than the majority of Championship clubs.

Total Twitter followers Top 4 (1)

The difference between the elite few and the clubs at the bottom of the football league is correspondingly vast. Arsenal, who sit at the very top of the table, boast 4.2 million followers, only just holding off Chelsea who themselves have 4.1 million followers. At the other end of the scale League Two Morecambe count just 5662 followers, a mere 0.1% of Arsenal’s total. This is indeed a stark divide considering that with average attendances 2013/14’s bottom club Accrington’s average crowd was around 2.1% of top club Manchester United’s.

The raised profile of the Premier League as a whole is demonstrated by the difference in followers between clubs in the two divisions. Among the Premier League clubs the median number of followers is 254500 whilst for the Championship it is a much lower 57550. The clubs in the Championship with the most followers have all had recent spells in the Premier League; newly relegated Fulham, and Norwich, lead the division with 237000 and 208000 followers respectively, while Wigan and Reading, relegated the previous season, also have followers numbering in the six figures. The number of followers for Blackburn and Bolton, however, both relegated at the end of the 2011/12 season, are much closer to the division average suggesting that being away from the spotlight of the top tier for more than a season can cause clubs profiles to shrink dramatically.

Median Twitter followers Graph

The numbers for League 1 and League 2 are even lower with the median number of followers per club being 19650 and 17250 respectively. Despite this clubs outside the Premier league have proved among the most enthusiastic adopters. Only three of the top 10 Tweeters, in terms of the total number of Tweets made since their accounts were started, are current Premier League clubs. It is a Championship club, Charlton Athletic, who lead the field having managed 59600 tweets. Also in the top five are fellow championship side Huddersfield and League One sides Notts County and Scunthorpe, each making over 50000 tweets: incidentally Manchester United on just over 7300 tweets are 6th from bottom. No doubt, these clubs have like many others from Premier League to grass-roots level found that Twitter is a valuable tool in engaging with supporters and enhancing their profile. Hidden in those numbers though is a story of deep inequality which will be unsettling to many.

Top 10 tweeters

Club Followers Tweets
Arsenal 4200000 35000
Chelsea 4140000 36900
Liverpool 2970000 34000
Man Utd 2930000 7389
Man City 1900000 57200
Tottenham 874000 31500
Newcastle 405000 22300
Everton 404000 40800
West Ham 313000 26500
Aston Villa 259000 27100
Sunderland 250000 30800
Southampton 246000 31200
Swansea 244000 11300
Fulham 237000 18800
Stoke 211000 8995
Norwich 208000 28100
QPR 190000 35800
West Brom 151000 13400
Wigan 149000 16300
Reading 132000 49600
Cardiff 124000 23300
Crystal Palace 118000 28000
Hull 108000 21000
Doncaster 107000 10200
Wolves 88600 47300
Nottm Forest 88100 9565
Leeds 82300 8350
Derby 75500 43300
Leicester 72300 11800
Birmingham 66900 23100
Blackburn 60700 21800
Sheff Utd 60700 11900
Sheff Wed 57800 26200
Bolton 57300 15000
Blackpool 44300 13300
Middlesbrough 42800 18700
Portsmouth 41600 22700
Burnley 38900 36200
Brighton 37700 18200
Millwall 36000 16100
Charlton 35600 59600
Coventry 34000 16900
Ipswich 32800 9517
Bristol City 31600 13400
Huddersfield 31300 56800
Watford 31000 14100
Bournemouth 28000 22100
Bradford 26400 8421
Barnsley 25700 13900
Brentford 25600 23600
Wimbledon 25000 9341
Swindon 24300 16400
Peterborough 23800 9334
Chesterfield 23400 26000
Leyton Orient 23100 15800
Plymouth 22900 26400
Luton 21900 23900
Notts County 21700 56200
Preston 20700 17000
Southend 20300 17000
Northampton 19700 21400
Tranmere 19300 15500
Oxford Utd 19100 19200
Rotherham 19000 10000
Walsall 18600 12700
Burton 18400 11500
Exeter 18100 18500
MK Dons 17800 21300
Carlisle 17800 12500
Fleetwood 17500 25200
Cheltenham 17300 27100
Shrewsbury 17200 6458
Hartlepool 17000 21400
Crawley 16800 23300
Colchester 16500 31200
Gillingham 16400 9115
Accrington 15900 10100
York 15800 5523
Scunthorpe 15600 52100
Newport 15500 14600
Bury 15300 17400
Crewe 15300 6335
Stevenage 15000 18200
Oldham 14900 10500
Yeovil 14900 10400
Wycombe 14800 27600
Rochdale 13200 22200
Port Vale 13200 12600
Cambridge 12600 9243
Mansfield 12000 13200
Dag & Red 11500 6389
Morecambe 5662 5314

