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Football has invested considerably in VAR and fans had better get used to it

Rarely a weekend of football goes by these days without a monumental kerfuffle around everyone’s favourite technological official VAR.

The weekend just passed saw Liverpool FC the beneficiary against Manchester City, when a supposedly qualified and experienced referee waved play on despite the ball appearing to strike the Red’s Trent Alexander-Arnold’s arm whilst defending in his own area.

The mysterious individuals in control of the VAR system reviewed the incident. They confirmed the on-field officials’ version of events and before City fans could hit the keyboard to let rip at the most hated aspect of modern football, Liverpool had scored at the other end.

If it wasn’t so serious, it would be comical.

Was it an important decision? Of course it was. Did it alter the outcome of the match? Who knows? What is certain is the fact that governing bodies appear to be backing the technology and their investment in it, at the expense of the integrity of the game.

The official explanation from Professional Game Match Officials Limited (PGMOL) read as follows.

“The VAR checked the penalty appeal for handball against Trent Alexander-Arnold and confirmed the on-field decision that it did not meet the considerations for a deliberate handball.”  

Whilst it is always comforting for fans to receive open and transparent responses from the powers at be, this particular example borders on the absurd. Alexander-Arnold’s arm is in the most unusual of positions. In fact, try walking down the street with your arm held out in the manner in which his was and you will receive some very odd looks.

The PGMOL may wish to placate disgruntled fans with a united front that aims to quell discussion, however only the gullible will be falling for their lip service. The unnerving reality remains that the events that played out soon after kick off at Anfield on Sunday afternoon would have led to a penalty on every other day.

On this occasion, a blunder was made. Another referee, at another ground, in another country and in another league, may well have awarded the spot kick. Just a fortnight ago, Louis Fenton of the Wellington Phoenix was adjudged to have hand balled in the area and the referee pointed directly to the penalty spot.

Wellington play in the A-League, Australia’s top tier of professional football. Fenton appeased his team mates immediately, suggesting that once the footage was viewed by VAR, the decision would be reversed, as the ball had made clear contact with his chest before glancing the arm.

Whilst the footage supported Fenton’s version of events, once again, the decision stood and the player proceeded to use some rather blue and poorly chosen words in his post-game interview.

The facial expressions of those sitting on the Phoenix bench said it all, as did Pep Guardiola’s rather comical hand shaking of the officials at the completion of Liverpool’s 3-1 victory over the English champions.

Both reactions lie at the core of the issue when it comes to VAR; the perception that it is a farce and has the potential to harm football from within.

Contentious handball decisions have always brought much debate and conjecture in the game. Yet the inconsistent application of the rules that exists when the extra layer of officialdom is called upon does nothing more than breed distrust in the fans and potential illegitimacy in results.

When the Hawkeye technology currently being used in the Premier League to rule on-offside play is added to the mix, it is little wonder fans are roaring their anger from the rooftops.

It is not just the furious, one eyed supporter calling for change, despite many feeling as though their club has indeed felt the wrath of VAR. Respected players, commentators and pundits right across the globe have had enough of the trivialities of off-sides being awarded based on what appear to be the most minute of margins.

They have grown tired of incidents being reviewed for sometimes up to three or four minutes before a decision is confirmed and, like all of us, are completely bamboozled by many of the adjudications made.

Whilst it is easy for the official post-game statement to be drafted in such a way as to artificially confirm the decisions made by on-field officials, the footballing world sees well through that façade.

What chance a governing body concedes a little ground, admits to an over reliance on technology and shows the courage to downsize its role in the game? Very little I would say and that could be a dangerous path to tread.

Atletico Madrid assistant connecting fans across the globe

Atletico Madrid have provided a great source for fan interaction with the use of a WhatsApp assistant that enables fans to get closer to the Spanish top-flight football club.

Fans of the La Liga side can connect via WhatsApp which has an assistant ready to communicate key information.

No matter where you are in the world, using WhatsApp is a powerful resource for direct information that helps you get closer to Atletico Madrid and gain some help along the way.

Areas that the assistant can cover are the major inner workings of the club, including tickets, membership, merchandise and an overall more immersive experience with players and coaching staff.

