Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Soccer Mad Boffins quoted in FIFA Weekly magazine

Dr Kevin D. Tennent and Dr Alex Gillett were recently quoted in an article which appeared in Issue 61 of FIFAs magazine FIFA Weekly.

The article entitled 'Inside the FIFA Archives' was about the FIFA archive as a research resource and can be found on pages 28 and 29.

You can read it here:

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Football and University: Some More Examples

In our previous article we mentioned former Wigan player Michael Hazeldine who reportedly achieved a university degree after leaving the sport. Picking up the thread, we decided to write a new blog post about soccer and the world of education. Enjoy!

In the Victorian era, the development of a universal set of rules for association football was closely related to the world of education.  Evolving from a popular folk game into a public school pastime, the rules of 'soccer' and the establishment of the English Football Association were greatly influenced by 'old boys' of thee English public school system.  Many leading teams were amateur and populated by upper class gentlemen, and indeed some of the most successful and prestigious teams were based in English public schools and universities from the south of England. Of course that is not the full picture, and it is now acknowledged that the game was also popular amongst the north of the country and in Scotland, and across all social classes, with teams such as Sheffield also being highly influential in the establishment of the sport and its rules (Sanders, 2010). However, the role of schools and education establishments must be acknowledged.

As the sport evolved and professionalised it became something of a rarity to find a university graduate on the pitch or indeed anywhere else in a club's setup other than in the boardroom, medical room, or some other 'back office' function (unless of course one includes the referee and linesmen who until relatively recently were amateurs and relied on their careers outside of the game in order to pay the bills).    Kuper and Syzmanski's (2009) for example analysis of the backgrounds of players in the English national team for a more detailed discussion of the links between class, educational background etc and 'on the pitch' footballing success.

Things seem to be changing in some ways though as the game becomes more sophisticated and data driven - it is now possible to find university graduates  employed amongst the coaching staff of professional clubs, for example York City FCs recent appointment of a Performance Analyst with a bachelors degree from Sheffield Hallam university)

It may be a long time though before we see another Old Etonion such as Arthur Kinnaird representing England, or a Doctor appearing in the FIFA World Cup as Socrates did in 1982, but dig around the internet and it is though possible to find a few interesting articles which report on interesting and unorthodox stories linking education and football.  Here are a couple that we discovered:

Ben Burgess

It was recently reported that ex-Hull City and Blackpool striker Ben Burgess went a step further than the average footballer when it comes to developing the 'education' aspects of their CV.  Choosing to retire at the age of 30 shortly after signing a new two year contract, Burgess has retrained for a life in the education sector.  Unlike players of yesteryear who opted to open a newsagents, pub, or sports shop, Burgess has instead opted to study a postgraduate certificate in education and become a teacher.  Read the full article here:

Neil Baldwin
Even more atypical is the story of Neil 'Nello' Baldwin, the Stoke City kit manager whose life was recently portrayed in the film 'Marvellous': Click here to find more info about the film on the BBC iplayer.

Although never a full-time professional footballer - Nello is a former clown - his story is perhaps even more unorthodox.  Nello was asked in 1993 to become kit-man by then Stoke City Manager Lou Macari, who spotted that he would bring humour and contribute to the team spirit within the club. The BBC film of Nello's remarkable life also shows how he became involved with Keele University, greeting new students and getting involved with campus life via the clubs and societies network, establishing his own team: The Neil baldwin Football Club (patron, Gary Linekar!)

To get an idea of Nello's antics, here is a real clip from the 1990s which was broadcast on national television (note: Nello is the one in the kilt!):

In 2013 Neil Baldwin was awarded by Keele the honorary degree of Master of the University.  In the words of the university's own press release:

"Neil Baldwin, who has been adopted by the student body over the last 50 years as something of a mascot for Keele, will be awarded the honorary degree of Master of the University. He has watched, supported and kept in touch with successive cohorts of Keele students building an impressive network of alumni contacts both national and internationally. He serves the students offering advice and support to students, remaining steadfastly proud and loyal to Keele. In doing so, he has openly defended Keele and voiced his concerns about any issue that has or would affect Keele to his numerous contacts within parliament, the various leaders of Christian denomination churches, volunteer organisations and business leaders across the country, of whom he regularly visits."


