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Technology in modern football

We now live in the golden age of technology. That’s a given. 

Everything you could do on a computer 20 years ago can now be done twice as fast on a device five times smaller. 

It’s the way of the future and there’s no disputing that. 

Even sports that were created thousands of years ago are now utilising technology in attempts to make their game better. 

Football is no exception. Take the recently completed 2018 World Cup in Russia. 

This World Cup was arguably one of the best in recent memory and one filled with many amazing memories.  

From the 3-3 draw between Spain and Portugal, to the explosion of Kylian Mbappe and to the shock elimination of Germany, it was a tournament that never ceased to amaze. 

But this World Cup was also the first to use the newly introduced VAR (or Video Assistant Referee) program. 

Granted, the program isn’t perfect and will take some time until it’s unanimously considered a good addition to the world game. 

Just like any technologically advanced program in sport, the VAR has its naysayers. And these people aren’t necessarily incorrect, either. 

The fact the referee is left with the final decision is a part of the program that has caused perhaps the most controversy. 

This is perhaps where those in charge can look at a sport like cricket, which utilises the third umpire system perfectly and utilises a technologically advanced program in a way that is conducive to the product and quality of the sport. 

But with the way the world is moving on and off the football pitch, it’s a great place to start, despite its controversial outcomes in some matches in Russia, none more so than the final. 

Looking past VAR, there are many other forms of technology that allow the game to be improved.  

Referees at a high enough level wear watches that don’t just tell them when to blow their whistles to start or end play, but also shots on goal that may or may not have crossed the line. 

Big screens at matches allow fans to be able to see the game from a viewpoint closer to the action as well as their general view. 

Live footballing updates from around the globe, something usually hard to come by have now been made so readily available in the last 20 years that it’s as easy as turning your phone on and opening an application. 

We even see this at National Premier League level in Australia through the use of football updates app Futbol24. 

People nowadays can see everything on these kinds of apps.

From who’s starting, who’s on the substitutes bench, who gets yellow carded, who gets red carded, who scores, you get the picture. 

This kind of access is unprecedented and has allowed the world game to develop into exactly that, a game that can be viewed and kept track of worldwide. 

It’s gotten so far that on social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and Snapchat, games can be recorded (even if it’s just in small doses) and broadcasted live to anyone in the world who wishes to watch the match. 

Live broadcasting isn’t something we aren’t accustomed to but the way in which broadcasting has evolved ever since the 70’s and 80’s has seen the game grow rapidly in some parts of the world. 

Let’s look at the 2018 World Cup again. The way the games were broadcasted in Russia was vastly different to that of previous tournaments. 

In previous tournaments, games would be shown on recognised channels in different countries and for Australia that was SBS. 

For the Russia tournament, Optus acquired the rights to broadcast all 64 games and this was seen as a step into the future.  

For a few years now we have become accustomed to seeing popular movies, TV shows and documentaries finding their way onto streaming services such as Netflix and Stan. 

For football, it was time to make a similar move into the future. But despite all the promises made, Optus wasn’t able to deliver and its coverage of the tournament was amateurish and left many football fans across Australia shattered at not being able to see the finals of the greatest tournament on planet Earth. 

But despite all this, perhaps the biggest technological change in football has been with how players train. 

With so much technology now at clubs’ disposal, there are countless ways for players to be trained that are now vastly different and superior to some of the methods used way back when. 

Australian company Preau Sports has come up with a genius idea to incorporate new technology into the training of aspiring footballers across the globe. 

Their project ‘SmartGoals’ is a fun and innovative way of allowing technology to become an integral part of training sessions and player development from the grassroots level all the way up to clubs that are playing in the UEFA Champions League. 

‘SmartGoals’ are training cones that light up when sensors in and around the cone have been triggered. So when a player kicks a ball between two different cones, they will light up. 

This information can then be stored onto a cloud and then documented by the respective clubs to keep a close eye on player’s development and improvement over time. 

All information can be stored and viewed on the SmartGoals app which is the cherry on top of this revolutionary idea. 

With this technology now in the hands of some of the biggest clubs in Europe such as Ajax Amsterdam, it’s extremely safe to say that technology in football has arrived and if anyone has anything to say about it, it’s going to improve the quality of football and footballers to no end.