For example, when you first connect with the WhatsApp assistant, you will get a special welcome video message from Atletico’s Portuguese star Joao Felix.

There are three different ways to activate the Whatsapp assistant, which will work once the person first starts a conversation.

You can add the number 0023 690372769 to your contact list and sending a message to that number.

You can also scan a QR code found on the club’s official website, as well as using a WhatsApp assistant button. Everything you need to know can be found on the club’s website link down below.

Part of the digital development team at Atletico Madrid, Alejandro Ugarrio spoke about the need for increased fan support.

“We are increasingly a global club and, therefore, we have to offer global solutions to our fans worldwide,” he said.

“We realised that it was necessary to be able to respond to fans who are in other time zones and who use different languages.

“WhatsApp was the best fit for our needs, given the global reach it has.”

Atletico Madrid have committed to utilising WhatsApp are an innovative and powerful tool that already has more than 1.5 billion people around the world using the app.

For more information about connecting with the WhatsApp assistant, you can find it here: https://en.atleticodemadrid.com/noticias/atletico-de-madrid-provides-an-innovative-whatsapp-assistant-to-the-fans

Will Swanton’s attempted NBL vs A-League code war was an epic fail

A-League

People like The Australian newspaper’s Will Swanton obviously detest football and apparently enjoy watching the game struggle, for acknowledgement and towards expansion.

The veteran journalist took a pot shot at football on the 17th of November, in an article pumping up the tires of the increasingly well attended National Basketball League. It was poorly timed to say the least. It came just a day after the football community had embraced the now traditional romance of November 16th; the anniversary of the day Australian football returned to World Cup respectability.

On that day in 2005, John Aloisi’s boot and Mark Schwarzer’s hands helped send the Socceroos to their first World Cup in 32 years. Never before had a team of professionals represented the nation on the biggest of football stages, yet the generation of players that emerged around the turn of the century was mature and did so with pride and determination.

Following the record breaking crowd of 17,514 that attended the Sydney Kings vs Illawarra Hawks NBL match a day later at Qudos Bank Arena, Swanton felt the need to do two things.

Firstly, he correctly identified the increase in interest and attendance at NBL matches thus far in 2019. At the time of writing, that attendance increase stood at 6.7% when measured against the 2018/19 season average. A fantastic achievement and one potentially impacted by Australia’s stellar but ultimately disappointing run at the recent World Championships in China.

Swanton captured the NBL success well with his use of the term “slam-dunk” in the headline, yet had many astonished by his decision to suggest that the A-League was kicking an “own-goal” in comparison. The award winning journalist doubled down in his second paragraph by fabricating the existence of a “summer shootout” between the two sports; arguing that basketball was gaining traction whilst football was floundering.

Perhaps confrontational by nature, Swanton felt the need to use divisive and inflammatory language to outline his thesis, when the reality is that many football fans are also embracing the success of the National Basketball League. In short, any attempt to infer that either sport is dragging fans away from the other is merely nonsense.

More alarming is the rather loose use of language and the exclusion of data that actually counters his argument decisively. The reality is that A-League crowds are up 6.9% on 2018/19 season averages, even considering the introduction of Western United and their expected mediocre crowds as they attempt to build a loyal supporter base in Geelong.

Hardly floundering.

Just four days after The Australian published the piece, the FFA would announce an increased operating surplus for 2019 of A$44.04 million and a 13% increase in Australia’s football participation rates. That increase translates to around 1.8 million Australians playing the beautiful game on a regular basis.

A record 125,631 people became members of A-League clubs in 2019 and for the first time in the competition’s history, more than 50% of participants across the country were actively supporting an A-League team.

All potentially important fragments of information to be aware of before writing an article that death knells a competition and lampoons its quality as being “not in the top two” leagues in the world. Such drivel merely enunciates the limited research undertaken for the piece and potentially the lack of knowledge possessed by the writer when it comes to football and its deep seated roots in this country.

Former Socceroo and Fox Sports analyst Mark Bosnich made mere folly of Swanton’s reference to football’s poor television figures by noting that the viewing audience for the Kings vs Hawks fixture was in fact smaller than the crowd inside the arena for the contest.

