Some Neil Lanham Treasures


I have changed the title of this post in response to Neil Lanham’s concerns. I mistakenly used the word artefacts to describe the resources he shared with me.

Neil’s point is “I do not like the word artefacts in this respect. What I do is organic and alive. Artefacts is dead”.

I apologise for this original error.

I have chosen to use ‘treasure’ instead. I hope this connotes their past, present and future significance.

I have rectified another error in the post. Neil’s analysis of the 1990 World Cup was in three volumes.

Neil Lanham at a football game ready to notate performance

I have been in contact with Neil Lanham to clarify his role in the early years on notating football performance.

Neil has kindly shared a number of treasures with me. With his permission I include some of them here as a contribution to a more detailed history of football notation during the ‘Charles Reep years’.

A hand notation:

Neil Lanham's hand notation of a football game

Neil’s report to the FA (in three volumes) on the 1990 World Cup:

Report of 1990 World Cup

Neil also shared a contract letter from Dave Bassett for the 1986-1987 First Division season with Wimbledon Football Club.

The letter contains these stipulations:

whilst in our employment or in the event of termination of our agreement that you are unable to reveal to any person or persons any of the analysis secrets of our confidential operations …

the same applies to any other football knowledge gained during your time with me and Wimbledon Football Club which will be kept with complete secrecy on all confidential information entrusted to you …

The early computer system, Neil and his wife Hazel.

Neil built up a database of 5,000 games to enable him to predict with confidence season outcomes.

Neil and Hazel Lanham

Photo Credits

All photographs courtesy of Neil Lanham

A letter to the Secret Soccer Analyst

A training session

Dear Secret Soccer Analyst

I have four apologies to make to you.

First, I am sorry I missed your post when you first published it. Fortunately, Richard Whittall, Rob Carroll and Darrell Cobner alerted me to your story.

When I last looked Richard’s tweet had received 918 likes and 255 retweets. Martin Bucheit’s tweet about your post has 19 likes.

Your open sharing has touched many people. I am late to the party but am touched too. Profoundly so.

A picture of a videographer at a training session.

 I have been involved in the analysis of performance since the late 1970s.

In the 1990s, I worked as a performance analyst in rugby union. For most of the decade, I had intense work periods that during competition and overseas tours extended to 18 hour days … week after week.

It was an analogue video world. I was fortunate to have access to host broadcast videos and captured my own game video with the help of colleagues. We thought we had hit the jackpot with S-VHS format.

I have a second apology to make.

When I started the Centre for Notational Analysis in Cardiff in 1991, I hoped to create a career path for young people interested in performance analysis. We were at the start of a movement that has positioned you to feel the way you do.

I am staggered by the creativity of people like yourself. The world you occupy is a quantum shift from the occupational culture of the 1990s.

We do share the same vision though … to provide an invisible service to coaches that records, analyses and potentially transforms performance.

Filming training

My third apology is that despite my advocacy for performance analysis as a service, I have had limited success in persuading clubs and sporting organisations that our work should be valued rather than priced.

Young people are still inducted into performance analysis as unpaid interns or lowly paid analysts. We are encouraged to believe that the status of being connected with a club or team ‘compensates’ for zero or low wages.

Some learning organisations are pro-actice and make every effort to support their analysts financially and through continuing learning opportunities.

Our dilemma is that we have so many people wanting to be analysts and often have the experiences you have.

My fourth apology is to lament that I have not been able to gain acceptance for two fundamental questions:

What is so important we have to share it?

Can less be more?

At the heart of this conversation is a profound debate about frequent augmented information. The availability of hardware and software has led to a surfeit of options for each analyst.

It has created an insatiability that we as a profession must address. We either need more people or automation to help us or we use the two questions above and add two more:

What has changed in performance in training and competition?

How might feedforward transform our practice?

Much of my time now is spent in exhorting our community of practice to share experiences openly. Your post is a very important marker in our conversation about practice and reminded me of that quote in Shadowlands

We read to know we are not alone.

Now that you have shared your thoughts, I hope you realise that you have a world of friends who are just a phone call or email away.

I hope too you will accept my apologies.


Photo Credits

Training day in 38C heat (Keith Lyons, CC BY 4.0)

Clarifying Neil Lanham’s Role As Analyst

News of Graham Taylor’s death and the sharing of his football story have revisited his coaching methods and tactical acumen.

Greg Johnson’s account of Graham’s pragmatism includes this observation:

At Watford, he employed Charles Hughes as a consultant who, along with Charles Reep – a former Wing Commander in the RAF – was one of the first to try and devise a formal, data-driven approach to analysing football. The conclusions they reached were flawed – since most of the goals scored in the matches they studied appeared to be preceded by three or fewer passes, they believed that they had stumbled upon an essential truth that could be exploited through long ball tactics.

Someone who knows a great deal about Graham’s game understanding is Neil Lanham.

In personal correspondence, Neil points out that at Watford:

It was Charles Hughes who was curious about what Taylor was doing at Watford and the mechanics behind it … Under Charles Reep’s guidance, my colleague Simon Hartley was Taylor’s then analyst …

When Graham was England Manager:

I was the sole analyst working for Graham Taylor … putting every touch of the ball through my bespoke software … 
An extract from a letter to Neil lanham from Graham Taylor
Extract from a letter written to Neil Lanham, 22 May 1992.

Neil worked as an analyst with Dave Bassett at Wimbledon too (The Crazy Gang, 2015:186).

A quote from the Crazy Gang biography

Ultimately, Neil’s database of match analysis comprises of 5,000 games. 

I have compiled some information about Neil’s work in this Google Doc.

I am hopeful that Neil’s perspective assists our understanding of what was happening at a formative time in the use of permanent records of football performance. Dave Bassett and Wally Downes (2015) give a feel for Neil’s work in a supportive environment: