Technology has not played as much of a central role as in some other sports. But from the first floodlit match in 1878 to the advent of games being televised in colour in 1970 and - more recently - the dubious privelege of being able to follow players on Twitter, football has kept up to date with contemporary technology to some degree.

This year, goal-line technology was finally introduced to the Premier League, at long last bringing an end to arguments over 'phantom' goals in pubs all over the world.

© iStock/Gajun

But this is just the beginning. When German legend Franz Beckenbauer warned this week of drones taking the place of referees it may have sounded like mere science fiction - but in fact technologies like embedded sensors and Oculus Rift have already made in-roads into the beautiful game. Click through to see more...

Goal-line technology 

The World Cup in Brazil this year saw goal-line detection technology used for the first time in a major football tournament, after finally getting the nod by FIFA. It is now used in all English Premier League matches.

The Hawk-Eye system relies on seven cameras installed around a stadium, which provide footage that is combined by software to identify the location of the ball within the goal area. It then sends a signal to the official’s watch, as well as providing information on a ‘near miss’.

But this could be just the start, with some calling for replays to be used for all manner of decisions, including free kicks to penalties.

Image: Hawk Eye

Oculus Rift and Google Glass 

During this year’s World Cup, former Holland manager - and technology advocate - Louis Van Gaal reportedly provided Dutch players with Oculus Rift and Google Glass headsets to relive their in-game actions.

Meanwhile, Roma boss Rudi Garcia has also taken to wearing Google’s smart glasses, donning the eyewear during a friendly game against US side Orlando this summer in order to offer fans a taste of life by the touchline through 'Rudi Vision'.

Image: AS Roma

Analytics

Within the clubs themselves there has been an ongoing move towards greater use of analytics to optimise their player’s performances and health.

Bundesliga and Champions League winners Bayern Munich FC penned a deal with German software giant SAP earlier this year, using its HANA in-memory computing platform to crunch data, as well as enhancing customer experience for its 300 million fans.

“SAP has the technology to support three of our main goals: optimise our business processes to facilitate our global expansion, help our team stay fit and perform at their highest level and give our fans the best possible experience,” said Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, former German national team striker and CEO of Bayern Munich.

Image: SAP

Fan tech

Football fans have also enjoyed the benefits of advances in technology. While supporters of yore would have to make do with a pie and cup of Bovril to distract from dodgy home performances, many clubs have now rolled out free wi-fi at their grounds to cater for those who would rather play with their smartphones and tablets while averting attention from the pitch.

It is a trend that has been bucked by Manchester United however, which this year announced a ban on mobile devices at Old Trafford for ‘security reasons’. 

For those at home, watching games is becoming more realistic than ever, with the BBC trialling ultra-high definition broadcasts at the World Cup this summer, while Sky launched its 3D viewing service last year.

© iStock/Juripozzi

Cyber attacks

Could cyberattacks become more damaging addition to the modern game than high ticket prices, oligarch owners and even diving foreign wingers?

According to head of ICT at UEFA, Daniel Marion, cyber attacks have become definitely become “more of an issue” for the governing body in recent years.

These online attacks come from a variety of sources including hacktivist groups intent on disrupting coverage of events, or even irate fans looking for more cutting-edge ways to vent frustration at dodgy refereeing decisions.

“Hactivism has been more active in the past two or three years," he told ComputerworldUK“When we take disciplinary decisions or sanctions, the fans usually take it as a bad decision. Therefore in the past they could protest only, now they can go online and do a lot of other things.

"With the Anonymous-type attacks you can start to create massive attacks even with a crowd of two hundred people.” 

© iStock/Loveguli

Drones

Drones have already made a - somewhat unwelcome - appearance at stadiums, thanks to fans with a flair for amateur aviation.

An international game between Serbia and Albania descended into chaos this year thanks to a helicopter drone carrying a flag into the middle of the pitch, while a man was arrested in October for flying a drone over Manchester City’s Etihad stadium.

But could unmanned aerial vehicles also make their way into the game legitimately?

German football legend Franz Beckenbauer believes so, claiming this week that drones will eventually take the place of referees on a permanent basis.

"We are living in a century that's all about technology,” the honorary Bayern Munich president predicted, speaking to German sports site Sky90 this week. “We all know that it doesn't end with goal-line technology. At some point, we won't even need a referee any more. Drones will be keeping an eye on whatever happens on the pitch at some point."

© iStock/Malifor

What does the future hold? 

Beckenbauer’s vision of referee-replacing drones may sound far-fetched at the moment, but others have predictions for football that stretch further into the realms of science fiction.

A report from smartphone-maker HTC earlier this year offered some rather fanciful notions of the future of technology in football, includingaugmented reality contact lenses, insect-like drone cameras, and even Galactico-aping androids to play amateur matches.

Sunday games down the ‘Dog and Duck’ will never be the same again...

Image: HTC

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