Three Sportviz Inventions By a Hungarian Newspaper
The match graph, the target table, and the directional target table by Nemzeti Sport (1922–1942)
A couple of days ago, two of my friends, independently from each other, sent me a graph published by Hungarian sports daily newspaper Nemzeti Sport (National Sport) in 1927. The line graph shows the most important events during the 90-minute football match between Hungary and France on June 12, 1927. Hungary won the match 13 to 1 against France. This was one of the highlights of Hungarian football!
The graphs above show the two 45-minute halves of the 90-min football match in a horizontal layout. A centerline divides the graphs into two halves of the pitch according to the two teams’ position. The circles show the shots on goal, and the circles in the square show the goals scored. Flags are offsides, crosses are free kicks.
Since I’ve never seen anything quite similar, I did a little research on Hungarian digital archives Arcanum, and what I’ve found is really amazing. I’d like to thank a colleague at Lechner Center of Architecture for the discovery. It turned out that Nemzeti Sport published these kind of “match graphs” from 1922, for which I counted more than 30 of them until 1940s. These match graphics also used to be on the front page, which is very unusual, even nowadays.
But the most thrilling is, that one and a half years later, in 1925, the newspaper announced proudly that their creation made a huge carrier in several countries. According to Nemzeti Sport, other sport dailies, like the Gazzetta dello Sport in Italy, or the Idrottsbladet in Sweden, started to publish similar graphs. They wrote that “when we created the graph, we knew, that what we did, had sport-historical importance.” This underlines that this is no short feat for Nemzeti Sport. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find similar graphs from other gazettes and newspapers from the era in the digital archives. I especially looked for the Idrottsbladet and the Gazzetta dello Sport.
As I turned the pages in the archives, a new visualization appeared in an issue from 1936 with a text announcing that “after the international success of the match graphs we created a new visual invention, the target table.”
On the image we can see two goals: the top one is Italy’s, and the one below it Hungary’s. The text explains that the black circles are the power shots, the ruled ones are the “semi-weak” shots, and the empty ones are the really weak shots. The scores are numbered in order. From the visualization we can see that while Hungary had more occasions for scoring, also hitting the goal post twice, Italy took better advantage of their opportunities and won this match 2–1 against Hungary.
In 1942, the Nemzeti Sport came out with the improved version of the target table. Since the newspaper did not give it a specific name, the directional target table is my denomination. Again a self-congratulatory quote by the Nemzeti newspaper, in a very kitschy and pompous Hungarian yet lost in translation: “Our graph shows the waves of the match, and our target table was appreciated in all Europe. From Italy to Sweden, from Portugal to Romania, sport newspapers adopted them everywhere. We hope that our readers will appreciate our new target table, which shows not only the hitting points, but also the direction and the distance where the shot or the header came from.”
Sadly, the newspaper did not disclose who created these graphs. And we can’t be sure that these graphs were truly the first of their kind.
I still feel a final remark is necessary. A few comments on my original Hungarian post on Facebook suggested that there was a correlation between using innovative visual analytics of match data and the good performance of the Hungarian football. An underlining thought was that the Hungarian team or the soccer organization had generous amounts of data on the match and the players to create such graphics. However, I’m unsure if this is the case. No matter, Hungary did reach the World Cup final in 1938. Although it lost again in a match versus Italy, it remains a golden era for Hungarian soccer/football.