The “public examinations” of the referees: RFEF’s Talent Programme

During the month of July, the teams that before pandemic suspended competitions in Spain occupied the top positions in Reto Iberdrola, if we talk about female football, and Second B Division, Third Division and lower categories, in the case of male football, have struggled to reach the goal marked in August 2019: being promoted. Months of uncertainty facing the possibility of having to postpone that dream for another year and months in which the sanitary emergency forced to stop football and sport in Spain.

Finally, season could end with certain singularities and with the fields of play flooded of tears as every year: joy tears from the winners, enrage and sad from the losers. The first could not feel the jubilation of their fans celebrating the achievement as well as the second their warmth and support in probably one of the toughest days in their lives.

But not only players, staff and the rest of the components of the clubs put everything on the line in the playoffs that decided if they were good enough to move up another step towards the peak of Spanish football or if they had to come back the following year with renewed hopes. Although in this case they are not the centre of attention, hundreds of referees from every part of Spain have also fought for being promoted at the same time as the teams that they officiate.

At LabHipermedia we have years of experience working in the formation of present and future referees. That is why we want to explain how the process of promotion of the officials works and pay tribute to them compiling the words that, during the last months, those who dream about emulating Marta Huerta de Aza, Antonio Mateu Lahoz, Guadalupe Porras Ayuso or Pau Cebrián Devis have expressed in the media.

RFEF’s Talent Programme

It is easy to understand what teams are promoted at the end of the year in the aforementioned divisions: the top clubs compete in a playoff; the winners climb to the next category. However, in the case of referees is not so simple but, although it changes a bit depending on the division, the requirements to be promoted are similar in all of them.

And, if we talk about Third Division and Reto Iberdrola, it is necessary to explain the Talent Programme created by the Referees’ Technical Committee (CTA) of the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF). It covers an entire season and it is divided into different phases (four in the male competition and two in the female) in which thousands of referees will pass different filters depending on aspects like their performance or their physical condition.

In the Third Division, the first phase is delegated in the regional committees, which evaluate and classify their referees until a deadline in which the top of the list advance to the next stage of the programme. In this initial phase, LabHipermedia has worked with federations through two ways: making the scouting of the referees affiliated to Madrid Referees’ Committee (CAFM) and implementing our e-learning platform, CloudLab, in each federation of Spain with the objective of boosting the theoretical-technical knowledge of the officials.

RFEF stipulates the number of referees that each regional committee have to put forward. For example, in Madrid four officials move forward to the Phase II and one of them had to be removed by the regional committee after the last fixtures of the season. However, pandemic has provoked that this year the Phase II has not been celebrated.

Starting at here, the national CTA takes control of the Talent Programme. Phase III is formed by five tests: a Law of the Game exam, a series of fitness tests, a minutes composition exam, an English test and a psychological one. If they are passed, we get to the point in which this post started: the appointment to the Second B Division promotion matches, which will be the final test before deciding the name of the referees that will reach the aforementioned category

In the female competition the process is simplified. Each regional committee selects a referee and an assistant referee in order to access to the Phase I, similar to the III of the Third Division referees. Once they pass the tests, they will be appointed to a match in which their performance will tip the scales towards the promotion or the continuation in Reto Iberdrola.

An atypical training

Pandemic has meant a real challenge to non-professional football, especially if we talk about keeping fit when during a lot of time people could only go out of home for indispensable purposes. Elite athletes often have their own gyms at home, but modest club players have experienced more vicissitudes. And referees are not an exception: although the theoretical study has worked more or less as normal, the physical tune-up has been more complicated.

On this matter Víctor Castellanos Argüeso, referee from the Cantabrian committee who has been promoted to Second B Division after a single season in Third Division, talked to El diario montañés in the de-escalation phase: “We are studying at home and they send us online tests. I train the physical aspect with the material I have, but the aerobic part is more complicated”.

However the promotion of María Planes Terol, referee from the Murcian committee, to Primera Iberdrola is up in the air: she is the first reserve in case that one of the current referees of the category or one that has been recently promoted have a time off sick. Although she is already part of the referees squad of the category as an assistant referee, this fact has not skimped her on giving her best in order to achieve the promotion: she recognised to the Murcia Football Federation during confinement that her key to look for being promoted and progress at the same time with her nursing studies was “the organization”. In the physical aspect, her preparation was based on taking advantage of the available resources to “keep fit”, especially before the Government allows citizens to go out and run; in the theoretical, with the tools provided by her committee: “We continue doing video test and theoretical exams thanks to CloudLab. We also make meetings some days to solve doubts or to see our development”.

This effort is also thoroughly appreciated by the committees. After all, more of their referees officiating in the main Spanish football divisions mean that the time used in their formation has been worth it. The technical chief of female refereeing in Catalonia, Anna Zardaín, talked to Mundo Deportivo about how the Catalonian referees who were members of the programme dealt with the promotion to Primera Iberdrola: “They face the challenge with hope, excitement and full of dedication, having in mind that the tets are very tough. Despite of difficulties created by confinement, they have worked intensely and they are training on a daily basis to reach the best possible conditions”.

Without error margin in the tests

In the RFEF’s Talent Programme retakes has not place. There is not a September saving those who, either because of injuries or other issues, does not arrive to this part of the season in their best physical and mental moment. Reaching their optimal physical fitness is basic to maintain alive the dream of the promotion and to face the exams designed by RFEF: “A main speed test, followed by an endurance one, both for referees and assistant referees”, told to Castilla y León Football Federation Javier Sánchez Sánchez, chief of the physical performance area of the national CTA. But how are the results evaluated? “A scale with minimum and maximum values exists and, obviously, every referee and assistant referee has tried to give their best”.

One of the people evaluated while Javier Sánchez was being interviewed is the assistant referee Estefanía Benito Benito, who has reached her dream of being promoted to Primera Iberdrola and who confessed to be “happy” about having ended the physical test: “The season has been a little bit long. Luckily it has gone well and now we have to wait for the theoretical exams”.

Two referees who were examined in Valencia with the promotion in mind were María Victoria Miralles Almagro, who has ended the programme as the first reserve in order to be promoted as an assistant to Primera Iberdrola, and Francisco José Ortega Herrera, who has been successful and the next year he will be officiating in Second B Division

After finishing the physical tests, the female assistant referee wanted to underline to her Federation the “very high level requirement” that implies the competition with colleagues from every part of Spain, despite pandemic has provoked that the exams had to be made in each region in order to avoid displacements. However, she does not regret about choosing the refereeing path: “Each time you have to train much more, you have to demand yourself much more and in the end you say: ‘Does it worth the risk?’ Evidently, the answer is yes. Otherwise, nowadays I would not here fighting for this”.

The aforementioned Valencian male referee pointed out a positive aspect of the exam in relation to the previous single training: “It is not the same to train alone, as I was doing, than to make a real exam with colleagues. Whether you want to or not, that reference of having a colleague at your side makes easier to reach the goal”. Ortega Herrera considers himself as “a referee that at both speed level and endurance level” has “quite ability to make the tests”; the fact that he has been promoted implies that he knows his physical and his possibilities very well.

The playoffs, the final test

After passing the aforementioned five exams, the referees reached the most awaited moment: refereeing a playoff promotion match. That match decides in 90 or 180 minutes the fate of two clubs… and also the destiny of the main referee and their assistants. Real “public examinations”, as they were defined to his Federation by Las Palmas committee referee Gamaliel Escobar López, who opted without success to the Second B Division promotion.

The Extremaduran (although born in Belgium) committee referee Francisco Hernández Maeso is a veteran in these battles: after 10 years in Second B Division, he did not officiate playoffs matches only in the first one. For him, those matches suppose “the exciting zenith of the effort made in the whole season and an open door to the dream of the promotion”. Eight consecutive years caressing the Second Division until his performance in the match FC Cartagena vs. CD Atlético Baleares and in the entire season allows him to open the doors of the category and achieve that dream related to diario Hoy.

In the same playoffs, although in a different match (CD Castellón SAD vs. UD Logroñés SAD), the Madrid-born assistant referee Mario Martín-Consuegra Díaz officiated. Unlike Hernández Maeso he has not reached his goal, although before raising the flag he recognises to the Royal Madrid Football Federation that refereeing a playoff was quite an achievement: “When I started in seven-a-side football in fields like Ernesto Cotorruelo, I said: “Hopefully, some day I will officiate in a playoff promotion to Second Division”. In Diario Marca he deeply explained the desire that the ball started to roll: “They are playoffs and they will be thrilling matches; I am keen on them. We all put everything on the line because our future will be decided. It is a match in which the referee has to work a lot”.

