Tag Archives: Football

Game-changer: Sport Business Centre hosts launch of Play-Offs book

This post was contributed by Nick Eisen, Business Engagement Reporter, Birkbeck School of Business, Economics and Informatics

The Agony & The Ecstasy, A Comprehensive History Of The English Football League Play-Offs (book cover)

The Agony & The Ecstasy, A Comprehensive History Of The English Football League Play-Offs (book cover)

Birkbeck Sport Business Centre‘s public seminar series struck a more literary note in presenting the launch of author and journalist Richard Foster’s book, The Agony & The Ecstasy, A Comprehensive History Of The English Football League Play-Offs, at the British Medical Association on Monday 16 November.

As Foster explains in his book (the first to be written on the Play-Offs), the competition was introduced “as a system for deciding the last promotion slot for the three lower divisions of the Football League in the 1986/87 season”.

The richest sporting match in the world

When the competition began, it could be regarded as resembling one of its own participant underdog teams – unfancied and not expected to go far. But, as the author said, underdogs have defeated giants, providing some of the Play-Offs’ most memorable moments. Similarly, perhaps to a much greater degree, the competition itself has had an impact beyond all initial expectations.

The Play-Offs began as an interim attempt to reinvigorate a game in decline: attendances were falling and 1985 had seen several disasters, including the tragedy at Heysel Stadium, where dozens died and hundreds were injured when a wall collapsed.

In their first season, the Play-Offs received no television coverage. Now every match is televised live. In 1987 the monetary return on winning promotion to the top division was about £500,000. Now, winning is estimated to be worth more than £130 million. That figure could exceed £200 million when the 2016/2017 English Premier League television deal begins. The Football League Championship Play-Offs Final is the richest single sporting match in the world.

Room for improvement

With humour, energy and able backing from his support team, Foster communicated his expertise and passion for the Play-Offs to a large and appreciative audience, and brought to life his favourite memories from three decades of the competition.

As a staunch advocate for the Play-Offs, Foster nevertheless saw room for improvement and has acknowledged the competition’s critics, including those who have questioned its fairness as a way of deciding promotions.

An audience member also asked about the difficulties posed by the Premiership’s delayed-payments process for newly promoted clubs lacking the immediate cash resources of established rivals, and Foster pondered the possibilities of weighting payments towards poorer newcomers.

On balance, however, the author favoured the Play-Offs: his book describes the competition’s drama and spectacle re-engaging fans and clubs at a dismal time in the 1980s, and continuing to do so today.

Find out more


How the dressing room helps decide success or failure in UK football

This post was contributed by Nick Eisen, Business Engagement Reporter, Birkbeck School of Business, Economics and Informatics

How the dressing room helps decide success or failure in UK footballBritish football’s dressing room culture, and its role in the success or failure of teams and players, was the focus of an intriguing seminar organised by Birkbeck’s Sport Business Centre (SBC) at the British Medical Association on Monday 9 November.

During the seminar, titled Professional Football in the UK: The Beautifully Ugly Game, the speaker, Dr Seamus Kelly of University College Dublin, discussed his research, including interviews with players, agents and managers.

Here he found an emphasis on physical attributes over thinking skills potentially inhibited teams and also players – on and beyond the pitch. Including critical thinking skills in training could help address this.

Competitive atmosphere

Introducing the evening, SBC Director Sean Hamil noted Dr Kelly’s particular qualifications for his subject. Informing his academic perspective, as a former professional footballer Dr Kelly had earned an entry to the largely closed world of the dressing room.

That world’s positive aspects might include the social interactions of its competitive atmosphere, which, while potentially quite brutal, could psychologically prepare some players for the stresses associated with matches.

However, Dr Kelly also found bravado, indulgence and ostentation masking debilitating fears of failure to play well. Constructive competition could encourage skills development; destructive competition could undermine that. Behind apparent team camaraderie, intense rivalry for places in a squad could lead players to attack each other’s confidence and prospects through behaviour such as abusive or aggressive criticism or humour.

Developing strategies

One way (already practiced at some clubs) to help counter such behaviour could be to get players to work together in training, among themselves, to develop possible strategies to given game scenarios, encouraging player engagement, thinking skills and cooperation, which might in turn help players act more strategically in and beyond football.

Clubs could also further develop approaches that included analyses of personality as well as physical ability in player selections, acquisitions and introductions to squads.

Research into thinking skills is already happening. Since 1999 Birkbeck has worked in this and related fields with organisations such as UEFA.

Sean Hamil also pointed out that other sectors had accepted much of this thinking for decades: why was UK football different? In response, Dr Kelly noted the game’s resistance to change.

Development was perhaps therefore about nuance: consultation rather than confrontation, addressing obstacles such as short-termism and about fresh thinking on introducing approaches established elsewhere to a hitherto largely resistant arena, recognising its positive aspects.


Birkbeck’s Sport Business Centre can offer consultancy on short, medium and long term projects. Please contact the Business Engagement team to discuss or see our ‘Find an Expert’ database.