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LaLiga’s growth rests largely on match day experience, is Australian football watching?

Discussions around football attendance figures in Australia are constant.

One school of thought suggests that the challenge of drawing new people towards both the A and W Leagues and enhancing the appeal and reach of NPL competitions across the country is far from being met.

Another cites a more general trend in many sports, where the physical presence of fans has become far less important than what it once was; with broadcasting and streaming rights seen as the most critical factors in providing both exposure and revenue.

It could certainly be said of sports like tennis, golf, and test cricket, where events are often played in near empty venues. Marquee match-ups draw big numbers yet general run of the mill events continue to offer top prize money despite the often ghost-like fan presence.

Football in Australia does not have the luxury of vast television audiences, contracts or streaming services to generously fund the top Leagues or in turn, the game at the grass roots level.

What the game does have is a solid base of over 100,000 A-League club members, passionate support at NPL level through the traditional and community based clubs and a current boom in women’s football that stands to bring more income and growth to the game as a whole.

Without the significant financial investment enjoyed by some international competitions, Australian football should emulate one of the biggest leagues in the world and focus on fans; without them, there may well be nothing left on which to cling.

Spain’s top two leagues are showing quite clearly that enjoying immense media exposure across the globe and possessing massive television contracts need not come at the expense of growing attendance and bums on seats. In fact, improving the match day stadium experience has been a cornerstone of their approach over the last decade, with much success.

If LaLiga’s numbers indicate anything, it is that primal support lies at the very core of growth and subsequent ratings and corporate interest. Australian football’s challenge is to look closely at the model that LaLiga employs and take the best bits of it in order to improve our domestic product.

2019/20 statistics indicate a 1.53% increase in attendance across the top two leagues in Spain. If the trend continues for the remainder of the season, it will be the sixth consecutive increase. Total attendance grew from 13.1 million people in 2013/14 to 14.8 million in 2018/19. Should this season’s numbers hold firm, LaLiga’s top two tiers will surpass 15 million fans for the first time.

No doubt the quality in Spain creates a more conducive environment for growth than many other leagues across the globe, Australia in particular. However, any thoughts that much of that growth stems merely from the presence of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo is currently being disproven.

Messi is still brilliant, yet ageing and more often injured, whilst Ronaldo is long gone. The league continues to surge forward despite both realities. It is thanks to astute management, planning and a focus on improving the match day experience of fans, rather than an unhealthy dependence on a couple of world class superstars whose days were always to be numbered.

Whilst both Barcelona and Real Madrid remain strong, the growth has led to the increased competitiveness of Sevilla, Real Sociedad, Valencia and Getafe FC. Clubs like Valladolid, Osasuna and Grenada have had their moments in the sun already this season whilst Villarreal and Valencia have also threatened the top six; with inconsistency proving their Achilles Heel.

As a result of that depth, competitiveness and visibility, LaLiga is surging. The governing body of Spanish football respect and enjoy the EPL, Bundesliga and Serie A, yet aim to make their product the second most watched league around the globe.

It is a bold endeavour and one based on providing a magnificent fan day experience for local people that draws them into grounds at an ever increasing rate; no doubt a lesson for the Australian game.

Removing itself from cavernous stadiums and offering affordable ticketing to encourage attendance during the summer months, should be high on the ‘to do’ list of the newly independent A-League. Putting the next broadcast deal aside and making football fun for Australian fans is paramount in a current climate where many feel over-charged, over-policed and under-valued.

The extra money now available at the top tier should be used to build the game from the local level; forging connections, establishing more feeder clubs and engaging with communities.

Adding ‘bright sparks’ into middle management does little for the domestic product. If LaLiga’s growth and success teaches us anything, it is that large stadiums and television deals are not the ‘be all and end all’ when it comes to growing the game.

What is far more important is giving people a compelling reason to go to a football match.

Western United to play Australia Day fixture at Whitten Oval

On Friday, newly formed A-League club Western United announced that they would host their match against Adelaide United at the Whitten Oval.

The match, set to take place on Australia Day (January 26) will mark the third AFL ground that Mark Rudan’s side has used this season as a home venue.

Previously to this, Mars Stadium in Ballarat and GMBHA Stadium in Geelong have been used.