If you want to find more examples of names from the world of football who have achieved success in the classroom as well as on the pitch then the following website lists even more footballers, coaches, and managers with university degrees.  Although we are unable to verify the accuracy of the content it is an interesting  read!

Thursday, 28 August 2014

What happens to footballers after being rejected?

An article published on the BBC Sport website investigates what the outcomes are for soccer's young 'rejects'.  The article reports that The Professional Footballers' Association (PFA) estimates how each summer, about 700 players are released by their clubs and cites Oshor Williams of the PFA's education department, who states "Of those entering the game aged 16, two years down the line, 50% will be outside professional football. If we look at the same cohort at 21, the attrition rate is 75% or above." 

Whilst unemployment, drugs, gambling, and prison are the unfortunate destination for some, it is encouraging for Soccermadboffins to read how other young soccer players have invested in their education, graduated from university and started new careers.  For example, former Wigan striker Michael Hazeldine studied A levels whilst learning his trade as a footballer - a move which enabled him to attend university and graduate with a degree in medicine after Wigan had released him.

To read the full article visit the BBC website here

Thursday, 7 August 2014

A Busy Summer

This summer has been a busy time for us here at Soccermadboffins.  In addition to launching the blog and watching (and writing about!) the 2014 FIFA World Cup, we have been very busy with football related research including our business history project of the organisation and legacy of the  FIFA World Cup 1966. 

We also enjoyed appearing twice as studio guests on BBC Radio York's popular drivetime show to talk about the research, the blog, and to discuss the 2014 FIFA World Cup. 

Excellent progress has also been made on the research, including the presentation of work-in-progress findings at three important academic conferences:

·         - The York Management School Summer Conference, University of York
·          -   Association of Business Historians Annual Conference, University of Newcastle
·         - Management History Research Group Annual Workshop, Institute of Financial Services University College Campus, London.

Attendance at all of these events generated a great deal of interest in the study and provided high quality peer review. 

The next presentation from the project shall be at the Port City Lives conference, University of Liverpool, September 11th and 12th.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

World War 1

As part of their First World War commemorations, The Imperial War Museum has published on its website an interesting article by Amanda Mason entitled '9 Facts About Football in the First World War'. Click on the title to access it.

As some of you will be aware, the relationship between football and war (and peace) has been the subject of several articles published for academic audiences in recent years (see for example here, here, here,  and also here, to identify just 4!)

A quick browse around the internet revealed to Soccermadboffins the above photograph of a team of footballing soldiers wearing gas masks in some bleak, muddy location.  The phenomenon of gas-mask soccer during World War One receives coverage in Ward's (2004) book "Football's Strangest Matches" which reveals that it was a regular part of The Royal Engineers' training towards the end of the war.  At kick-off each player, wearing full uniform, had to put on and secure his gas mark before being able to touch the ball.  The referee would then stop the game during the mach and order gas masks be removed and properly put away, again players could not re-join the game until they had done so.  The purpose of gas-mask football was to familiarise troops with the process of correctly using and storing their gas-masks.

Somewhat eerie, the image serves as a reminder of the conditions of the war which tragically claimed many lives on an industrial scale and might just also be a reality check for one or two 'gallacticos' the next time that they complain about pitch conditions and training methods and facilities!

Saturday, 2 August 2014

The Guessing Game: Soccermeters Revisited

With the dust from the 2014 FIFA World Cup having settled the opportunity to revisit the 'soccermeters' published in the phoney war before the World Cup presents itself. These tools appeared as office timewasters in the weeks before the tournament with a mission to keep fans entertained before the big event got under way.  How did these now forgotten tools get on at predicting the outcome of the tournament? offered this soccermeter which eliminated teams from the competition on the basis of various footballing and non-footballing metrics. Footballing metrics seem roughly to fare better, 'tournament history' having predicting Brazil as winner, but Germany getting eliminated in the semis - although Italy were expected to face Brazil in the final. Slate also told us that Brazil would win on odds, although they would eliminate Germany in the semis and face Argentina in the final.  Germany's 7-1 victory over Brazil certainly stunned the betting markets. FIFA ranking proved a completely inaccurate predictor, placing Spain as winners, though at least they were expected to face Germany.  Under this model, however, Argentina would have been eliminated in the quarters and the Netherlands dropped out in the group stages.  