Bosnich was correct in his assertion that football fans would never raise such a statistic. Co-existence in Australia’s overcrowded sporting landscape is a reality and there is room for both codes to survive and thrive.

Perhaps the writer should be more concerned about the shrinking attendances at international cricket matches, after the Brisbane test Match at the Gabba between Australia and Pakistan drew just 13,561 fans on the opening day of the international season.

Moreover, the 31.7% decrease in Big Bash crowds in just two seasons is surely worth more space than a rather desperate attempt to set up a futile code war between two emerging sports. Framing such a tension does little more than pander to those who salivate at the thought of seeing football punted from television screens and being told to assume its seat, as it has been told many times before.

Sadly for Swanton, the game at grass roots level continues to grow, women’s football soars ahead in leaps and bounds and the A-League is plugging away quite well thank you very much.

The standard is commendable, the fans engaged and with new found independence, the future looks bright. Hopefully, those of us who enjoy watching the NBL and the A-League can savour the growth of both, hold hands, and march into the future with wonderful viewing options over the course of an Australian summer. I’ll do so with or without Will Swanton.

Iconic football brand Umbro keen to work with domestic clubs in Australia

Umbro has been a kit and equipment manufacturer in global football for near on a century. The iconic band was birthed in Manchester in 1924, originally focusing on playing strips alone.

The company’s designs made their English debut on the backs of the Manchester United and Portsmouth teams that competed in the 1934 FA Cup Final. Umbro grew substantially throughout the 1930’ and 40’s, with multiple teams donning the brand and it was soon manufacturing the footballs that became the official choice of the English FA.

By the 50’s, Umbro was supplying kit to the British Olympic Team, branching out into tennis fashion and birthing the beginnings of what was to become a billion dollar industry. By the end of that decade, young football fans were able to purchase exact replicas of the product their stars wore each and every weekend on the pitch.

Brazil became FIFA World Cup Champions wearing Umbro’s product in 1958 and England did the same in their triumph of 1966. Only the USSR wore apparel made outside the Umbro manufacturing base in Manchester during that tournament. At that time, an estimated 85% of domestic English clubs were using or contracted to the brand.

After a decade of disassociation with the English National team through the late 70’s and early 80’s, a new deal was struck in 1984. With a host of championship winning clubs all around the world such as Liverpool FC and AFC Ajax wearing Umbro branded kit and an explosion of corporate involvement about to occur in world football, the brand made a bold move into footwear.

Since, it has been passed from the hands of the sons of the original owners, to global giant Nike and now rests with Iconix Brand Group after a US$225 million sale in 2012.

As it stands, one of the oldest and most visually recognisable football brands maintains a firm and consistent face in the game. Umbro is an official partner of the Confederation of African Football, Coupe de la Ligue, 12 national teams spanning four continents and over 100 professional clubs around the globe.

Over 60 individual athletes also enjoy the support of the equipment and footwear giant and its presence on Australian soil is something they hope to expand. The Central Coast Mariners, Brisbane Roar and the Melbourne Knights wear the brand. As do Japanese giants Gamba Osaka, FC Tokyo and Al-Ahli SC in the broader Asian region.

Umbro returned to the Australian market in 2014 forging partnerships and connections and a prime opportunity now exists for Australian clubs to reconnect with the global leader.

With the support of the Pro Football Group, Umbro kit returned on the backs of the Brisbane Roar before Central Coast and Melbourne also saw the benefits. The business model allows for something of a one-stop shop for professional and grassroots clubs, as well as refereeing  associations and futsal centres across the country.

The opportunity to meet and custom design team wear to create something far more impressive than off the shelf kit is something of which Umbro is keen to make the Australian football scene well aware. An obvious benefit to players is the significant discount available on boots and equipment purchased through Pro Football Group.

Considering the ever-increasing costs involved in junior football across the nation, the potential savings would no doubt be appreciated by parents and clubs alike.

There are still some sponsorship opportunities available for clubs wanting to align with Umbro for the 2020 season, however with the clock running fast, clubs would have to make contact briskly if they wished to forge a new relationship and enjoy the undoubted benefits.

Enquiries can be sent to simon@profootballgroup.com.au

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