Pride and gratitude

Only a few days after the playoffs ended, the moment that could be one of the most important in the life of every referee arrives: the call that confirms their promotion. Eliana Fernández González, from the Asturian committee, admitted to Deportes Cope Asturias two days after knowing the announcement that she had not get used to the idea of being a Second Division assistant yet: “I was going out of home. They phone me and the call completely changed my day. I called my mother to share my happiness with the family”. She also recognises that one of the calls which provoked more emotion in her was the one of Judit Romano García, assistant referee, Asturian and present in the Second Division as her: “When the announcement was published, Judit wrote to me. All the advices are well received”.

Three are the promotions in national categories that the referees from the committee of Madrid has achieved: Álvaro Rodríguez Recio to Second B Division (the number 1 in the Talent Programme), Alicia Espinosa Ríos to Primera Iberdrola and David Gálvez Rascón to Second Division. Both men agreed on expressing thanks through the social networks to their committee and its president, the former referee José Luis Lesma López, for the support received during their refereeing career. Without them, they think that they would have not reached their goal. For her part, she preferred to be more generic in her appreciation: “In the end it is the result from a lot of work and effort and I believe that I would have not been able to achieve it without all the people who have been on my side helping me, so I sincerely appreciate it”.

And we travel from Madrid to Murcia, with the same number of promotions as the capital committee. Just as Espinosa Ríos, María Navarro Cruz will officiate the next season in Primera Iberdrola, although in the case of the Murcian it will be as an assistant referee. She has got it in her second chance because the last year she failed but, as she admitted to the Murcian Football Federation website, she did not give up: “I continued, I rose up and I have tried it again. This year we have changed some things and we have achieved the promotion. I talk in the plural because without my teachers, my trainers and my colleagues of the Federation it would have been so difficult. It is an achievement of everyone else in the committee”.

Rafael Sánchez López will accompany Gálvez Rascón and Hernández Maeso as the referees who will make his debut in Second Division in the 2020-2021 season. An objective that the Murcian had never thought when he started to referee: “I have never considered to reach the Second Division. I saw it as something impossible and unattainable but, in the end, it has been an achieved dream”. Cartagena-born Juan Francisco Roca Robles, for his part, ‘blames’ a very close relative for introducing him refereeing at the point of reaching Second B Division. “He saw an advertisement in the newspaper and he mentioned me this ‘hobby’ that has transformed into a passion. My father has been my main support and my help”.

Looking towards the future

Referees who have not succeed will try again next season with renewed energy, always taking into account that the age limitations do not impede them. One of them is the Zamora-born Daniel Piñuel, for whom it was an award to officiate a playoff promotion match in his third year in the Third Division and who confess to La Opinión de Zamora that he will be more ambitious the following year: “This season my goal is to be promoted, I am very happy with the course of the last (competition) but my goal was not being promoted”.

But alike or even more difficult than that is to face the jump to a more demanding category, both physical and media, trying to stay in it (or even linking consecutive promotions, something hard but not impossible to achieve). Eliana Fernández González recognises having thought about the debut moment since she received the call, although she is not dared to choose a field to do it: “The one they appoint me, it will be welcome”.

It is also inevitable to experiment that vertigo facing a position with more responsibility. David Gálvez Rascón, grateful to the national CTA for being selected to officiate in Second Division, will try “to be up to the expectations that they have on me”. And, with the boom of female sport in mind, Alicia Espinosa Ríos looks anxious the next season: “Being part of female football is a pride and I am dying to start”.

Jusk like her, at LabHipermedia we can´t wait for the start of the next season and for providing our technological innovations to the referees of the country. Congratulations to the lucky ones who have climbed another stop in the world of refereeing and try again the next season to those who have not achieved their goal!

Red Devils, Gunners, Pensioners… The nicknames of the main English teams

When it comes to writing the report of a match or to narrating it through radio or television, the editor/presenter have to make everything possible in order to look for synonyms to name the clubs which are disputing the match. But, surely, they and the readers or listeners have no considered the reason why some clubs are named in curious ways.

Red devils in Manchester? A character of Shakespeare’s Henry IV novel in a football club? Out of the blue, lots of these nicknames do not seem to have too much attachment with reality… And, however, fans have taken on as their own.

That’s why at LabHipermedia we want to offer you a little guide about the most famous and remarkable nicknames of the main English football teams. We have focused this post on the five teams that, according to the historical table of the Premier League, have achieved more titles and points in their 28 seasons.

The devil rules the Premier League

The most successful team in England is commonly named as The Red Devils, and there is a little bit of irony in the origin of this nickname. There are two explanations about how Manchester United adopted this diabolic creature as its distinguishing mark, although both agree in the key person who popularises it: Sir Matt Busby.

Although Busby spent almost his whole footballer career playing for Manchester City, his legacy came as the second most laureate coach in Manchester United history, just behind Sir Alex Ferguson. The main theory explains that Busby ‘stole’ the nickname in the 1960s from a local rugby club, Salford, which shared their training amenities with United. A behaviour typical of a devil, doesn’t it? The legendary coach even asked for changing the logo of the club, incorporating a red devil in its centre since then.

The second theory is kind of more well-mannered. While disputing some friendly matches around France, local journalists referred the team as “Les Diables Rouges” based on the colour of their t-shirt. A nickname that is also used by the Belgium National Football Team.

But Manchester United had another nickname, although is not widely known. The original name of the club was Newton Heath because of the homonymous area, so they were also known as The Heathens in their beginnings.

As a curiosity, we have to talk about the United of Manchester. This team, which competes in Northern Premier League Premier Division, the seventh tier of the English football league system, was founded in 2005 by some Manchester United fans dissatisfied by the Malcolm Grazer´s takeover of the club. And, in order to express this feeling, they started to refer their team as The Red Rebels.

Gunners and Gooners

When trying to explain why Arsenal is also called as The Gunners, it is necessary to explain the origin of the club and its name. Just like Manchester United, Arsenal was first called Dial Square because it was founded by workers from a munition factory, Royal Arsenal, being Dial Square the centre of the complex. Only a month after its foundation, they decided that Royal Arsenal sounded better and adopted this name that was finally simplified to the current one.

So it is obvious that gunner is related to the founders of the club, but what it is more weird is the fact that the team fans are not called gunners…but Gooners. The reason is not very clear, but it seems to be similar to why Newcastle United fans are called The Toon Army: just a pronunciation alteration (Gunners – Gooners vs. Town – Toon). And if you want to discover what a Gooner feels, it is mandatory to read Nick Hornby’s book Fever Pitch or to watch the film based on it, having the Academy award winner Coin Firth the leading role.

Blue is the colour

We have to admit it: we do not have so much to talk about the nickname of Chelsea FC. Blue has always been the colour of their kit since its creation, although the first one was a paler Eton blue (mix of green and blue) which was changed later to the current royal blue, so The Blues is an obvious choice.

But this club has another nickname, although it is not commonly used: The Pensioners. This name comes from the Royal Military Hospital placed nearby Stamford Bridge that serves as a retirement home for British Army veterans, known as Chelsea Pensioners. The first crest of the club had a pensioner in its centre instead of the current blue lion and, although football has developed itself as a lucrative business, the club still provide free match day tickets for its home games to the residents.

Reds… but not always

This is going to be a story that mixes what we have previously talked about Manchester United and Chelsea. Just like the latter, Liverpool has a nickname based on the colour of its t-shirts… but ‘The Reds’ were only reds since 1964. And here we have the analogy with the first club mentioned: the promoter of the idea was his coach, Bill Shankly, who though that the players would look scarier to the opponents with this colour.

Or, maybe, the reason was to distance the club from his Evertonian neighbours. Liverpool FC was founded after a disagreement between Everton’s board of directors and Anfield’s owner, who decided to found another team in the city. So since the beginning the rivalry was fierce between both clubs, and the Shankly era was not an exemption: quotes like “when I’ve got nothing to do I look down the league table to see how Everton are getting along” or “if Everton were playing at the bottom of the garden I’d draw the curtains” are the proof.

To be or not to be a Spur

Yes, Spurs is only a contraction of the name of the club, Tottenham Hotspur… But the origin of the name itself is quite curious. Harry Hotspur was not the founder of the club, basically because he lived in the 14th century… But who was Harry Hotspur?

 

His real name was Sir Henry Percy and it is well-known as being one of the main characters of Henry IV Part 1, book written by William Shakespeare. This nickname was given to him by the Scots as a tribute to his speed in advance and readiness to attack, using his spurs to make his horse go faster as he charged in battles. Its descendants were the owners of the land were the club´s first ground was placed, so it was an homage to this nobleman. Spurs are also associated with fighting cocks, and that is the reason why Tottenham crest is a cockerel on a ball.