On paper, this is a perfect move for the expansion club. Their match against the Reds will mark their first official match to take place in western Melbourne, opposed to greater western Victoria.

Their stadium in Tarneit is on course for a 2021 completion, so obviously until then, they need to make do with what’s available.

But now, they finally have a chance to play in front of the people who were their targeted demographic from day one.

The Whitten Oval is a great location in itself, having played host to large scale AFLW games and consistent seasons of the VFL. So the ground will be up to scratch for 90 minutes of A-League football.

Currently, the AFL, AFLW and VFL are in their off-seasons, so there is no risk of any clash between AFL side the Western Bulldogs and Western United.

There was only a minor risk of clash between the match and any pre-season training for the Bulldogs. But thankfully, the 2016 AFL premiers are on a training camp up north on the Sunshine Coast at the time of Australia Day.

In an article from The Age, United CEO Chris Pehlivanis and Western Bulldogs CEO Ameet Bains echoed each other’s thoughts on the prospect of A-League football at Whitten.

“We will continue to be a club for all who call the west home as we take this journey together,” Pehlivanis said.

“Relocating our round 16 fixture to Whitten Oval gives the club’s growing fanbase an opportunity to taste the A-League at another family friendly, community venue in the west.”

“Hosting A-League football at Whitten Oval is a fantastic opportunity to showcase the broad capability of our venue and to connect with a new audience,” said Bains.

“We have been able to create a unique, family-friendly atmosphere for sporting events we have hosted at Whitten Oval, particularly in the summer months at our AFLW matches.”

United’s start to the season has been a mixed bag, both on and off the field.

Many A-League fans would agree in us saying that it’s a nice breath of fresh air to have a new side, boasting new names as well as some familiar faces in the competition.

Their on field performance has been decent. They currently sit in fifth on the A-League table and despite some disappointing results as of late, they remain firmly in contention for a finals berth in their inaugural season.

That in itself is a remarkable achievement, should Alessandro Diamanti and co. get it done.

But off the field, there has been a struggle for numbers, particularly at home games.

They currently hold the second-lowest attendance record in the competition this season, averaging a measly 6,225 per game. They also hold the record for lowest attendance at a single game this season.

In their round nine encounter against Sydney FC, a mere 4,187 fans clicked through the turnstiles in Geelong as the reigning champions of the A-League ran out 2-0 winners.

Understandably, as a new side it’s tough to acquire fans from the get-go and to establish genuine connections with fans will take time. Poor on-field results would go a long way to diminishing any hopes of that.

But with time and the opening of their new stadium in the near future, it’s a simple case of staying the course for Pehlivanis and co.

This match on Australia Day in the heart of Melbourne’s inner-western suburbs could do a world of good for Western. With tickets reportedly going for as little as $6, it could be the beginning of a wonderful new relationship between them and the Western Bulldogs.

Fingers crossed for them that regardless of the on-field result, they have a good showing from their fans and any neutrals who watch them as well.

SA Premier Steven Marshall to offer football clubs bushfire relief grant

Football clubs in South Australia that have been affected by the recent bushfires will be able to apply for a special grant.

The State Government led by Premier Steven Marshall, will provide recovery assistance to South Australian communities that have been ravaged by the catastrophic bushfires.

Grants of up to $10,000 will be available for sporting clubs in need, to help the rebuilding process.

These payments will be available immediately and can be used for initiatives such as replacing destroyed equipment.

Minister for Recreation, Sport and Racing, Corey Wingard claimed the grants are a vital source of help to organisations faced with the challenging task of cleaning up and rebuilding.

“These fires have been devastating for so many communities with lives, homes and livestock tragically lost,” the Minister said.

“Community facilities have also been affected with damage feared at up to 20 sporting clubs following both the Adelaide Hills and Kangaroo Island fires.

In many communities across the State, these clubs play a much larger role than simply facilitating sporting events.

As a government we want to do everything we can to support these communities to help with the rebuilding process.

It will take time but we are committed to ensuring the process is as smooth and pain-free as possible and we are focused on making sure these sporting clubs can get back on their feet and continue to serve their broader communities.”

Any sporting association affected by the recent fires can apply for the grant at https://ORSR.smartygrants.com.au/Bushfire or call 1300 714 990.

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