Off the ball

Football and the net, a virtual match

Web Football Club, in Caen

The links between football and the fast-moving world of technology are growing closer all the time. The internet and social networking sites, not to mention the devices we use to access them, offer a range of services and advantages that are being harnessed more and more by tech-savvy players, fans and football authorities alike.

As reveals, the power of the net to reach millions at the touch of a button is being used to often-ingenious effect in the football world, whether it is to rouse fans ahead of a big game, raise cash to buy a coveted player or even recruit budding internationals.

As faithful users well know, you can follow us on Twitter, the very same medium that Mexican club Jaguaresare now using to stay in regular contact with their fanbase. Founded in 2002, the club chose the build-up to a big game with Pumas UNAM last October to launch their latest communication campaign on the social networking site.  

A few days before the match, the Chiapas outfit tweeted the following message: “In football as in life, 140 characters are enough for you to say whose side you’re on: #rujocomojaguar (roarlikeajaguar) or #maullocomopuma (miaowlikeapuma)”.

Getting into the spirit of things, the Jaguares players set up individual Twitter accounts, taking the field against Pumas with their usernames emblazoned on their jerseys and with the famous Twitter icon appearing by the side of their shirt numbers. Identifiable as @ifuentes4 was Chilean defender Ismael Fuentes, while the moniker of Colombian striker Jackson Martinez was @jacksonm9.

The initiative was a huge success on and off the pitch, as Jaguares mauled Pumas 4-0 and traffic to the club’s Twitter account soared.

A few months earlier Portuguese ace Cristiano Ronaldo made use of his Facebook page to increase his already stratospheric popularity, asking his followers to guess how many goals he would score in last season’s UEFA Champions League Round-of-16 tie against Lyon. The prize for the winner? The player’s watch, valued at €100,000.

Los Merengues ran out comfortable 4-1 aggregate winners, though the Portuguese’s name was nowhere to be seen on the scoresheets, with Karim Benzema, Marcelo and Angel di Maria getting the goals, allowing Ronaldo to hang on to his precious timepiece.

Staying with Facebook, River Plate fans set up a support group called Unidos por Carrizo last year in a bid to help the club meet the €6m fee Lazio were asking for goalkeeper Juan Pablo Carrizo, then on loan with Los Millonarios. The inspiration for the venture came from a similar initiative launched by River supporters 30 years earlier to help secure the services of Argentina striker Mario Kempes, without the aid of the internet of course.

“We’re inviting anyone who can make a donation (it doesn’t matter whether it’s one dollar, ten or 10,000) to join our group and repeat what we did with Kempes, only this time to keep the best goalkeeper the club’s had in recent years,” said the fans on their page. Sadly for them their efforts proved in vain, with Carrizo eventually returning to the Rome club.

There was a happier ending in store for Cologne fans when, in 2009, they set about the task of raising ten per cent of the €10m fee needed to bring local hero Lukas Podolski back from Bayern Munich, the club he had joined three years earlier. The scheme involved Geissbocke supporters buying up pixels in a computerised picture of the player. One of the donors who helped make Poldi’s return to his breakthrough club possible was none other than loyal Cologne fan and multiple Formula One champion Michael Schumacher, who gave €875 to the cause.

The power of the web was also shown when the Benin Football Association set about the task of recruiting players for the national team by publishing a job advertisement on its website in the build-up to the 2008 CAF Africa Cup of Nations:

“All Beninese players who would like to wear the jersey of the national team of Benin are invited to write, at the earliest opportunity, to Benin Football Association’s national technical director at the following email address.”

More than 30 players responded and were invited to a training camp in Paris in late November 2007. However, none of the hopefuls would feature in the Benin squad that travelled to the continental finals in Ghana the following year.

Buoyed by his success in taking teams from the bottom of the English league pyramid all the way to European glory, albeit in the computer game Football Manager, English fan John Boileau made an altogether cheekier job application when Steve McClaren left Middlesbrough to become England coach in 2006.  

In offering to fill the vacancy, the virtual boss pledged his services to Boro chairman Steve Gibson, writing: “My Football Manager 2005 experience has included league, cup and European experience and has allowed me to become an expert in work permits, scouting, tactics and man management.”

The intrepid Boileau even attached a CV detailing his practical managerial experience, which involved guiding the St Paul’s Under-11s team to victory in the Nuneaton Summer Playscheme Cup no less.

No doubt impressed by the applicant’s credentials, Gibson took the time to respond to Boileau, describing him as “the outstanding candidate” but deciding against his appointment on the grounds that one of Europe’s major clubs would inevitably seek his services at some point and lure him away from the Riverside Stadium all too soon.

Finally, another online tale from England, where, in 2007, Ebbsfleet Unitedof the Conference National (the country’s fifth tier) were taken over by a website of all things. The site in question was MyFootballClub, with 27,000 of its members paying £35 each to acquire a 75 per cent controlling stake in the Kent-based club and with it a say in team selection, transfers, tactics and the appointing of the coach.

The deal paid almost instant dividends, with the club winning the 2008 FA Trophy, a semi-professional cup competition open to sides playing in tiers five to eight of the English league system.

Those are just some of the unusual ways football and the net have come together. Do you know of any more unlikely liaisons between the beautiful game and the online world? If so, then tap away on your smartphone, keyboard or tablet and tell us all about it.

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