Tottenham Hotspur is also known as The Lilywhites, a nickname shared by other clubs like Preston North End. In fact, the club adopted their white shirts trying to emulate Preston, who had won the league without losing a single match as we mentioned in our football history article.

Lastly, we have to talk about a nickname that started being offensive but that Tottenham fans finally adopted. The club is settled in an area of London known for his Jewish population and some chairmans of the club have been Jewish as well. So some other London clubs made anti-Semitic chants towards the Spurs fans using the word ‘yid’, an offensive term for a Jewish person. But fans turned things around and now they called themselves as The Yid Army, minimising any negative connotation with the term.

Here we close our review to the nicknames of the five most honoured clubs in English football. If you want to contribute with other names of the aforementioned teams or to discover the origin of other team’s nicknames, do not hesitate to leave a comment in the post in order to know it.

FOOTBALL HISTORY (3): The birth of the IFAB

One more week, we continue with our series about football history seen from the perspective of the Laws of the Game evolution. However, before jumping into action, we are going to revise what we have seen until know.

In the first part, which can be consulted here, we talked about the main football precursors and how this emerging sport was developing until a key date: 1863, when the considered as the first football rules were written.

However, in the second chapter we saw that the aforementioned fact did not achieve the desired unification among all the schools of England where football was practised. Little by little, an agreement for the development of this sport was reached, and a figure was key in it: the referee, although it went through various stages with very different names, origins and roles until the creation of the first football competition in history, the FA Cup, where the referee adopted a more similar role than what they have nowadays.

Four countries, four different rules

As we previously mentioned, the practice of football was quite standardised during the 1870 decade… Although in these years the evident differences of the previous decades between the schools of England changed to an international level. That is because, in this order, the federations of Scotland, Wales and Ireland (the split between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland had not happened yet, so it included the whole island) were created, with plenty of similarities but also some particularities in its conception of football. If they had count with our platform CloudLab, it is sure that the goal of the rules unification would have been easier for them…

Those little disagreements meant that, every time there were a match between two of the aforementioned federations, it would be played with the specific rules of the country that hosted the match. This is what happened in the first international match in football history, celebrated in 1872 between Scotland and England in Glasgow, and subsequents in the decade. The fact that players and other components of football had to learn the rules of each federations sounds a little chaotic, doesn’t it?

This provoked that the four federations met in 1882 in Manchester, not with the intention of setting a unified rule for the matches in the whole British islands, but only for the games that confronted their national teams. They could have taken advantage of the circumstances for a fully agreement, but they did not do it… And only three years after this meeting they had to make an important decision.

Money talks

The idiom that precedes this paragraph summarizes what we are going to talk. Litlle by little, football was starting to generate money and, although it is not fully connected with the Laws of the Game in essence, what happened in 1885 regarding the economy of this sport has an enormous impact in its development.

Besides the logical sale of tickets for the matches (women used to enter in the fields for free, but not men, although this started to change when that year two thousand women shown up in a Preston North End match ruining the business), football was also obtaining monetary resources thanks to bets and the catering businesses placed round the football pitches, which used to sponsor the matches.

However, players took part of the emerging sport just for the fan of it because it was not considered as a business, but only as a simple entertainment. So players could not be payed, by no means sold to another club. Or, at least, that was the idea, because in lots of clubs a salary was given under the table to the best players in order to continue counting with them.

Amateurism vs. professionalism

Almost every sport has undergone throughout its history of the amateurism vs. professionalism dichotomy (and its third variant, known as amateurisme marron in French, which was the illegal salary payed to the players related in the last paragraph). Defenders of amateurism raised the festive and altruistic sense of sport as its flag, while the defenders of professionalism desired that athletes had to win part of the money that they were generating with its performances.

Football, in this context, came ahead of time in the debate that would be completely open later with the birth of the modern Olympic Games in 1896. Pierre de Coubertin, its founder, defended to the death that only amateur athletes had to participate in the competition without receiving a monetary benefit. Nowadays, there are still sports in the Olympic Games that continue having a deeply amateur basis like boxing, in which professional boxers did not start to be admitted (although with notable restrictions) until the last Olympics celebrated in Rio de Janeiro.

There was a clear trigger for the professionalisation of English football: the scarce number of clubs that decided to sign up in the FA Cup. Having to compete selflessly, lots of clubs chose to organise friendly matches on their own. Understandable from an economic point of view, because with this method they ensured the control of the incomes that could be generated in the game. And still more understandable if we have in mind that in 1884 Preston North End was ejected from the competition for paying its players, a situation that was starting to be common mainly in the clubs of the North of England. This provoked that some clubs of this area sided with the ejected and left the FA Cup.

So, in the summer of 1885, The Football Association accepted professionalism in English football with very curious particularities: yes, clubs could payed its players, but only if they had born or lived during at least two years at less than 10 kilometres from the headquarters of the club. However, being a football player already was, for all intents and purposes, a profession in the country… A professionalisation that, in the case of refereeing, has not been fully achieved in the majority of the countries yet.

The creation of the IFAB

Scotland, however, did not feel up for agreeing with England and refused to dispute matches against national English teams formed by professional players. A new disagreement was originated in the football world, but Ireland interceded suggesting an annual meeting with the four federations to discuss the Laws of the Game. Following the advice of the Irish association, two representatives of each federation gathered the second of June of 1886 in London: the International Football Association Board (IFAB) had born.

Its creation did not solve the problem, but another fact did it: in 1889, England got rid of the aforementioned restrictions and the first Football League (precursor of the current Premier League) was won by Preston North End with ten Scottish players in its squad, who had emigrated to England in order to be professionals. Won, in addition, without losing a single match, a record that, until the date, only Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal was capable of repeating it in the 2003-2004 season. Considering these facts, Scotland gave up and admitted professionalism in 1893.

But, anyway, we have mentioned in all ways that this football history is going to be related under the Laws of the Game point of view, so the professionalisation of football is only the base to talk about the IFAB.

Before anything else, we have to admit that probably only the most football fanatics know what the IFAB is. From its creation, this association became established as the guardian of the unified Laws of the Game and tasked with preserving, monitoring, studying and amending football rules. To this day the Laws of the Game can only be changed by The IFAB, and its last version can be consulted here.

One of the first changes, which we did not expound on in the latest post, was the definitive establishment of the refereeing roles as we know it nowadays (with the exception of the fourth referee). As we previously mentioned, originally there were two ‘umpires’, one of whom each of the playing teams could appeal to in case of a controversial play which could not be solved by the captains. This solution was used

by the time the first FA Cup took place; however, it was far from ideal as reaching decisions was preceded by lengthy delays.

At first, the referee stood outside the field of play, tasked with keeping time and being required when the two umpires failed to reach a decision on their own. In 1891 the figure of the referee was introduced with the authority to send players off and give penalty kicks and free kicks without listening to appeals. And, as a consequence, both umpires became linesmen, nowadays called assistant referees.

But, how the IFAB decide those changes? Who suggests them? Who has vote in the association and how are they distributed among its members? We will see it in the following posts of our series about football history.

The goal-line technology, another advance at the service of refereeing

VAR, which we have thoroughly talked in previous articles of this blog, and the controversy that revolves around its use have seemed to hide any other technology connected to the world of football. The impact of VAR has been so huge that we tend to think that it has been the first step made to reach a fairer sport (although, as we have already confirmed in many occasions, VAR has not ended with hours and hours of debate between friends about if certain referee “has benefited” or “has harmed” a team), but the truth is that technologies destined to provide help to the referee’s collective came to football some years ago.

Today we are going to talk about a technology that lots of football lovers surely know: the goal-line technologies, also named as Goal Decision System. And we talk in plural because there is not only a single technology, but two different ways to introduce this technology, which we are going to explain in this post. We could even talk about a third method, which it is just the resultant of the mix of both systems.

Two goals that could change history

When the world of football started to experiment with technology applied to this sport, the first thing that experts tried to solve was not the offside problem, nor handball or penalties, but the ghost goals. The view of the main referee and its assistant referees is not always the best to judge if a ball has crossed or not the goal line in its entirety, especially when in the majority of situations is a matter of centimetres. Besides, the human eye has its limitations, and if you add the fact that everything on the field happens in a tenth of second, there is a breeding ground to provoke a referee’s mistake if the competition does not count with a technology that eliminates any doubt.

However, when was the detonator of this necessity of ending with the ghost goals? The own FIFA, in its website, mentions two key goals in the World Cup history that pushed the organization to investigate in this way and that confronted the same national teams: England and Germany.

