Life’s a pitch

 

The majority of technological advancements in football have been produced to improve the way that the game is played. One big recent invention for the sport was designed to ensure that fixtures kicked off in the first place. I first attended secondary school in 2010, and in that same year that I joined, my school was having a brand new artificial pitch lodged in over the top of one of the playing fields. Known as a 4g pitch, not meaning the reception and data on your smart phone, but an abbreviation of fourth generation. This was something that I’d never come across before whilst playing football all my life. Yet it would grow to develop into the game and be used worldwide.

It is difficult to comprehend with the benefits of a 4g pitch until you actually begin to play on one consistently. Growing up I was used to grass pitches with a 45-degree incline with bumps and dips on one half and sand filled holes on the other. So when I heard that this would be a completely flat pitch that was weather resistant I was in disbelief. With the pitch being fourth generation, it is clear that over the years technology has been used to develop from a first generation pitch. Here this post will go through how research and technology artificial got pitches to this stage.

The 1960’s saw the first generation artificial pitch introduced to sport. This was exceedingly far from the types of artificial pitch we see today. Produced from a hardened nylon fibre over a layer of asphalt, this really was simply the first generation when you retrospectively compare. And in fact these pitches were never introduced to the field of professional football (pun intended). Professional football initially experienced the 2nd generation playing fields, when four established clubs had the pitches renovated in 1980. The 2g pitches saw short synthetic grass covered in a layer of sand. The clubs that introduced these were Luton Town, Preston North End, Queens Park Rangers, and Oldham Athletic. However fifteen years later the English F.A banned the turf from the professional game. And quite frankly I don’t blame them as in my experience, the only thing I would come out with from playing on this type of pitch would be cuts and scrapes from sliding across sand all night.

Then came the introduction of the 3g pitches, which represented a huge step forward in terms of quality of surface. Despite there being a fourth generation these are still the most popular type of artificial surfaces used by football teams. 3g surfaces are made up of long synthetic grass with a mix of rubber infill. This provides an acquired texture allowing the play of the ball to be smooth, with the rubber infill acting as a shock absorber so that the ball bounces correctly. This type of surface is excellent in replicating natural grass and when playing, it is hard to distinguish between the two. However, it edges playing on grass as it is a weather proof surface, therefore games can take place whether the sun is shining or the rain is pouring, even if it is snowing the game will still commence.

Finally came a 4g pitch, which the creators define as like 3g artificial grass, but with no need for the rubber infill. These begun to grow in popularity in the year 2010, the same year that I saw my school developing one. These surfaces are a hybrid of artificial turf and natural grass, allowing for the pitch to be used for longer without being worn down. It is said by some however that 4g is just a label, and that specialists haven’t yet classified it as an official technology. Which is why the rules in the English league state today that a professional club cannot use them. However it is utilised across the continent by professional teams, especially by eastern European countries such as Russia, due to the harsh weather conditions that can occur over there. As well as this it is employed by many non- league clubs in our country, for example Maidstone United, a club that I played for in the youth leagues growing up. What is useful to see is that since these pitches have been introduced, the standard of football at non-league level has gone up, because players have no excuses to have a poor first touch, or to over hit a pass, allowing them to play to their full potential. As time goes on more and more pitches will progress through technology improving. And it is exciting to see what the future holds for the original grass football pitch, as artificial pitches are increasingly creeping into the game.

 

VAR’d for Life

In the summer of 2018 all of football’s global stars were on show as the World Cup took to the stadia of Russia. For the first time Video Assistant Refereeing was being operated on the global stage. For every fixture of the tournament a team of four referees would be positioned in a video operation room. They would have access to every significant broadcast camera capturing the game. This was planned with the aim to assist the match officials on the pitch when making key judgements, such as penalty claims, red card decisions and offside calls. A pitch side monitor was also provided for the actual referee, for them to call attention to and make the final verdict. The fact that this was going to effect key decisions that could change the direction of a game completely, meant that VAR was brought straight to the foreground and assessed by every person watching on. With it being the first time a major trophy has utilised the VAR, here is the top 3 controversial incidents from the 2018 World cup involving the technology.

