When James Gleick wrote “We can see now that information is what our world runs on: the blood and the fuel, the vital principle” he was clearly on to something. Information is the growth commodity of our age, whether it be in the financial sector in the form of economic analysis and algorithms for the stock markets, or the huge amounts of metadata that is created from digitisation projects which can then be data mined by scholars to find previously unknown of trends. However, this new appreciation of information is now spreading to all parts of society even to sports and professional football in particular.
A quick Google search for “information jobs” and “football” produces a number of jobs in or connected to Association Football that match the skills set of most information professionals. Here are just three: Football Analyst and Social Media Assistant to target football fans online for a betting firm; Knowledge and Insight Analyst for the Football Foundation which provides facilities for people across the UK to participate in football; Academy Analysts at Reading Football Club to develop youth team players by filming and analysing practice sessions and matches, and maintaining a database of team and individual statistics.
One company which has tapped in to the information needs of professional football clubs in the UK is Prozone. They developed the Prozone propriety player tracking software which used up to eight cameras around the pitch to track players and monitor their performance – how much they run, touches of the ball, fouls committed, etc. Many top teams use the Prozone technology to monitor the performance of their own players and track potential signings.
Prozone was first championed by Sir Clive Woodward, and he used it extensively in preparing the England team in the run-up to their 2003 world cup victory. Woodward believed access to data was essential to prepare your team. He almost sounds a bit like modern information professionals! The far more commercially ruthless world of professional football was quick to see the potential of this new tool, and Prozone broke out of the confines of Rugby Union. Prozone is essentially about collecting data for football: they are effectively data-mining players. The tools they use are the tools used by library and information professionals: XML schema to send results to clients as email attachments, creating databases of players, analysing the statistics of potential signings for football clubs. In short, the growth of information based skills in football is a great example of how skills in the LIS sector are needed beyond the walls of the library.