1966. World Cup final. England, host of the event, and Die Mannschaft tied 2-2 at the end of the regulation time. In the extra time, Geoff Hurst, scorer of three goals in the aforementioned final, receives a ball with the back towards the goal, turns around and its shot smashes in the crossbar. The ball bounces near the goal line and the English players start to celebrate the goal. Geoff Dienst, referee of the match, agrees with England team after talking with its assistant, Tofiq Bakhramov: 3-2 for England, which would finished raising the title.

In 1995, research conducted by University of Oxford came to the conclusion that the ball has not fully crossed the goal line and therefore the goal did not have to count on the scoreboard.

Now, we move on until 2010 and the round of 16 of the World Cup celebrated in South Africa. With 2-1 in the scoreboard for Germany, Frank Lampard shoots from the edge of the box. Again, the crossbar gained a leading role by deflecting the ball downwards, although with a completely different ending compared to 1966: in this case, the ball clearly went into the goal, but the score did not change.

What luck gives to England in 1966, grabs them 44 years later. The match would end with a clear victory for the Germans by 4-1 but, what could have happened after the equalizer?

For these reasons, FIFA started up its machine to develop a technology in order to fight against these situations.

Technology based on cameras

As we previously mentioned in our article about technology applied to sport, we can consider that the precursor of this idea is the commonly known as “hawk eye”, a system that has been used in the main tournaments of tennis (and other sports like cricket) since 2006 to check, after a request made by a player, if a dubious ball has entered or not in the field of play. In football, its implementation has similar principles and an (apparently) easy functioning  basically based on observation.

Some cameras are placed in the goals, each one in a different place around them in order to have a view of every possible. Those cameras that aims to the goal are placed in the grandstand of the stadium with the intention of having a more complete view of the ball.

Cameras constantly follow the ball and send a signal to a system that is capable of tracking the trajectory of the ball in 3D. When the ball crosses or not the goal line, the system recreates its position by the triangulation of the cameras, detecting the exact position of the ball to determine if it completely enters or not in the goal.

If the ball goes completely through the goal line, the program immediately sends a signal to the referee’s watch, which starts to vibrate. The live tracking of the cameras makes possible that the signal is sent to the referee in less than a second, ending with the controversy of the ghost goals.

Azor, our instant feedback multicamera system, is also based in this technology. Especially thought for assistant referees, one of the exercises that are used to do in the Azor sessions (and which can be seen in the next video) consists in a person placed under the crossbar bouncing a ball near the goal line. The assistant referee, after an sprint, must decide if the bounce was inside or outside the goal and goes to an screen in which they can instantly see if they have made the right or wrong decision thanks to the shot that has been recorded by a high-definition camera placed just in line with the goal line.

Technology based on magnetic fields

This detection system is a mix of two technologies in one: the magnetic field and the aerial or signal tools. This mechanism came later and is a bit more complex than the mentioned before, although its speed is tested and its accuracy approved by FIFA.

In this case there are not cameras because everything is based on a series of antennas placed along the posts and the crossbar and covered with plastic.

Besides, in the goal there is an underground inductor which is connected to a processor and, in turn, inside the ball we can found three electric coils. With this method, a magnetic field that covers the whole goal line is created.

When the ball surpasses the line, the antennas are activated and send a signal to the processor, notifying that it has crossed the magnetic field created in the goal. Just like in the case of the technology based on cameras, the referee’s watch receives a signal to confirm them that the goal is valid.

In Spain, none of these technologies had been implemented since the Supercopa 2020, in which the technology based on cameras was used for the first time. In LaLiga this function is also entrusted to VAR, although it means that the human factor comes into play to determine if the ball has crossed or not the goal line, so the error margin is a little bit bigger.

FOOTBALL HISTORY (2): Sheffield, the FA CUP and the beginning of refereeing

In this post we continue with our series about football history seen from the perspective of the Laws of the Game evolution. In the first part, which you can read again by clicking here, we revised the main football precursors and how their ideas were developing until 1863, date of the birth of the considered as the first football rules.

There is still a long way to go in the exciting history of this sport in which technical and, in the recent years, technological innovations have come one after another until configuring football just as we know it today. How could someone imagine that Medieval Football would progress so fast in one and a half century, an evidently short amount of time if we consider the whole humankind history? If we could travel in time to talk with the first referees about tools that they will use in the future such as CloudLab in order to improve their on-field performance from every place, they would charge us of witchcraft at least.

Talking about referees, this new post will answer some questions that surely lots will have thought: When did they appear for the first time? What functions did they have at their beginning? Were they the principal authority over the field of play?

Rules of Sheffield

We finished the first post about football history talking about the 13 original football rules, which they did not achieve the full unit that they creators expected to have in order to help the emerging sport take off. At the same time that the Rules of Cambridge were written, Sheffield clubs created their own code to dispute football matches.

The Steel City, another character of the cult movie The Full Monty and cradle of artists like Joe Cocker or Arctic Monkeys, saw the birth of the Rules of Sheffield together with the considered by FIFA as the oldest football club in the whole world: Sheffield FC. Nowadays, this team is forgotten in the eight division of English football in the shadow of the fierce rivalry that confronts Sheffield United (which was promoted in 2019 to the Premier League) and Sheffield Wednesday (which remains in the second category of English football). But there is something that both teams cannot show off and that equalises Sheffield FC with Real Madrid: both are the only teams awarded with the FIFA Order of Merit.

The fact that a football team was called Wednesday could fulfil an entire post, but let´s come back to the Rules of Sheffield, which is what we are interested of and which continued their development until the definitive affiliation of Sheffield Association into The FA in 1878.

Despite the ideas of Sheffield were practically ignored when the first Laws of the Game were created by The Football association, the truth is that in subsequent modifications lots of the Sheffield’s postulates were adopted: the elimination of the rugby-like offside, the prohibition of scoring a goal from a throw-in, the introduction of the crossbar and corner kicks, the change of the side of play at the break and not after each goal or the fair catch abolition show that Sheffield was a step forward in the necessary innovation to settle a football code and distinguish it from rugby, which also started to take off back then

Deciding innovations

In our post about strategy and tactic we mentioned that at the dawn of football formations that included eight strikers were used, and it was just because of the initial offside rule that did not allow that the player was in front of the ball at the moment it was kicked. In rugby, it is usual that the majority of the players queue up in a line for this reason, both in attack and specially in defence, so it is logical that this was copied at the beginning of football.

However, in the late 1860s The FA had to give in the pressure of Sheffield clubs and of other parts of England. The Association was on the verge of its disappearance, with less and less clubs assigned to it and more adopting the Rules of Sheffield, so it decided to copy in its own way some of its postulates: talking about the offside rule, the attacker would be in an onside position if there were three defenders between the attacker and the goal. In the future, the even-handed solution that is currently valid was adopted: two defenders between the attacker and the goal in order to be in an onside position.

Goal kicks and corner kicks were also gradually introduced at the aforementioned decade and at the beginning of 1870s, but there is an important role which we talked about in the first post about football history and we have not mentioned yet: the referee.

From captains to umpires

We have talked a lot about rule changes, about the different codes that regulated football at its dawn… Without fear of being wrong, we can define the beginning of this sport as chaotic. In fact, before Sheffield joined The FA a match between Sheffield FC and a mixed team with players of The Association was disputed. The first thought that the match would be played with their rules, the second understood that would be played with their rules… Finally, the match was played with The FA rules but, when the later wanted to do a second game, Sheffield FC flatly denied.

This problematic turned into the necessity of a person judging the actions of the matches. Yes, it was nice to rely on the players recognising their offences with honesty and that they would never have absolutely crazy ideas such as simulate in order to take advantage of the rules…

Nice, but too much idealized. Actually, every rule is interpretable, so discussions between both teams could be a never-ending story if each team understood the play in a different way. In other words, what nowadays happen in a bar each weekend between rivalry fans was extrapolated to the field of play each time a debatable play happened.

The initial answer to this nonsense was a bigger one: create the figure of the umpires, a kind of refereeing delegates who were placed behind each goal. The problem is that those umpires were the captains of each team, putting into context that in that period the captains had all the functions that you can think: we could define them as the jack-of-all-trades of the team. In their position, they waited until a controversial action that players could not resolver happened to enter in the field of play and to argue between both umpires.

It was considered that these umpires had a complete knowledge of the rules and they were long-standing prestige men, so they were absolutely capable of forgetting that they belong to one of the teams involved in the match…However, it is curious to point out that one of their main tasks was to be a rudimentary Goal-Line Technology, taking into account that they were placed in the goal were their team attacked. In case of doubt, could they really be impartial and not award a goal to the team that they lead?

