Growing up I was never a sports fan.
Football, or anything with a bat, club or racket, just didn’t hold my interest.
Basically, I was a computer geek.
As I’ve grown older, my interests have widened. Now you could describe me as someone who participates in sporting activities – but strictly on my own terms.
What I have never understood is the British fascination with football or soccer. Naturally during an uprising of national pride in the “beautiful game” I would participate and cheer on, but probably not watch, international games.
That interest changed quite unexpectedly when I began work on a data analysis project with a major English Premiership club.
Like most clubs at the top of the most watched football league in the world, they had money to spend on players, facilities and staff, but other than points or “games in hand”, little to show for it.
What you may not know, is that these clubs are awash with data. Which player made an attempt at goal in what minute, whether it was a success, how long they’ve played, yellow cards, red cards, you name it. There are hundreds of metrics by which a player can be measured.
Then you add training plans, heart rate, blood pressure, etc and suddenly you have the potential to select a team on paper that consists of players at their optimum peak.
I say “on paper”, because major league sports are not typically coached by accountants or analysts.
Coaching is more about action and motivation than numbers and paperwork.
So I found myself in a technologically unsophisticated environment, building a dashboard to support the decisions made by the coaching staff. And I loved it.
Something about the data brought the game to life. I’d recognised player names, but seeing their individual performance or how they ranked against other players in the same position, pushed me to check the teams result in the newspaper, check their position in the league and read sports section articles on the management and strategy.
Some are brought up to embrace football, others find comradeship in the stands or on the bleachers. My interest arose out of a desire to visualise data.
American sports have always been driven by statistics. I hope that owners of UK football clubs, like John Henry of New England Sports Ventures and owner of Liverpool FC, bring some of their insight to the Premiership.