Artificial Intelligence

A study into the death of mystery in football and how too much information has an adverse effect upon the game.

This article was written for The Football Pubcast and can be found here;

http://footballpubcast.clubfans.co.uk/2011/04/24/artificial-intelligence/

We live in enlightened times. This may not be apparent during the pained expressions of Paul Merson as he stumbles and falls over the latter syllables of even the simplest of names, but it’s true, we live in enlightened times. The emergence of an “age of immediacy” has given even the most armchair-bound fan the ability to become connoisseurs of world football.

The possibilities of expanding our own horizons are now limited only by the television package we hold or the speed of our broadband. But how much of this new found ability is a positive and are there any negative repercussions on the game from such freely available information?

The way we interact-with and consume football is constantly evolving. We now have the ability to watch live almost any top-flight game from anywhere in the world from the comfort of our own homes. While this ability has benefits for the viewer could there be a negative effect upon the game? Does the ability to easily view a smorgasbord of football actually take away some excitement from the game? Over a recent weekend I went to see my own team play and then, from the comfort of my living room, watched live games from England, Italy, Germany, Holland, Spain and Russia as well as watching highlights from every game in the top 4 flights of English football. This while discussing these games with a plethora of other like-minded football obsessive’s via various social networking sites. Even Mark Lawereson could predict that all around the world many many other people will have undertaken similar weekends.

Now don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoyed myself during this weekend, but I did begin to wonder what the saturation point of the game was and also how my own enjoyment of the game has changed since I started to try and understand it more.

A perceived lack of excitement within the modern game is often attributed to lack of diversity within genuine challengers for the top. The lack of diversity within the upper echelons also means that the money stays at the top and with each passing season it becomes more of a closed-shop. The inevitability of success within these closed ranks is slowly killing off the last vestments of excitement within the top flights of the game. While this argument certainly holds weight I believe that there is a hidden problem that lies elsewhere, and that is that the globalisation of the game has removed mystery and in-turn has lessened the levels of excitement.

An over-saturation of the game has also lead to an over-sanitisation. The sanitisation of the game has obviously got its benefits. For a start it has opened the gates to factions of the population who would have previously been unwilling, or at least ill-advised, to attend. For example, the stands are now much safer for younger children to attend. Great efforts have been made to remove any physical danger from attending games but there has also been a great psychological shift that has opened football to the masses. Slowly but surely prejudices surrounding sex, race and religion are being weeded out, allowing football to become a more inclusive sport.

The only frustration is that the new moral codes attributed to the game bring new talking points, and if we are to attribute new moral codes to the game then we must discuss them when they’re broken. The furore surrounding Wayne Rooney’s recent camera-aimed verbal dirty protest was seen by many as a frivolous debate. A sign that perhaps the game had moved away from its roots, this is not to say that the games roots are within cretinous thugs demonstrating that they are cretinous thugs, more that we’d moved too far away from what really mattered within the sport. It is however now the nature of the beast. If we want a more open and inclusive sport then a matter like this must be discussed if it occurs. So, for better or worse, modern football must keep discussing the issues that lie away from the pitch if it is to remain inclusive. Inclusivity of the game is truly vital, it is just frustrating that it’s need to be inclusive will keep distracting from what is truly exciting and what we have originally fallen in love with, and that’s the game.

Additionally, the vast array of multi-media platforms now available to discuss the game almost force us to discuss elements of it that would usually simply be swept away or ignored. The role of social media and the internet has, in my opinion, played one of the largest roles in the importance placed upon elements of the game away from the pitch. At times it feels like we now have a voice-piece but we have nothing to say so we discuss trivialities. There seem to be different factions who interact online and use different platforms for different uses. Anybody who does use the internet as a forum to discuss the game can probably attest to these following descriptions.

Firstly Twitter, this is arguably the place to go for the most informed debate. People from all levels of the game are freely available to discuss and share articles and work. There is a thriving online community and there are some truly enlightening discussions that can be had on this medium, though even this is being watered down now.

Secondly, the various football related websites and message boards. These are a mixed bag, you can always find like-minded individuals who want to discuss, but likewise you will find deliberate wind-up merchants (Or WUM’s).

Finally Facebook, I personally find that interactions on Facebook are easily the worst. Have a flick through the comments left on various football pages on Facebook and you quickly realise that this is where the stupid come to die. Knuckle dragging their one-eyed slathering views with them into a pit of despair and emoticons. The ability to openly discuss the game has its benefits, but by god does it have its negatives. It becomes very difficult to not have your view of certain teams tempered because of the actions of these fans. Their views will not be emblematic of the club as a whole, but as the idiots will always shout louder it becomes hard to remove the perception of the club beyond this baying mob.

The advances in modern technology have allowed incredible advances in communication. The fact that, say through a medium such as Twitter, you can freely interact with top level footballers, presenters and commentators, journalists and also other amateur writers and fans is simply amazing. Throughout the world there is barely a goal that is scored, a talent unearthed or a club that is shining that will not have someone from a far flung corner of the world commenting upon it. The age of immediacy has allowed us to be instantly connected to everything that is happening in the game, at almost every single level.

What this has removed is mystery, and mystery plays a vital role in the romanticism of the game. I personally feel that the game needs to retain this romanticism as with this removed we just effectively have business. For example, the Brazil national team can be seen to have lost a certain level of mystery and excitement that they once held. We can freely see all the flair players play weekly as they have dissipated around Europe. When this team comes together it’s no longer got a level of the unknown. In fact it’s very hard to find any kind of unknown or mystery in football anywhere any more. YouTube has ensured that scouting a player is as easily done as a simple click of a button. Championship & Football Manager games have ensured that kids of 15 or 16 years old become household names before they’ve even played professionally.

Such a vast spread of this artificially manifested expertise certainly does remove a level of mystery and excitement from the game. The need, or at least want, for romanticism in the game is evident in the perception of the FA Cup. A lot is said now about the death of the “magic of the cup”. While this phrase does grate slightly it does hold weight. When the Premier League is held with such grandeur and a Sunday afternoon double header is branded with the same pomp and majesty of a cup final then a tournament such as the FA Cup will begin to pale in comparison.

Romanticism is hard to find in such a corporate world and mystery is hard to create in a world of such instant interactivity. It’s nigh on impossible to bring back these elements, other than actively removing yourself from the interactive world.

Perhaps now it’s not the loss of romanticism we should worry about but the misuse of the information available. In a society where an amateur fan can build such a strong knowledge base, then the national media networks should be upping their game. Punditry of the game on national television is notoriously poor, where celebrity is placed above insight. Alan Shearer highlighted such naivety in an incident earlier this season when he commented that nobody had heard of Hatem Ben Arfa, which was rightly met with much derision. The wasted opportunity of understanding is perhaps the biggest problem associated with this matter.

Perhaps marvel can still remain if we actually fulfill the potential that these new interactive mediums offer to us. There is a quote that says “Wonder is retained by wise pondering” I feel that this is something that can ring true here.

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