The first competitions and the first referees

Actually, this situation could not be maintained for a long time. In 1871 a decision about umpires was urgent because of the creation of the first football competition in history, the FA Cup. The answer was that they started to be neutrals, but not only that: the figure of the referee was also created as the final judge of a confrontation, although the idealization that we talked about above was not completely abandoned.

First, it was trusted that the players could resolve their conflicts and, if they did not achieve that goal, captains came into play. If both could not reach an agreement, the umpires made a decision…Unless they did not think the same. In this case, the referee, based on what he had observed and listened outside the field of play, had the final say about the play. VAR is criticised because sometimes it takes a long time to make a decision, but comparing VAR to this procedure…

Quickly they noticed that this system was not as effective as it was expected, ending the debate in the configuration that we know today: a main referee and two assistant referees, known as linesmen at the beginning (and nowadays, this name is still commonly used). However, we will talk in depth about this in the next post about football history.

Strategy and tactic, two concepts with a mistaken use

In previous posts of our blog we have talked about technological innovations such as VAR that, doubtlessly, are changing sport and football specifically. However, there are other aspects that are also constantly developing in this world and that are not strictly associated with the aforementioned technological revolution.

That is why at Labhipermedia we have decided to transmit to all the readers of this blog a global view of the world of sport, with hope in helping at the time of instructing in every side of the game: referees, coaches, players…

Among the diverse information that we want to put at the disposal of everybody in order to a better comprehension of this complex world, we have wanted to start with two basic concepts that accompany us from the beginnings of professional football and of which separation is sometimes diffused: strategy and tactic.

It could seem that every football fan know what we are talking about, but both concepts are frequently used to equally refer to situations like the following: which formation a team is playing with, why this corner kick has not happened the way it was planned or the reason why certain player is in the bench. Comments and expressions that every football-loving think when they are watching a match but that can mislead in mixing both terms, because strategy and tactic are concepts thoroughly different.

Podría parecer que todo aficionado al fútbol sabe de lo que estamos hablando pero, a menudo, ambos conceptos son utilizados para referirnos indistintamente a situaciones como las siguientes: con qué formación está jugando un equipo, por qué esa jugada de córner no ha salido como se esperaba o los motivos por los que cierto jugador está en el banquillo. Comentarios y expresiones que cualquier futbolero piensa cuando está viendo un partido pero que pueden llevarle al error de confundir o mezclar ambos términos, ya que estrategia y táctica son conceptos totalmente distintos.

Strategy

Strategy is every action which can happen during a match and which have been previously developed with the objective of gaining and advantage over the rival. In other words, they are all the rehearsed plays starting at a dead ball, including goal kicks, throw-ins, corner kicks and any type of foul.

Developing the strategy of a team can terribly increase its defensive and offensive performance. More than a single fan surely remember teams that, during the history of this sport, have used strategy as a weapon to obtain wins and even titles. For example, Atletico de Madrid won LaLiga 2013/2014 making the rehearsed plays a key aspect of their style of play, which let them to gain advantage in the matches and to score a huge amount of goals with these previously trained plays.

This strategy can be divided, attending to the positioning of the players in each play, in two aspects that are basically differentiated by who has the ball possession:

Offensive strategy: when the team has the ball possession, for example in an own corner kick

Defensive strategy: When the opposing team has the ball possession and the own team accepts a defensive attitude, for example in a sideline foul.

Tactic

The other term is tactic, an expression coming from the military field that is very bound to it because it follows the same principle: just like soldiers draw formations on battlefields, in football tactic is referred to the way the players are going to place themselves over the field of play.

Each formation usually reflects a style of play: although it is not always true, it is understandable to think that placing your players in a 4-3-3 formation is going to have an effect on a better offensive performance (and vice versa on the defensive aspect) than a 5-4-1 formation. It also must have taken into account the characteristics of the players at the disposal of the coach, so based on the formation chosen the coach will be taking advantage of some skills or another of them.

Habitualmente, cada formación refleja un tipo de juego: aunque no siempre es así, es lógico pensar que plantar a tus jugadores sobre el verde en un 4-3-3 va a repercutir en un mayor rendimiento ofensivo (y viceversa en el aspecto defensivo) que si les distribuyes en un 5-4-1. También hay que tener en cuenta las características de los jugadores a disposición del entrenador, por lo que según qué formación se elija se estarán aprovechando unas habilidades u otras de los mismos.

Consequently, tactic can be defined as the actions that players make over the field of play, both offensively and defensively, with the objective of surprising the rival. And that surprise arrives through the two variants of tactic: the system of play, easy to recognize according to the aforementioned formations, and the style of play that, although it is a little bit harder to observe at first sight, it tends to be bound to the system of play and sometimes to the philosophy of the team or the coach that manages it.

‘Tiki-taka’, an expression popularise by Andres Montes primarily associated with FC Barcelona or the Spain National Team that won the treble Euro-World Cup-Euro between 2008 and 2012; the “defensive play” that is attributed to coaches like Mourinho, Simeone or Bordalas or to Italian teams (the famous ‘catenaccio’), or the ‘rock and Klopp’ that Liverpool practises under the lead of the German coach are examples of styles of play that every football fan recognise when they are watching one of this teams.

El “tiquitaca”, término popularizado por Andrés Montes y que es santo y seña del FC Barcelona o de la Selección Española de fútbol que ganó el triplete Eurocopa-Mundial-Eurocopa entre 2008 y 2012; el “juego defensivo” que se le atribuye a entrenadores como Mourinho, Simeone o Bordalás o a los equipos italianos (el famoso “catenaccio”), o el “rock and Klopp” que practica el Liverpool comandado por el entrenador alemán son ejemplos de modelos de juego que cualquier aficionado al fútbol reconoce cuando se encuentra ante uno de estos conjuntos.

Explaining these concepts in depth, we can define the system of play as the formation that a team deploys with the purpose of obtaining an optimal performance during a match. It depends on both the players’ location on the field and their responsibilities attacking or defending, commonly known as roles.

These systems of play have enormously developed during football history, adapting in lots of cases to the Laws of the Game changes. For example, the first rules encouraged the individual runs over the passing game, which implies formations like 1-1-8. Nowadays a wide diversity of formations can be found, usually differentiated in offensive and defensive systems, although there are a lot of aspects that define this concept.

The style of play is the combination between the system of play selected and the style or philosophy that the team tries to reflect on the field. We can talk about direct or passing style, for example. It depends not only about the characteristics of the team, but also about the rival style.

Estos sistemas de juego han evolucionado enormemente durante la historia del fútbol, adaptándose en muchos casos a las modificaciones de las Reglas del Juego. Por ejemplo, que en esas primeras reglas se promovieran más las carreras individuales que el pase implicó que existieran formaciones como el 1-1-8. Hoy en día se sigue encontrando una amplia variedad de formaciones, a menudo diferenciadas en sistemas más ofensivos y más defensivos aunque, como ya hemos mencionado, hay multitud de aspectos más que definen el cariz defensivo u ofensivo de un determinado sistema. 

Por su parte, el modelo de juego es la combinación entre el sistema de juego seleccionado y el estilo o filosofía que sigue el equipo. Se puede hablar de los estilos directo, de combinación, de juego en largo… que dependen no solo de las características del equipo, sino también de las del rival.

As we have previously mentioned, tactic includes both the defensive and offensive roles of the players, which they are bound to their skills and attitudes. Surely all of us come to mind names of players that have a defensive attitude close to passivity but deploy all their potential attacking and vice versa: players with a better defensive commitment based on their skills, but without relevance in the offensive side. So there are two types of attitudes, each one with special characteristics:

Defensive attitude: It includes a series of principles like marking, tracking back or covering a rival.

Offensive attitude: It includes a series of principles like counterattacking, losing the mark or changing the direction of the play.

We hope that, after reading the text, you start to watch football in depth, at least referring to these two concepts. To sum up, surely the next image definitely answers the differences between strategy and tactic.

FOOTBALL HISTORY (1): Football precursors and its first rules

Can you imagine football without offsides, at least just as we know them today? Or without referees enforcing the laws over the field of play? And if we tell you that long time ago penalties did not exist?

Probably a lot of people, especially the youngest, will not comprehend football getting rid of aspects like the aforementioned. However, the complexity that has achieve nowadays has come thanks to an evolution that, although has been accelerated during the last years, goes back to past centuries.