3. Not raining not pouring but Neymar is falling

In at number 3 it’s Brazillian star Neymar. Known for his great trickery and outstanding ability to beat a player, Neymar is recognised as one of the greatest players in the game right now, however he also carries with him a big reputation for over exaggerating his pain when tackled i.e. diving and rolling around on the floor. Fooling referees into thinking that the tackle made on him was much worse than it actually was. However, it’s things like these that are what VAR was made for, and at this World Cup the footballing superstar was exposed for his gamesmanship.

It was the second round of fixtures for Group E, in which the Brazil took on Costa Rica at the Krestovsky Stadium in St. Petersburg. The the game being tied 0-0 until late on, the Brazilians were doing everything they could to try and break the deadlock in a game that they were expected to win. Victory looked in sight when in the 78th minute the referee awarded a penalty to Brazil as the golden boy Neymar seemed to have been tugged down by a Costa Rican defender. But, the final verdict was yet to be confirmed as Costa Rica called upon the referee to use his VAR monitor to review the decision. Images of the moment show how desperate Neymar was to gain the penalty kick, throwing his arms out in appeal to the ref.

After using the technology to analyse the situation, the decision was overturned, which was a key point in the tournament as it showed how even the greatest, most respected players in the game could not cheat the new technology implemented into football. Brazil went on to win the game 2-0, scoring two goals in stoppage time and Neymar getting one of them, rescuing his country from upset, and saving his embarrassments from the earlier events.

2. Aspas to the rescue

In as the runner up is the Spanish super sub Iago Aspas. After a successful season domestically with Celta Vigo, the striker merited his call up to the Spanish squad in 2018, looking to jump at any chance he was given. It was the final matchday in Group B in which Aspas’ presence would prove to be vital. The Spanish were 2-1 down to Morocco in Kaliningrad as the game went into stoppage time, needing only a draw to finish top of the group.

The game look set to finish as it was until Aspas flicked in a late winner from Dani Carvajal’s low cross. However initially the linesman raised his flag causing the goal to be disallowed. With everyones heart in their mouths it seemed it would be VAR that would make the final call, as to whether Spain would progress through the group as winners. Here is the moment itself.

1. The Champs crash out

Ladies and gentleman we have a winner, and it came on the final matchday for Group F, in a must win fixture for World Cup holders Germany, up against a well drilled South Korea side. With the game tied at 0-0 for the whole 90 minutes, it appeared as tho the game would finish goalless however, in the third minute of additional time, the stadium was chaotic as South Korea’s Kim Young-Gwon scored what looked to be a late winner.

Kim ran off ecstatically as he thought he’d one the game for his country, but his celebrations were cut short after the linesman flagged for offside. However after reviewing the events through VAR technology, it was clear that the ball played through to Kim was by German midfielder Toni Kroos. Here is how the events unfolded.

The goal was resultantly given, the reigning World Cup champions were heading home in the group stage for the first time in World Cup history. And to put the cherry on the cake South Korea added a second goal in the final minute of added time, through Tottenham attacker Son Heung-Min.

VAR caused great entertainment for the neutral throughout the whole FIFA World Cup tournament, making many significant calls. However with it yet to be introduced to domestic club football, it will be interesting to see whether the technology system is used on the global stage in the future.

Thanks to Frank

 

It was the last 16 -knockout stage of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, England were trailing 2-1 in Johannesburg to historical rivals Germany in the 39th minute, the ball dropped to Frank Lampard who spectacularly lifted the ball over the German goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, hitting the crossbar and bouncing down over the goal line. As the whole of the nation watching on began to celebrate it appeared that referee Jorge Larrionda had allowed play to continue, not giving the goal to England. This sparked the major debate as to whether digital technology should be utilised within gameplay of Football.

