Leatherhead FC and IBM: A little-and-large combo shaking up football
Artificial Intelligence

Leatherhead FC and IBM: A little-and-large combo shaking up football

It's a David and Goliath match, to use the parlance of football, only this time the pair are on the same team. IBM, storied computer industry veteran, is working with Leatherhead FC of the Bostik Isthmian League, the seventh tier of England's football system, using the former's Watson Discovery artificial intelligence system to improve its chances of moving up the pyramid.

Watson helps by exploring match reports and social media feeds to analyse the opposition: key players, tactics, potential weaknesses and so on can be unearthed through the Watson Assistant conversational, Q&A-based user interface. And on the training ground, players and management can assess their own individual and team performances.

Leatherhead is a smallish town in Surrey, where many of the 11,000 residents commute to work in London. Both town and football club are perhaps best known nationally for the team's glory run in the 1974/75 FA Cup when Brighton and Hove Albion were among the conquered opponents before the team succumbed heroically to Leicester City in front of a crown of over 32,000.

Times have changed since then: Brighton play in the Premier League and Leicester shocked the football world by winning the whole shebang a few years ago. Leatherhead, meanwhile, turn out to attendances measured in hundreds and their team remains composed of players who must maintain a day job to make ends meet.

There's no shame in that as English football is probably the most competitive league in the world and there are excellent players that emerge from the likes of Leatherhead. You could, at a stretch, argue that Leatherhead has by four years the longer history, with roots dating back to 1907, but the club still sits oddly alongside IBM with its 380,000 staff and $120bn market value. But the creation of this odd couple was deliberate.

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Martin Veitch

Martin Veitch is Contributing Editor for IDG Connect

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