That’s why at LabHipermedia we want to share with you the history of the sport that has inspired the technological innovation that our company leads. And, based on our years of experience in referees’ formation, we have thought that the best way would be to narrate it through the primary tool of referees: the Laws of the Game.

For this reason, in the next weeks we will publish a series of posts in which we will go over how football has developed through its rules, with a ton of curiosities that will delight football lovers. In the first part, we are going to start talking about the ancestral origins of football until its official birth.

Football precursors

Football started to gain the relevance that has nowadays at the 20st century, but its origins goes back to lots of centuries before. Evidences of sports with similar characteristics exist in ancient civilizations so far away between them as Mayan or Roman, although the first text in which a similar sport is described is dated in the III century BC: the cuju code, played in the Ancient China during more than 1500 years. It consisted in passing a ball with the feet until placing it in a net. Does it seem familiar to football?

FIFA itself recognises this sport as the oldest football precursor for which there is evidence, although we have to admit that cuju was not created with the intention of becoming a sport. Its beginnings were linked to the military field, serving as a training for the troops, and later it was introduced in the Chinese society’s upper-class lives. Finally, cuju was expanded as a mass sport in the whole country.

However, all football predecessors have almost disappeared. Probably, nowadays the only survivor is kemari, Japanese adaptation of the aforementioned cuju in which the objective is to pass a ball with the feet trying that it does not touch the floor.

This sport have the support of the Kemari Preservative Association in the Japanese country in the purpose of preventing its disappearance. Nonetheless, it will never leave the school playgrounds and the trainings of lots of teams, although in England it is called “keepy-uppy”.

Rules of Cambridge

That ancestral football was developing during the Antiquity and the Middle Ages, but the key turning point happened in 1848 in the country that has always been considered as the football inventor: England.

There, a sport called Medieval football (also known as folk, mob or Shrovetide football) was practised, although it had almost no rules. Medieval football consisted in carrying a ball in the best manner possible until the opposite goal. And this is word-for-word: the only limit that was not permitted to cross was the murder of a rival, but only the fact that this extreme was taken into account clearly illustrates the aggressiveness of this primitive football which is still practised in some towns of the country like Ashbourne, as you can see in the next clip.

Matches of this particular sport used to be disputed between neighbouring towns, with the goals placed in each of them. Maybe past arguments between the inhabitants were the reason why it was needed to legislate in order to avoid too much bloodshed during the matches…

More well-mannered variants of this kind of “It’s a Knockout” taken to the extreme of competitiveness began to develop at the dawn of the XIX century in schools and universities of England until the aforementioned date, when some of this schools made an appointment with the purpose of unifying a standard rule for the emerging sport: the known as Rules of Cambridge.

Although the original document was lost, a copy dated in 1856 exists, probably a development of the first Rules of Cambridge. Aspects like the start and the end of the matches, the goal kicks or the offside (similar to rugby, consisting in the prohibition of passing the ball ahead) were already considered in the code, although football was practised with the hands yet.

Under the protection of this rules, their creators arranged a match of this proto-football in Parker’s Piece, a spacious park located in Cambridge. They nailed the rules in the trees in order to those present could know the rules. A monument commemorates this date: “Here on Parker’s Piece, in the 1800s, students established a common set of simple football rules emphasising skill above force, which forbade catching the ball and ‘hacking’. These ‘Cambridge Rules’ became the defining influence on the 1863 Football Association rules”.

The birth of football

The plaque that remembers that ephemeris brings us to the next key date in football history: 1863, year marked by historians as the definitive birth of football. The 26th of October The Football Association was founded, which since them became the maximum organization of this sport in England and have the honor of being the oldest federation in the world, obviously.

Freemasons’ Tavern, placed in London, was home to the meeting that set up the Association and to five meetings more that took place during that year. At these meetings, between pints and arguments which confronted the supporters of playing with the hands or with the feet, the 13 original football rules were established based on the Rules of Cambridge.

However, there were lots of differences between both rules. The clearest example is the ban in using the hands: the new rules specified that the ball could not be catched from the floor with the upper limbs, let alone run, throw or pass the ball with them. There was only a case in which hands could be used: the “fair catch”, a play that exists in American football which consists in blocking an air pass catching it with the hands before the ball touches the floor.

But not all the assistants to these meetings agreed with the adopted agreements. The most belligerents were the Rugby School’s representatives, who did not endorse the agreements and left Freemasons’ because of insisting on playing with the hands. However, their ideas were the seed for the rules of another sport that is easy to guess taking into account the name of their town.

The original rules

Although nowadays the Laws of the Game has added up to 17, the original 13 are still the backbone in terms of structure.

The first rule was and still is “The field of play”. The length of the field currently measures between 100 and 130 yards and its width is between 50 and 100 yards. However, at the beginning the field was quite a bit bigger than nowadays: while it was specified than the maximun width neither could overpass 100 yards, its length must have been 200 yards.

The rule also mentioned that length and width must have been delimited with flags, which later became the corner flagposts, and how goals must have built: without crossbar, an element that nowadays seems essential. Nonetheless, the distance between goalposts have remained the same since them: 8 yards

The second and the third original rules can belong to the current eighth, called “The start and restart of play”. The start of the match was very similar to rugby: the team that lost the toss of a coin began the play with a kick towards the rival side of the field. Incidentally, it should be recalled that both teams exchanged their side of the field each time one of them scored a goal.

We have mentioned before that the goal did not count with crossbar. It should be asked when a goal was valid, especially in terms of height. The rule four answered that question: it does not matter how high the ball has crossed the goal.

The inventors of the Laws of the Game also legislated about how to restart the match when the ball was out of play by crossing the throw-in line. The rule 5 firstly mentioned that, once the ball was out of the field, the first player that touched the ball must have been the thrower. Maybe this aspect could be recovered in order to avoid a classic form of wasting time: when a player is going to make a throw-in and, at the last moment, drops the ball to a teammate.

Which is harder to imagine in modern football is the rest of the characteristics that defined the throw-in. First of all, the fact that the player must have thrown the ball in a right angle from the point were the ball has crossed the throw-in line (another rule that currently exists in rugby) and, secondly, the ball could not be played until the ball had touched the floor. Those throwers who are capable of placing the ball around the penalty mark without effort will have more difficulties to generate dangerous plays with these limitations.

At the sixth place we find one of the most emblematic football rules: offside, so unknown for the non-football lovers and so hard to explain to them. However, it was easier at the beginning: as we have mentioned before, an offside occurred if a teammate was towards the ball after kicking it and touched or impeded a rival from touching it. To sum up, we can say that the ball could not be passed ahead (another mention to rugby) and, therefore, subjective and controversial aspects such as offsides interfering with the line of vision of the goalkeeper had no place in the first offside version.

We have previously talked about how to restart the match with a throw-in. But what does it happen when the ball crossed the goal line? The fight for the ball continued because the first player that touched the ball outside the field of play gained the possession: if it was a defender, with a kind of goal kick over the line; if it was an attacker, with a free kick more than 14 yards away from the goal line and with the rivals over the line. Even though this was not a penalty kick, it seemed to it.

Rules 8, 9, 11 and 12 legislated the “fair catch” as the only form of touching the ball with the hands, explained before, so we are not going to go into further details. Therefore, the last rules that we have to explained to complete the 13 are the rule 10, which specified that tripping, hacking or using the hands to hold or push the adversary was not permitted, and the rule 13, which was referred to the materials prohibited on the soles of the boots.

In relation to the current 17 rules, the biggest omission lies in the lack of a specific rule for referees, basically because they did not exist at that moment. Nonetheless, these rules did not completely finish with the controversy (the split between The Football Association and Rugby is only an example), although we are going to deal with it in the next post about football history.

VAR: how does it function and in what circumstances can be used?

Notable changes have happened over the years in every sport, although football has experienced some of the biggest revolutions, maybe because of the relevance it currently has. This development has come to football not only in terms of changing the facilities of the teams, but also in the way it is practised and understood.

As we mentioned in our latest post, this development has been parallel to the technological innovation, which in many cases has been used in order to improve sport and the way we see it. Good examples of this idea are tools like ‘hawk-eye’, high definition cameras or the intercommunication equipment used by the referees to communicate between them. However, one of these innovations has taken up the current affairs of the newspapers in the recent years: Video Assistant Referee, better known as VAR.

VAR is currently one of the most cutting-edge ideas, and no exempt of a controversial part, that has been introduced in football. Its main objective is to provide football with more justice (there has been cases in which a simple centimetre has been decisive to disallow or not a goal), but it is a tool that is not fully assimilated by the audience and the players. Both collectives are still assiduously wondering if VAR is being used in a proper way, if it is being taken advantage of the whole potential of the tool and even if we should return to pre-VAR football.

