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.

Monday, 23 June 2014

Networking the World Cup

The latest in a line of attempts to ‘measure’ the world cup in a quasi-academic fashion comes from The New York Times, where graphics editor Gregor Aisch has developed a series of network diagrams to show the ties between clubs and countries. In his latest diagram, Aisch aims to show how many clubs have two or more players at the world cup playing for different teams.  The logic seems to be that clubs with the widest diversity in terms of national team representation (i.e. Man Utd and Real Madrid) sit in the middle of the diagram, while clubs with less diversity sit towards the edge.  The diagram can also be used backwards, to show the clubs that contributed players to each national team.  The diagram is relatively intense, but some countries, such as Iran and Australia, qualified with fewer players at well networked clubs than most.

It would be tempting to say that this is a predictor of form based on Australia already being out of the tournament, and Iran having only one point so far - but Australia will
face much better networked Spain in tonight’s dead-rubber. Perhaps the explanatory power of network diagrams in football can only go so far, on the pitch at least?

Thursday, 19 June 2014

From Samba Beats to Mersey Beats

Well so far the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil has provided us with a veritable feast of football, with some high scoring matches and drama both on and off the pitch.  Spain's shock exit and the Netherlands' dramatic win over Australia were perhaps the two biggest stories on today's news broadcasts.    Another exciting development is our new logo, designed by Andy Tilley who is better known for his comic strips at

Meanwhile, back in the United Kingdom, Professor David Preece of Teesside University brought to our attention the latest single by popular beat combo The Merseybeats, a re-release of their 1980s hit ‘This is Merseybeat’ (a medley of songs that the band has recorded throughout their career) plus two bonus tracks, ‘Poor Boy From Liverpool’ and ‘Chained to You’.

The relevance of this for Soccer-Mad Boffins is that all profits will be donated to the Hillsborough Family Support Group, a charity established after the 1989 Hillsborough stadium disaster, in which many football fans were tragically killed.

The single is available on CD and as a digital download, please visit the Merseybeats official website for more info:

Monday, 16 June 2014

Scoring from the sidelines: advertising and the world cup

The FIFA World Cup, and the associated excitement around it, has been a tool for marketers almost as long as the competition has existed.  Since the 1982 FIFA has had official commercial partners, usually ‘global brands' - not surprisingly Coca-Cola has been the longest serving of these, supporting FIFA for every world cup since 1982. Some, such as McDonalds, came later, in their case from 1994 onwards.  Others, such as FujiFilm, supported the organisation and the world cup loyally, but not even the world cup was exposure enough to save them from decline - technological in the case of Fuji, which supported FIFA from 1982-2006.    For the 2014 tournament there are six ‘FIFA Partners’, eight ‘World Cup sponsors’ and six ’National Supporters’, brands better known in the home country.  

Increasingly, FIFA and national organisers have insisted that stadiums and other activities organised to coincide with the world cup are kept free of any advertising or marketing activity from non-sponsors. Before FIFA did this, television authorities insisted that advertising be kept away from the pitch area, where it might easily be seen on TV. This has meant that ambush marketing as a tactic has a long history associated with the tournament, going back at least to the 1966 competition when Swiss fans carried banners advertising Swiss co-operative stores at Hillsborough stadium, in Sheffield (Chisari, 2007).  More recently, at the 2006 world cup, 1,000 Dutch fans watched their country’s match against Ivory Coast in their underwear after organisers confiscated their orange trousers, which had the logo of a Dutch brewery on them (Anheiser Busch’s Budweiser was the official beer -

This world cup has already seen a stream marketing and advertising campaigns related to to the world cup.  One of the most tangental has been Listerine who seem to be claiming that their product can deal with the damage to football fans’ teeth caused by the FIFA World Cup. On the other hand, Kia’s campaign for the USA would seem entirely tangential to the product being sold.  More local businesses have also attempted to take advantage of the world cup for marketing purpose;
the Frenchgate shopping centre in Doncaster offers a ‘World Cup Lounge’, which they claim allows shoppers to ‘cheer on England’, although presumably the shopping centre was not open for England’s 11pm BST kick-off against Italy on Saturday.   Perhaps this oversight is why England didn’t win.

Have you seen any tangential, esoteric, or otherwise strange world cup related marketing or advertising?  Let us know by commenting below.  More on this as the tournament progresses...

Friday, 13 June 2014

What would your Brazilian nickname be?