This moment was described as the tipping point for technology in Football, sparking the need for correct judgements to be made about whether the ball has crossed the goal line or not, and looking back at it in an interview Frank Lampard in his own words said….

“It changed the game for the better, so I am pleased about that”

England went on to lose the game 4-1, being knocked out of the tournament, however the infamous goal that never stood was heavily involved in FIFA’s decision to introduce goal-line technology into the game. Prior to the tournament in March FIFA president at the time Sepp Blatter negotiated with the International Football Association board (IFAB) which holds power over the laws of the game, persuading them to support a movement towards keeping technology out of the game in the future. The FIFA president suggested that it would disrupt the free flowing movement of the game, and that football at the World stage should be played the same as it would be in the park. Despite this we have seen it successfully implemented at a professional level in sports such as Tennis, Cricket and Rugby Union.

Passionate football fans just take a minute to recall previous controversial decisions throughout the history of Football. Example number one from January 2005, Manchester United v Tottenham at Old Trafford, when Pedro Mendes struck a 55 yard shot up into the air from just inside the opposition half, and for a second it seemed that the United keeper Roy Carroll had taken into his arms with ease until it slipped out of his grasp and just crossed the line before he scooped it out quickly, luckily for him the referee didn’t spot that it had gone over the line, and Carroll’s embarrassments were saved.

Example number two from November 2009, it was the second leg between France and the Republic of Ireland in the play-offs for the final place at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, the tournament where Lampard’s ghost goal would take place. The game was tied 1-1 on aggregate and had been taken to extra time, and in the 102nd minute France’s Florent Malouda fired a teasing free kick to the back post where legendary Barcelona striker Thierry Henry was waiting to put the ball across for centre back William Gallas to head into an empty net, putting the French 2-1 to the good and looking as if the final qualification place would be theirs. However immediately after the goal had been scored, the reaction of the entire Irish defence made it clear that something had occurred that shouldn’t have in the eyes of the football law, and they were correct.

France went on to win the game, and as you can see from the video above the Irish following were not happy at all, and rightly felt as though their country had been robbed, because if the game was being played by the rulebook, then the goal scored by France was an act of cheating. Thierry Henry was honest enough to admit to his wrong doings after the game, however stated that he was reluctant to admit it to the referee when the goal was scored, as he felt as though that wasn’t his job, and believed that such an occurrence had happened against himself in the 2001 FA cup final when playing for Arsenal. However this never effected the result of the game. And as controversial as this moment was, it still wasn’t enough to change the way the game was played in terms of video technology. However Lampard’s “goal” caused the FIFA President to alter his and FIFA’s views on technology as an organisation.

It took until the summer of 2012 for it finally to be agreed that goal-line technology would be brought into the game, with the Hawk-eye system being debuted in the 2012 FIFA Club World Cup. The concept of Hawk-eye involves a number of specifically placed cameras around the pitch, that can capture angles of play that the human referee may not be able to see in real time, to support the officials in the accuracy of their decision making, and it was introduced into the English Premier League the following year which was the 2013-14 season.

Since then Hawk -eye has become an integral part of professional football and is now utilised across some of the top leagues in Europe, making the beautiful game more just, secure, intelligent and appealing.

 

 

Game Changer | Kick Off Time

Welcome to Game Changer.  My name is Lucas and I’m a 20 year old student with an ingrained love for the game of football. Cliche for a male maybe, however I’ve consistently played the game at a high level for over 15 years, captaining both my schools, representing my county, my university and having trials at several professional clubs in my time.

Throughout the course of this blog I will dive into the field of digital technology in Football, which has become a popular topic in the game in recent years. These blog entries will provide coverage of key moments in which technology has impacted the sport, how it has progressed over time and what us as fans can look to for the future.

In addition to this blog, a Twitter account has been set up so go and follow to keep up to date with what is going on with Game Changer. But for now it looks as though the ref has blown his whistle, and we’re underway!

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