Defenders and detractors

There are diverse arguments to support the latest sentence, although a great percentage of the reticent people claim that VAR “steals the emotion of football”, “slows down matches” or that “VAR comes to eliminate the controversy of football and it is causing the opposing effect”.

However, it is nonetheless true that stats show a reduction in the number of mistakes made by the referees after the implementation of this technology. For example, in Spain the Referees Committee of the RFEF convene press conferences during the season (in the next tweet you can find the balance of the 2018/2019 season, first with VAR in Spain) in order to examine these stats and to show media, players and fans that technology is helping them to make better decisions on the field.

But it would be absurd to restrict the use of technology to the 90 minutes of play. This is the reason why certain tools are being continuously used to facilitate the referees’ formation. Tools like our e-learning platform CloudLab, used by the aforementioned committee in order to chase the criterion unity not only between the Spanish elite referees, but also between the referees committees of each territorial federation in the country.

VAR principles and protocol

Coming back to the subject, we could define VAR as a tool based in the positioning of multiple high definition cameras in diverse locations of a football pitch and created to offer support to the referees in order to minimize its mistakes in some cases that can happen during a match. In that sense, VAR will only be used when some of these four cases occurred: goals, penalties, straight red cards and mistaken identity.

Although VAR has been created to intervene in those cases, it must always follow some basic principles keeping its slogan “minimal interference, maximum benefit” in mind:

VAR check every match-changing situation in the event of a clear and obvious error or a serious missed incident.

The on-field referee is the only one who makes the final decision, what implies that VAR is simply a help to ensure the right decision is made.

Nobody can ask for a VAR intervention, because VAR is continuously checking the play and only the referee in charge of this tool can recommend a review to the on-field referee.

Now that these aspects are clear, let’s go in depth with the plays that can be reviewed in the four aforementioned cases:

Goals

If there is an offside that has occurred before the goal,

if there is a previous offence before the goal,

if the ball is out of play before the goal,

if the ball has entirely crossed the goal line (in those competitions in which Goal-Line Technology is not used).

Penalties

When a penalty kick is awarded, but images show that there is no offence inside the penalty area;

when a penalty kick is awarded, but the offence is outside the penalty area;

when a penalty kick is not awarded, but images show that there is an offence inside the penalty area;

if the ball is out of play before the penalty offence;

if there is a previous offence (handball, offside…) made by the attacking team before the penalty offence,

if there is an offence by the goalkeeper, player or kicker at the taking of a penalty.

Straight red cards

Sending-off offences that are not sanctioned but, after checking the play, VAR referee observes that red card should be shown,

offences that are sanctioned with a red card but, after checking the play, VAR referee observes that red card should not be shown.

Mistaken identity

Mistakes at the time of cautioning or sending off the wrong player.

VAR procedure

In order to intervene in these cases, there are some previous steps that must be followed before making a decision.

Offence: An offence that fits with some of the aforementioned cases has occurred. Once the ball is out of play, VAR members request the referee to delay the restart of the match to check the full situation. The main referee will point to his ear in order to warn the players.

Check: VAR referees check the offence with the cameras that has been previously placed in the stadium. If, in their opinion, it has not happened any of the aforementioned circumstances, the main referee can order the restart of the game. Otherwise, play will be reviewed and the referee will indicate the situation drawing a monitor in the air with his hands.

Review: We can consider that there are two possibilities based on the case it is being reviewed:

Decision without the on-field review monitor: the on-field referee accepts the advice of the VAR members and don’t review the decision with the on-field review monitor. This option is for cases in which the subjectivity of the referee doesn’t come into play at the time of appreciate the play. A great example are offside offences in which the offender actively interferes with play, for example touching the ball.

Decision with the on-field review monitor: VAR referees consider that there is a clear and obvious error in which the subjectivity of the referee comes into play and recommend the main referee to go to the Referee Review Area (RRA) in order to review the play and to make a decision based on them and based on what he has previously noticed on the field.

Going along with the previous example, a situation that can perfectly illustrate this case is an offside offence in which the offender interferes with an opponent: a shot that ends in a goal but, in the moment of the kick, a player of the attacking team is in an offside position and it can be considered that the player is in the path of the ball. In that circumstance, referee must go to the on-field monitor to discern if the attacker who is in an offside position interferes with the goalkeeper’s view.

From Thermography to VAR: Technology applied to sport

In the recent years, technological advances are making its way in sports world. However, it should be asked in what measurement that advances are simply used at the service of the television spectacle or, otherwise, if its use in order to improve sport in essence is fully extended, with implementations and objectives obviously differents depending on the sport they are introduced.

This kind of technology has been turned into a fundamental pillar in sports industry, being pioneer in its use in many ways until reaching a point at which nowadays it’s really hard to think some sports without the presence of this tools.

Therefore, we bring you a summary of some of these technologies that have managed to improve the world of sports formation and performance.

    1. Thermography

    Thermography applied to sport is a technology that allows to evaluate the superficial temperature of athletes in a particular moment. This technology has its origin in the National Institute of Physical Education (INEF) of Madrid and it’s used by many different elite clubs from several sports disciplines.

    ThermoHuman:

    ThermoHuman is a company specialized in thermography applied to physical activity that has stirred up the field of injury preventions in sport. It’s a software that analyses with artificial vision human thermic images in order to detect asymmetries in the body temperature, which can help to prevent possible muscle fatigues and injuries. Through a detailed exam of the users’ physical condition, a specific training can be planned for each user.

    In conclusion, this system helps to prevent injuries by means of a previous analysis. The applications of infrared thermography in sports science, medicine and physiotherapy includes both injuries tracking and prevention, the initial assessment and the physical load measurement.

    Sports disciplines such diverse as tennis, American football, baseball, cricket and motor sports, among others, have open the door to the improve of its competitions through the different applications of this technological advance.

    2. Tracking systems

    Other technologies that have sharply developed in the recent years in sport are the tracking and positioning systems. These tools offer an invaluable information to team sports like football, basketball or indoor football, among others. They help the coaching staff to go in depth in the knowledge of its players and to make decisions, not only during a competition, but also during training and rest cycles

    But these positioning systems are not only used by clubs of the aforementioned sports. In Spain we can find the example of the Referees Committee of the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) that uses this technology, as it is shown in the following tweet, in order to improve its referees’ performance.

    Originally, these systems were mainly based in the use of GPS signals, what restricted its usefulness to outdoor sports. However, the development of new models based on Wi-Fi or radiofrequency signals has allows this technology to introduce itself in indoor sports, having been currently positioned as one of the most used tools in both professional and amateur sport.

    Kinexon:

    Kinexon is the developer company of a radiofrequency positioning system. Its main objective is to provide a tool aimed to coaching staffs for analyzing the performance and strategy of their team.

    Kinexon offers an integral training, performance, injury prevention, rehabilitation, player’s development, match analyses and technical information control through a series of measures like distance, speed, jumps or strength, among others, with an accuracy of less than 10 centimeters. What is more, its system can be used in both outdoor and indoor training facilities.

    3. Heart rate and variability monitoring systems

    Physiological variables such as heart rate have been used since long time ago to discover some aspects of the internal performance of the athletes. Although at the beginning the evaluating tools were expensive and unaffordable in lots of cases, the development of new technologies has popularized the use of monitoring tools like wrist-based activity trackers, strap heart rate monitors or holter monitors.

    These systems are capable of monitoring internal aspects such as heart rate and variability, measures useful not only during the sport activity but also in the daily life. This technology, of which accuracy can significantly vary between the aforementioned options, provides an invaluable information about sports performance, recovery after an effort, rest quality or even the stress level experienced for the users.

    4. Video Systems

    Video solutions are more and more present in sport. At a commercial and spectacle level, the incorporation of minicameras adhered to the athletes, to the vehicles or in key locations is a resource that allows the audience to enjoy sport from an original and more attractive point of view. Cycling, football, swimming or motor sports like motorcycling are good examples of this idea, contributing to a more interactive relationship between audience and sport.

    But going beyond its commercial interest, this technology also represents an invaluable resource at an internal level, because it facilitates the evolution of sport, its rules and the way we understand it. In this way, in the last years several tools based on video technology have been appearing, modifying our sports conception and offering an added value through the development of new technologies.

    Azor, our instant replay multicamera system, is a perfect example of this idea. Thanks to this technology, a huge amount of national and international federations have improved their referees’ formation. But there are other tools, like the mentioned below.

    Goal-Line technology

    This technology has meant a great help for referees who will avoid players’ complaints and will confirm without doubts If a play has ended in goal.