Southampton 0 Bayer Leverkusen 1: Pre Season Friendly 9th August 2014

10 Aug

Saints v Leverkusen

 

Forty minutes before kick-off on the crest of the Itchen bridge a fan on his way to St. Mary’s stadium stops momentarily to take a photograph of one of the tower blocks rising up spectacularly on both sides of the river. Rejoining the stream of red and white he perhaps doesn’t consider the significance, but it’s a striking one. The city, some 2000 years old has continually dealt with change. Sometimes gradual, or sometimes sudden like the boom which came with the docks and railway, and sometimes even violent like the destruction of the blitz which reduced large amounts of the city to rubble. Rising up on the site of an old shipyard and an old dock the towers themselves are a reminder of the city’s changing face.

The football club is no different. Change here can also come in many forms. It might be signing a few players in the summer, or it can be in the case of Southampton the loss of your executive director, manager and the core of your squad. In any case the club continues and rebuilds.

At the helm is new boss Ronald Koeman introduced to the crowd ahead of the kick off and asked for a few words. Obligingly Koeman, like a person eager to impress at a job interview, dutiful comes out with what he is expected to say about the club and the league and the great opportunity this all presents. Home débuts were also handed to three new players Ryan Bertrand, Graziano Pelle, and Dusan Tadic with Saphir Taider waiting on the bench.

The first half saw some fluent passing football and although Saints chances were few – Yoshida hitting the post and James Ward-Prowse having an opportunity charged down by the fast-acting Leverkusen ‘keeper after being put through by an impressive Steven Davis – Leverkusen – Champions League finalists in 2002 – similarly had few clear efforts with Boruc escaping into the half-time dressing room largely untested.

Graziano Pelle – cover star of the ‘matchday magazine’ – however, had perhaps a home début to forget as he scored an own-goal from a corner-kick driven in low early in the second half. Boruc, wrong-footed could only push it upwards into the net. With no discernible away crowd the goal was greeted by silence it’s only acknowledgement coming from the celebrations of the Leverkusen players.

The game, as a competitive spectacle did not last much beyond this as both sides began making large amounts of substitutions. Ramirez and Taider appeared to be the most effective of the Saints with Taider performing well and Ramirez troubling the Leverkusen defence. Mayuka, introduced on 77 minutes was also involved in several attacking moves down the left.

Ending 1-0 to the visitors it was clear that some work still needs to be done. A centre back and striker are said to be to high on Koeman’s list of priorities and almost immediately after the game it was also announced that the £10 million signing of England goalkeeper Fraser Forster had been completed. Like the city the process of renewal is never ending.

European League Attendances 2013/14

5 Aug

Attendance infographic 4

Build it and they will come? The impact of hosting a World Cup on domestic league attendances

2 Aug

It seems that these days, before any major sporting event has even properly begun questions are already being raised about its legacy: the hoped-for long-term benefit which accrues from hosting an event beyond the few weeks that it takes place. Given the sheer investment required to hold an event – and the fact that much of this is derived from public funds – the kind which could otherwise fund schools, hospitals, and other critical infrastructure – it is a question which has never been more pertinent.

Stadia6

Although some of the wider benefits can be hard to establish one of the main items of expense in hosting any tournament is the cost in providing adequate stadia (to host the world cup requires a stadium with at least an 80,000 capacity for the opening game and the final, 60,000 for the semi-finals and 40 000 for the group stages, round of 16 and quarter finals.) It should be expected that the key beneficiaries from this in the long term will be football clubs who inherit enhanced facilities which they would struggle to finance themselves. Across a whole league the effect can also be potentially significant, dramatically increasing average attendances.

Major Tournament attendance Index

Looking at this one aspect of legacy it is clear that since Italia 90 hosts have experienced mixed fortunes. Italia 90 itself saw an investment of £200 million from the Italian government in renovating and building new stadia. Between the 1988/89 season and the 1992/93 season Serie A average attendance rose by 10.7% from 29,454 to 32,607. The rise in attendances which came in the wake of tournament was however, only able to interrupt the downward trend Serie A attendances had been on since reaching  the heights of 38,872 in the 1984/85 season and within just four seasons of the tournament the average attendance was back down to 29,884. There was also a question of unfortunate timing, as this article on Worldstadiums.com points out, Italia 90 occurred at the end of an era of stadia design meaning that many of the new and revamped stadia were outmoded within a short space of time.  One of the new stadia constructed for the tournament the Stadio Delle Alpi, home to both Juventus and Torino, was much maligned: Criticised for lack of atmosphere, poor visibility and exposing spectators to the elements it was demolished in 2009.

Four years later when the world cup arrived in the USA although there was no top-level professional football league  finding venues was not a problem. The US boasted a wealth of stadia – mainly used for American Football – which were pressed into service with very little in the way of renovation. No new stadia were constructed and though a few World Cup venues would also go on to provide venues for teams from the fledgling professional league, the MLS, launched two years after the tournament the major legacy was in raising the profile of the game, rather than any infrastructure improvements.

France 98 also saw the hosts adopt strategy of utilizing existing stadia, with refurbishments made to a number of grounds. Only one new stadium was constructed, the Stade de France. In terms of legacy however, Ligue 1 attendances grew sharply in the period immediately around the tournament rising by 63.5% from 14,163 in the 1996/97 season to 23,160 in the 2000/01 season. Though they lost some of this ground, falling back to 19,846 by 2002/03 the growth spurt was still enough to propel Ligue 1 away from the second-stream of European leagues.

World Cup Legacy Flags1

After the frugality of the previous two tournaments 2002 represented a different approach. With Japan and Korea as joint hosts in 2002 a record-breaking nineteen stadiums were constructed or underwent major renovations. The reported cost of this was $4.6 billion for Japan and $2.7 billion for South Korea (both nations had intended to bid for the event individually). In Japan this construction boom coincided with a rise in average J-league attendances; Attendances rose by 69.6% from 11,065 in the 2000 season to 18,765 for the 2005 season though, like other tournaments, within just three seasons of the tournament this growth had ceased. Individual stadia have also had a mixed impact with some such as the Miyagi Stadium finding themselves being shunned in favour of smaller grounds. Korean attendances are harder to come by, however the Seoul World Cup Stadium plays host to FC Seoul who in 2010 boasted the league’s highest attendance of 30,849 however, both their and the leagues average attendance appears to have declined in the past few years: in 2013 FC Seoul drew an average crowd of just 17,740 to the 66,000 capacity Seoul World Cup stadium whilst K-league average attendance was reported as 8,440.

2002 would always be a hard act to follow in terms of stadia building. The next tournament’s hosts, Germany, also possessed relatively up-to-date stadia so 2006 saw a more modest construction programme carried out. Still, almost $2bn was spent on the construction of four new stadia (including the Allianz Arena in Munich with a capacity of 69,901 and a cost of $473 million) and the renovation of a number of others. Although Bundesliga attendances did increase in the period around the tournament growth was far less spectacular than in France, or Japan, rising by just 12.6% between 2004/05 and 2008/09. One reason may be that demand may have already been well served, thus limiting the novelty effect of new stadia. Another factor is that two of the four new stadia; the ESPRIT arena in Dusseldorf at the cost of $313 million and the Red Bull Arena in Leipzig, built at the cost of $166 million played host to lower division teams so as well as being possibly underutilized these did not contribute to the Bundesliga average.

South Africa 2010, the first ever tournament held on African soil, has proved one of the most controversial tournaments in terms of legacy, with questions enduring long after the tournament left the continent. Reportedly around $1.8billion was spent on stadia, (which included five new venues change?). Football in South Africa attracts comparatively few spectators so it was always going to be difficult to fully utilize stadia constructed for the purpose of hosting the world’s greatest tournament. Nevertheless in the wake of the World Cup, in February 2011 a spectacular crowd of 92,515 saw Kaiser Chiefs play Orlando Pirates at Johannesburg’s new Soccer City stadium. While the effect of outliers such as this did help to drive up average attendance – The average figure rising by 42% between 2006/07 when the league averaged 5360 spectators and the 2010/11 season where the average peaked at 7601 – averages have, just four years on from the tournament fallen back to 5073 for 2013/14. In July 2013 shortly after his appointment the new South African Premier Soccer League CEO Brand de Villiers also stated that increasing the number of spectators at games was his key priority.

SA Premier

This brings us to Brazil where the eventual cost of $4.7 billion for construction or the refurbishment of 10 stadia far outstripped the initial estimate of $1.1 billion putting it on a par with Japan in 2002. Although Brazilian teams attract fairly healthy crowds – on a par with Ligue 1, and in the Maracana – built for the 1950 World Cup, can boast what was once one of the world’s biggest stadiums attendances have however, been sliding for the past few years – from 18,487 in 2008 to 13,465 in 2012. Though a pre-tournament boost has seen these rise to 15,893 for 2013 there are more general issues with the affordability of tickets, which remain beyond the reach of many ordinary workers whilst four of the new stadia have also been built in areas with lower division sides.  In Manaus, for instance, the local second division team has an average attendance around 1,500 per game however, the city now has a new stadium with a capacity of 42,374, at a cost of $325 million.

It remains to be seen which trajectory Brazil will now follow. Will the legacy of investment in stadia be re-invigorated Brazilian football attendances, or underutilized stadia with high maintenance costs and the niggling sense that money could have better been spent elsewhere?

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