The Women's Soccer metric showed, perhaps, how far behind the 'established' nations are in women's football, with the United States predicted to win, although beating Germany in the final - England and Japan being expected to reach the semis! Economic indictors also favoured the US, placing the nation top in terms of wealth (on GDP per capita terms) and population.  

With wealth placing Australia as runners up, unsurprisingly neither factor was particularly decisive, though the wealth metric did see Germany and the Netherlands reach the semis. If UN Security Council membership was used, England would triumph.  Political importance doesn't improve footballing performance then.  Much to the likely chagrin of Greek, and southern European observers more generally, Germany does triumph under one economic metric - Standard and Poor rating.  Perhaps this puts a new complexion on the images of Angela Merkel celebrating with her nation's triumphant footballers.  And, if we were to believe that correlation leads to causation, adds new urgency to the need for Britain to get its national debt under control...

The Economist's Daily Chart on June 4th offered another attempt to predict the tournament.  They provided a 'probability circle' along with a straight bar graph of probability of winning the tournament, working on the premise that experience matters. The data was based on the outcome of every FIFA game since 1993 adjusted for ranking when the teams played each other and home advantage. Brazil were heavily favoured under this particularly soccernomic methodology, with a formidable 21% chance of lifting the cup. The Germans had only a 7.5% chance of winning the cup, and also only a 7.5% chance of getting past Brazil in the semis.  The Economist's prediction would suggest that Germany managed to play above the expected level, although it would seem more likely that they over-rated home advantage.  The use of historical data did also not fare well, perhaps suggesting they also over-estimated the role of path dependence - Spain were given a 7.6% chance of winning, marginally better than Germany, while Portgual were rated fourth on 6.9%.  England were perhaps more realistically rated at 3%, and Argentina at 6.4%, but the Netherlands were considered complete outsiders at 2.3%.  

As the outcome of a football match depends heavily on the players on the day, along with a dose of luck, trying to use the types of data that were used by the aforementioned tools to predict football matches seems in some ways to be a fool's errand. But it is an entertaining topic and we applaud these two attempts at soccer meters which have added greatly to the excitement and enjoyment of the 2014 FIFA World Cup. 

In conclusion - if you want to predict the tournament then it would surely be wiser to use the data that betting companies draw upon when calculating their odds, or better still to find out how Paul the Octopus did it in 2010! 

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Fans as ambassadors

One argument for hosting global sports events such as the FIFA world cup is that the exposure can help to forge a positive image of the host country’s nation and culture (Sola, 1998).  Certainly, imagery of passionate Brazillian supporters creating a sea of yellow shirts in the stadia, cheering their team, and then crying and chewing up flags towards the end of the competition did much to reinforce stereotypes of a nation obsessed with football and its national team’s performance.

The same principal may also apply though to visiting supporters who act as unofficial/part-time ambassadors for their country.  You may, for example, have read in newspapers or websites about a reported tradition amongst a section of Japanese supporters who tidy up litter in stadiums after their team’s matches, using blue plastic bags.  According to The Wall Street Journal (2014) “The state government of Rio de Janeiro last week recognized those tidying efforts, holding a ceremony to thank fans of the Samurai Blue who cleaned up after matches.”

Closer to home (for us here in York, UK at least) football fans may remember Scotland’s ‘Tartan Army’ receiving The Belgian Olympic Committee’s annual Fair Play Prize for their sportsmanlike conduct at the Belgium v Scotland match in September 2001.  This built on a tradition for the Tartan Army, who had formed the Scotland Travel Club in 1980 to encourage responsible behaviour at away matches, following a series of violent clashes . Scotland fans went on to win awards for good conduct at the 1992 European Championships in Sweden and at the 1998 World Cup in France.

And as well as helping to publicise their country, fans might themselves benefit from media coverage – a 17 year-old Belgian fan was ‘discovered’ by beauty firm L’Oreal after a World Cup photo went viral (The Independent, 2014), although the company was soon forced to drop her after pictures of her on a hunting trip in Africa emerged on Twitter.

As one of the most important stakeholders in football – arguably those for whom the game exists – it is no surprise that media attention upon this group increases as media coverage of football events itself increases.  Hosting the world cup may create benefits in terms of national profile, but qualifying can also create similar benefits if your fans are well behaved.  Japan has promoted its image as a highly civilised and ordered society abroad – this may act as a spur to tourism and investment in that country.