    This system is based on placing some high-definition cameras in the upper part of the stadiums and their 3D images will serve to virtually recreate the positioning of the ball and, in this way, obtain a verdict if the ball has or has not crossed the goal line. In less than a second, the match official will receive a vibration signal in its clock in case the play has ended in goal.

    Tennis judge calling system, commonly known as “Hawkeye”, is based on the same technology. It’s been applied since 2006 in the main tournaments of the world, in addition to other sports like cricket.

    VAR (Video Assistant Replay)

    This systems consists in a series of cameras which images are evaluated in the Video Operation Room (VOR), where a referee or referees in charge of VAR review the decisions made by the match official, who will always have the last word about the reviewed play.

    Although in future posts we will talk in depth about this technology, this video perfectly summarizes in what moments VAR can review if a decision made by a referee has been right or wrong.

    Movies that every football fan should watch

    Football can’t be defined as a simple sport. Its global reach has meant that it has transcended this original concept to become part of what is usually defined as mass culture. And, as an integral part of this concept, its tentacles have been extended to other media such as literature, music or, in the case we are dealing now, cinema.

    However, long before it reached the dimension it has today, this sport was already serving as an inspiration for filmmakers. In fact, the first Spanish sound film in history is considered to be “Football, love and bulls”, directed by Florian Rey and released on 07 January 1930.

    That year, Athletic de Bilbao would win the Spanish First Division, in which only 10 teams were playing and which had formerly illustrious teams such as Real Union Club de Irun, Arenas Club de Guecho or C.D. Europa. However, the plot of the film is triggered when the fictitious goalkeeper of Triana FC fails miserably in a match against Real Madrid, which leads him to prove himself (unsuccessfully) in bullfighting with the intention of conquering his beloved and her father, who does not accept a footballer as his son-in-law.

    The film, of which no copies have been preserved, shows that the vision of the world of football has changed a lot since then, and cinema is no exception when it comes to reflecting this new reality. That’s why we wanted to make a selection of films about football, all of them released in the 21st century, which every football lover should see. 

    The Miracle of Bern, Sönke Wortmann (2003)

    We begin with the only film in this list that narrates a real history, although it has certain fiction elements: the one known as “Miracle of Bern”, that names the film and meant one of the biggest surprises in the World Cup history.

    Suffering a deep crisis after losing the World War II and with the country and its capital split into two, it was a surprised for the football world that the Federal Republic of Germany earned a place in the final of the World Cup organised by Switzerland in 1954. And even more that the fourth of July the outsiders won the title against the great favourite: Hungary, leaded by Ferenc Puskás, Zoltán Czibor or Sándor Kocsis, among other excellent players. If we add to the mix the fact that in the eight minute of the final Magyars were already won 0-2, we will have the perfect ingredients for an epic film.

    West Germany got back in the game and, beyond every other player, Helmut Rahn turned into the hero of the final after scoring two of the three goals of his national team. Der Boss, as he was called in his country, is precisely the main character of the film The miracle of Bern.

    Suffering a deep crisis after losing the World War II and with the country and its capital split into two, it was a surprised for the football world that the Federal Republic of Germany earned a place in the final of the World Cup organised by Switzerland in 1954. And even more that the fourth of July the outsiders won the title against the great favourite: Hungary, leaded by Ferenc Puskás, Zoltán Czibor or Sándor Kocsis, among other excellent players. If we add to the mix the fact that in the eight minute of the final Magyars were already won 0-2, we will have the perfect ingredients for an epic film.

    West Germany got back in the game and, beyond every other player, Helmut Rahn turned into the hero of the final after scoring two of the three goals of his national team. Der Boss, as he was called in his country, is precisely the main character of the film The miracle of Bern.

    Matthias is a boy that grows up without his father, Richard, a Soviet Union war prisoner. However, he relies on another father figure: the footballer Helmut Rahn, who takes the child under his wings. Nevertheless, shortly before the competition, Matthias’ father returns troubled by his captivity. The boy’s passion for the event contrasts with his father’s apathy, but Germany’s victory will serve to restore Richard’s zest for life.

    Goal!, Danny Cannon (2005)

    David Beckham, Zinedine Zidane, Raúl González, Patrick Kluivert, Rafael Márquez, Steven Gerrard, Alan Shearer, Damien Duff, Henry, Ronaldinho, Iker Casillas, Robinho, Lionel Messi… This distinguished group of footballers appeared in the trilogy Goal!, in which FIFA actively collaborate giving up, amongst other things, the rights for using the real names of both teams and players.

    The first film of the saga was released in 2005. Goal!, directed by Danny Cannon, tells the beginning of the adventure of Santiago Muñez (Kuno Becker), a Mexican boy who lives unlawfully with his family in the United States hoping to be a footballer. As he grows up, he starts giving up his dream until the day a former English footballer see his abilities with the ball. He promises Santiago that if he travels to England (leaving his family without the opportunity to return), he will put Santiago in touch with one of his former Premier League teams: Newcastle United.

    This is the first film of a trilogy about the value of the dreams and the withdrawals that implies being a professional footballer. The next films of the saga are Goal II: Living the Dream, directed by Jaume Collet-Serra (2007), and Goal III: Taking on the World, directed by Andrew Morathan (2009). The latest film also includes cameos of the well-known referees Horacio Elizondo, Frank De Bleeckere and Massimo Busacca

    Salir pitando, Álvaro Fernández Armero (2007)

    La Romareda, 1996. Zaragoza and Barcelona play a match that will go down in history for a play in which the assistant referee Rafa Guerrero calls the principal referee, Mejuto González, to warn him that there has been a penalty and expulsion in favour of the visiting team. In that moment, Mejuto will release a phrase that will remain in the memory of Spanish football fans: «Rafa, don’t fuck with me». 24 years later, it is still reminded to the protagonists. As an anecdote it can be said that the true words weren´t those, but “Come on, fuck Rafa, I shit on my mother, expulsion of who?», although that words are never going to change in the collective imagination.

    That phrase is the basis for the comedy Salir pitando, directed by Álvaro Fernández Armero, which was released 11 years after the aforementioned event. In the film, José Luis Pérez is a referee of LaLiga who, despite being considered one of the best referees in the past, is going through many personal and professional problems that are making him the most hated referee by the fans.

    In spite of these conditions, he decides to referee the match Recreativo de Huelva – Valencia in the last fixture of the competition that can decide the championship for the visiting team. And he will do it accompanied by his inseparable assistant referee and friend Rafa (Javier Gutiérrez), a name that will be used by José Luis Pérez to paraphrase Mejuto González.

    As a curiosity, it is worth mentioning that some scenes of the film were shot in the Nuevo Colombino stadium during a real Spanish LaLiga match between Recreativo de Huelva and Valencia FC.

    L’arbitro, Paolo Zucca (2013)

    Imagine, for a moment, that before the final of a major European competition the referee is caught taking a bribe to rig the result of the match. And, as a punishment, he is sent to referee the worst team in the Italian third division. Awesome, isn’t it?

    This is what L’arbitro proposes, a grotesque comedy directed by Paolo Zucca based on his short film of the same name which won the David de Donatello in 2009, the most prestigious award in Italian cinema. Cruciani (Stefano Accorsi) goes from refereeing finals on the best stages of the European continent to referee on the fields of land where he had never expected to return, receiving insults without the parapet offered by the remoteness and deafening noise of a big stadium.

    Filmed in black and white, film director confessed to having been inspired by several real cases to build his story. Byron Moreno, a former international referee who is widely remembered in Italy for his controversial performance in the round of 16 of the 2002 FIFA World Cup hosted by Korea and Japan, or the hearings of the “Calciopoli”, a scandal that affected several teams in the Serie A, served Zucca to build his story “forgetting the names and facts, keeping the way of speaking”.

    Underdogs, Juan José Campanella (2013)

    “If I had to put music in the background of my life, it would be the broadcast of football games”. This phrase perfectly defines its author, the deceased Argentinean writer and cartoonist Roberto Fontanarrosa, and explains that his passion for this sport flooded a good part of his stories.

    One of them is Memoirs of a Right Wing, which served as the seed for the script of Underdogs (The Unbeatables in the UK), which become the milestone of being the first Argentinean 3D animated film. Directed by Juan Jose Campanella (The secret in their eyes), it follows in the footsteps of Jake, a shy boy who will have to face Ace, considered the best football player in the world but who still has to avenge the only defeat he has ever suffered in his life: when he was a child, Jake beat him in a table football match.

    However, the protagonist will have an invaluable and unexpected support when he discovers that table football players have a life of their own and they will help him to defeat his opponent again.