ON THE ROAD: The day robo-coach made its debut on the touchline for Wingate & Finchley to give club an off-the-pitch boost
- Wingate & Finchley placed first ever Artificial Intelligence coach on their bench
- The Ryman League club club wanted to showcase technology to young fans
- Coach Dave Norman did not call on it during 1-1 draw against Whitehawk
Amitai Winehouse For The Daily Mail
Do not expect Alexa Ferguson in the dugout any time soon. Still, if Wingate & Finchley needed a win in this relegation six-pointer, they got it off the pitch.
Not many clubs fighting the drop would make education a priority on an important day like this, but Wingate are not most clubs.
On Saturday, they placed the first Artificial Intelligence (AI) coach in the world pitchside. Programmed into an Amazon Echo and voiced by their Alexa tool, it is very much in the early days of development.
Wingate & Finchley had an Artificial Intelligence on their bench for draw with Whitehawk
There was a purpose though. ‘We want to inspire children in science, technology, engineering and mathematics practices,’ said manager Dave Norman.
‘My background is in teaching. I train teachers and coaches to inspire the next generation.’
The uses of the AI coach are still limited. ‘This is in its embryonic stages and is only as good as the information given to it,’ he added.
But Norman was impressed pre-match. During a demonstration of the system, the AI coach managed to recommend the same formation Norman picked for the game.
And inside the clubhouse, which must rank among the best at Isthmian League level, there was a show of five hands when a group of children were asked whether the AI coach made them want to look into programming.
When programmer Ronald Ashford was asked whether it can replace a manager, he replied: ‘I don’t think it can.’ His hope is it will drive interest in the Big Bang Fair, a national science festival in March.
This sort of community outreach suits Wingate. That strand of the club was set up in 1946 to battle anti-semitism.
Paul Lerman, the grandson of co-founder Maurice Rebak, after whom their stadium is named, said: ‘The plan was to achieve that by helping people integrate through football. That’s still what we do today, helping underprivileged people have a great place to play and watch football. All of those things come together to promote inclusion in society.’
The club hope to inspire children in science, technology, engineering and mathematics
While anti-semitic incidents are on the rise nationwide, they are dropping at Wingate. Lerman estimated a few years ago that there was generally an issue once a season, and that has fallen to one every handful of campaigns.
That comes despite the prominent Star of David on the badge and on the clock opposite the oldest remaining cantilever stand in the country.
They have obvious history but Wingate & Finchley have always owed something to scientists. When Wingate were left homeless after the Government compulsory purchased their stadium to expand the M1, Margaret Thatcher helped them merge with Finchley.
They believe they were the only team in the country to hold a minute’s silence when she died.
Wingate & Finchley have a proud history of innovation and want to continue that trend
On the pitch, Norman did not turn to the AI coach during the 1-1 draw against relegation rivals Whitehawk. Recommended 4-2-3-1 formation or not, the light on the Echo did not flash when he decided to throw on another striker.
No voice warned, ‘I’m sorry Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that.’ It paid off when Alieu Njie was teed up for a late equaliser.
An AI coach may no longer be science fiction, but it’ll be a while before it can make decisions like that.