Monday, 14 July 2014

Tune in again to the Soccer Mad Boffins!

Congratulations to Germany on their spectacular world cup win, their first since 1990, and their first major trophy since Euro 96!

To discuss this tournament, and further findings from their 1966 research, the soccer-mad-boffins are back on the radio this afternoon.  We will be on the Steve Bailey (standing in for Elly Fiorentini) show at around 4.40pm.  You can hear it here if you are outside North Yorkshire

Thursday, 3 July 2014

World Cup Philosophy

Whilst there is a bit of World Cup 'downtime', here are a couple of things that might help cheer you up (especially for all of the Philosophy PhD's who read this blog):

Monday, 30 June 2014

Soccer Mad Boffins Comment on the FIFA 2014 World Cup in Brazil - Part 2

And so the knock-out stages of the 2014 FIFA World Cup have begun. Despite having the ‘home advantage’, Brazil (ranked third place in the FIFA rankings) were forced into a penalty shoot-out by Chile (ranked 14th).

Brazil are not the only nation to have faced testing opposition from supposed underdog opponents.  There are several notable absences from the ‘last sixteen’ thanks to one of the most (perhaps the most) exhilarating Group Stages of the competitions history. A series of high scoring games and shock results have served to remind us of what makes our sport so exhilarating - that any team can earn a result on their day.

I’ve been reminded on several occasions of Italia '90 where a Costa Rican team considered as something of a novelty embarrassed a supposedly superior Scotland team which comprised numerous ‘star players’ of the day.

Return to the present and Costa Rica are at it again. In the group stages they stunned Italy and dispatched a lackluster England team.  Italy looked awful because Costa Rica had balance, discipline, stamina, and tenacity, kept their formation and played a defensive game, man-marking and off-side trapping the Italians constantly, which frustrated them and ground them down. On any occasion that an Italian got the ball three Costa Rican's descended on him, then when Costa Rica went forward it was fluid - get the ball and immediately look for the next player to give it to, pass and move in short triangles up the pitch, keep possession and frustrate and tire the opposition. But it worked – and that's how you can win games when you aren't Brazil, England take note.

Also, watch the Costa Rican (and for that matter, the Chilean) coaches pacing the touchline and making sure the team keeps to the plan. Contrast with England, Italy and Spain whose coaches looked like dour, defeated men for 90 minutes, sat glumly watching their teams disintegrate.

Speaking as an Englishman, my observation is that our team seems to go into tournaments thinking that they are in the same bracket as the best teams, only to fail. When England played Italy, we made Italy look good because in reality we were an average side with few, if any of the qualities I attributed to Costa Rica in the previous paragraphs. We probably haven't been particularly good since about 1990 and the halcyon days of Butcher, Robson, Linekar, Shilton etc (or arguably 1996, where we did alright, but had a bit of luck and 'home advantage').

In contrast, Costa Rica have been a real talking point and last night beat Greece on penalties. Their football isn’t always pretty but they go into games knowing what they need to do, and deliver results.

In their book Soccernomics, Kuper and Szymanski pose the question are England really underachievers? Or is it just that the English population expect too much of them? They postulate about England’s achievements relative to their given resources and those of competing nations.

According to their analysis, England are one of the most experienced nations in football, and as a country has a relatively high financial income.  It is however a medium sized country.  When ranked on this basis, Kuper and Szymanski believe England’s peers are therefore Russia, Azerbijan, Morroco, Ivory Coast and Mozambique, rather than Brazil, Germany, and Argentina, etc.

When Kuper and Szymanski’s variables and the England football teams results are considered in relation to other footballing nations, it appears that between 1980 and 2001 they actually over-performed. Nowadays though they win plenty of friendlies but not enough ‘big ticket’ competitive matches in which they face much larger nations. 

If we believe the research then, England and the English should not expect to go into World Cups expecting to just go in and win the competition playing the sort of football that its squad of ‘star’/’household name’ players might whilst representing their respective leading Premiership clubs.  Instead, perhaps we ought to take a leaf out of Costa Rica’s book and approach the competition as underdogs, playing a more disciplined and well-drilled type of football where the sum of the whole is greater than the sum its parts.