Find out more


Combating Match-Fixing

This post was contributed by Noy Shani, The London Economic. The article was first posted at The London Economic on June 8

Match-fixing awareness is on the increase and a multitude of organisations are now involved in tackling the problem. The London Economic’s Noy Shani was at a special match-fixing seminar at Birkbeck, University of London and came back optimistic.

Match-fixing---FootballNew-found optimism was at its peak. Just ten minutes before the panellists and guests took their seats at the basement level of the Birkbeck lecture hall, the formerly ‘immortal’ Sepp Blatter had shocked the world of football with his decision to resign as the president of FIFA.

Seems like the perfect timing just ahead of a seminar talk about combating match-fixing in football, doesn’t it?

Two years ago Birkbeck started engaging with UEFA, the European Union and FIFPro, the world union for professional football players, and following some fascinating insight and research in the field, a new and glossy looking booklet titled ‘Don’t Fix It – Protect Our Game’ has been introduced.

The special seminar on a warm London evening featured special panel guests Kevin Carpenter – independent legal and sports consultant; Andrew Harvey – a Visiting Research Fellow from Birkbeck Sport Business Centre; and Tony Higgins – FIFPro’s European Division Vice-President.

Kicking off the panel discussion, Andy Harvey, said: “At the local level it is important to understand the main driving forces behind match-fixing.  Most of the time these are not discussed at all.  The best prevention was and remains education.

“Players need to have much more understanding about their responsibilities.  Those that get involved in match-fixing regret it afterwards, they realise they let their family members, team-mates and fans down.”

Match-fixing affects and distorts sporting events and lives worldwide.  It reduced the number of spectators watching football in countries such as Malaysia, had players banned for life and left a stain on team-mates and fans.

Worse of all, it still continues around the globe and is spreading.

Combating match-fixing

1,500 players from nine European countries were surveyed as part of the recent research.

There are of course differences between one country and another, says Tony from FIFPro.

“In some countries players do not have contracts, they are considered as entertainers and this can affect how they are getting paid.”

You will probably admit it.  If your employer stops paying you for months end, pretty soon you will be looking for some ‘side projects’.  Players in fact do the same.

“Some will resort to match-fixing so they can feed their families,” adds Tony.

No wonder than that the number one reason for players to be involved with match-fixing according to the survey is financial difficulties, topping the list with 27%, ahead of the fact it’s ‘easy money’, coming second with 22%.

Enforcement or education?

Billions are spent to combat issues like drug use and related transactions.  It does not necessarily eliminate drugs.  This model also applies to match-fixing.  Enforcement alone just won’t cut it.

There is a great deal of outside pressure on footballers from Eastern European or less developed countries, including sometimes threats to their or their loved ones’ lives, said Tony.

This is, he said, the reason why FIFPro got more involved.

So, what could still stop match-fixing?  The players surveyed believe that the number one factor, with 23%, is their personal honesty and integrity. This strengthens the view that educational programmes to combat match-fixing are the way forward.

The sort of people players trust the most in delivering such schemes are player unions and national associations.  However, reporting mechanism have proved basic or not practical, whilst organisations that do run designated hotlines don’t have enough trained staff to deal with the size of the problem.

Even if these were in place, would players actually trust them?  This remains doubtful.

36% of those surveyed said that they will not report an approach to fix a match or any suspicious of match-fixing because of lack of trust and confidentiality.

Confusion left, right and centre

The more I listen to the discussion it becomes apparent that stakeholder advocacy and involvement are required to make combating match-fixing a success.

Bear in mind, when I say success, I mean relative success.  After all, how would you even go about measuring it?  Counting the number of calls to ‘match-fixing hotlines’?

Confused?  There are many more contradicting issues also between the legal and regulatory aspects of combating match-fixing, says panellist Kevin Carpenter.

“Is there a justification for a life ban for footballers involved in match-fixing?  In criminal law you are not easily put in prison for long periods.

Carpenter also reckons that legal education in the field is too minimal.

“People don’t know how to prosecute it.  It is new and still vague.  And how do you enforce match-fixing cross borders if activity in one country affect yours?  It is not straightforward.  Some of the people involved don’t have the powers to issue warrants for instance.”

Where does this leave us?

Match-fixing and similar threats to football take many forms and involve complex sets of behaviour from many participants.

The problem cannot be resolved by one organisation or person, as the research suggests.

It requires an approach involving government, referees, fans, the European Union, clubs, FIFA and UEFA, law enforcement entities and universities.

Andy, Kevin and Tony believe there is much more awareness nowadays, more than there ever was.

“Five years ago there were a few cases but now it seems more prominent because society, football players, fans, clubs and authorities are no longer ignorant to the consequences of match-fixing,” they all agreed.

And with that awareness, they are all optimistic that match-fixing can be handled differently and more successfully than it ever was before.  I will take their word for it.

For more information on match fixing and the involvement of Birkbeck, Unviversity of London in sports  management, visit www.sportbusinesscentre.com

Find out more