To get into the Brazilian spirit, here is an entertaining website which allows you to generate Brazilian football names.  Just for fun, we 'Brazilled' a few famous management gurus:

Micheal Porter = Michea
Gary Hamel = Hamito
Peter Drucker = Druckinho
Stephen Linstead = Claudio Linsteito
Bill Cooke = Felix Cookardo
Jay Barney = Barnito
Michel Foucault = Foucaimo Pau
Peter Starbuck = Petisco

Try converting your own name here:

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Its all kicking off: Brazil 2014 is here!

We hope you tuned in to our appearance on Radio York and we hope you enjoyed the Alan Partridge soccer meter clip a couple of days ago.  With the big kick-off happening tonight have you decided who you think will win the 2014 FIFA World Cup?  In the absence of the soccer meter, we've found these two online tools to help you predict the outcome of the tournament:

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Tune in to the soccer mad boffins

Eat my goal! Is it really twenty years since Alan Partidge attempted to analyse the 1994 World Cup with his Soccermeter?

Plug time! Whilst on the subject of broadcasting, we should mention that Kevin and Alex (the soccer-mad-boffins) will be appearing on the Stuart Ellis (standing in for Elly Fiorentini) Drivetime show on BBC Radio York on Thursday at around 4.40pm. You can hear it here if you are outside North Yorkshire:

Soccermeter not included!

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Boro Programmes - a footballing Alladin's cave!

Parliament Road, Middlesbrough, a few minutes’ walk from where the home of ‘The Boro’ and 1966 World Cup venue Ayresome Park stadium once stood, is where you’ll find ‘Boro Programmes’.  A small shop packed to the ceiling with football programmes, books, fanzines, and the odd bit of memorabilia, Boro Programmes is the sort of football collectors mecca where Soccer Mad Boffins like ourselves can easily spend hours searching through cardboard boxes full of World Cup paraphernalia, obscure reserve league teamsheets, and long since out-of-print books about teams, players, and leagues past and present.   

Whilst specialising in all things related to Middlesbrough FC, what is valuable about the place to football enthusiasts more generally is that yes, you’ll find programmes from the latest FA Cup Finals, and international fixtures, but  side-by-side you’ll also find stuff you hadn’t necessarily thought about, or even knew about.  For instance: Need a 1987 Freight Rover Trophy regional group stage programme to complete your collection? Boro Programmes will dig it out from the room out the back. Curious about who played for England in a long since forgotten 1960s world cup qualifier? It’ll be filed away with the others in a box next to the window.  Trying to find a book about the Tuvulu Sunday league recommended to you by some bloke stood at the bar of a northern league team social club? Boro Programmes will ask around the grapevine and procure one for you.

Check out the website at or give them a call on 01642 250177. You can also visit the shop, which is located at 58 Parliament Rd, Town Centre, Middlesbrough TS1 4LA.

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Soccer Mad Boffins Comment on the FIFA 2014 World Cup in Brazil - Part 1

Football is never far from the headlines at the moment thanks to this year’s FIFA World Cup tournament in Brazil, and controversies surrounding the 2018 and 2022 competitions, to be hosted by Russia and Qatar respectively.

Academics in The York Management School, University of York, who have been conducting a pioneering management history research project of the 1966 FIFA World Cup believe that the game and its governing bodies could do well to heed the lessons of history.

Dr Kevin Tennent and Dr Alex Gillett, editors of the ‘Soccer Mad Boffins’ blog site, which will be launched this summer to coincide with the tournament in Brazil, identify that such controversies over the organisation of sports tournaments with international participation are not new for the sport.

According to Dr Tennent, “This is about cross-cultural management. How do cultural and language barriers effect the success – or otherwise – of tournaments like the FIFA World Cup?  We have seen innovations introduced as a result of such misunderstandings  -  the red and yellow card system was, for example, introduced as a consequence of problems of language and understanding during the 1966 FIFA World Cup when it was hosted in England.”

Dr Gillett adds: “We are told that we live in an increasingly globalised society, but as new ‘markets’ open up – or are opened – by industries including sport, the financial stakes as well as expectations, are raised.  This means that problems are closely scrutinised. Perhaps sport has never before been quite so under the microscope in terms of its accountability and transparency.  The question is, how will its governing bodies adapt?”

Dr Tennent and Dr Gillett’s year long study is supported by FIFA and the Centre International d’Etude du Sport in Switzerland through the João Havelange Scholarship scheme.  They are particularly interested in the organisation of the tournament in the years running up to 1966, the day to day management of the tournament itself, and the management of legacy after the tournament.