Seeing the wind: notating and analysing football performance

Back in October 2016, I wrote about a Charles Reep project:

I have been doing some research following a lead from Simon Gleave. The project has been given some urgency by a post by Joe Sykes and Neil Paine.

I was surprised that they thought Charles was responsible for the ruin of English football … and that his maths were to blame (“based on a fatally flawed premise”).

My research has enabled me to be in contact with Neil Lanham. I am sorry that sometimes my eagerness to share Neil’s experience of football analysis and his connections with Charles Reep (Neil met Charles in 1962) has led me to be ahead of myself and the important messages Neil has to share.

This post is an attempt to address this. The title of the post comes from a quote from a football manager who worked with Neil (“One manager said that it makes it possible to see the wind, that is, the invisibles.”)

I draw upon personal correspondence received from Neil on 15 January 2017.

I share Neil’s observations here with his permission. I quote him verbatim. In the correspondence he notes “I feel that I should deny the false information placed on two websites”.

Firstly, a response to Greg Johnson’s discussion on Squawka of Graham Taylor (12 January 2017)

Neil has written to Squawka about this discussion. As a matter of record, Neil was “the sole analysis for Graham during the period of his England management” and shared documentary evidence of his role.  He writes:

In your article on Graham Taylor your writer Greg Johnson states that Graham Taylor employed Charles Hughes as consultant. Nothing could be further from the truth.

It was Charles Hughes who was curious about what Taylor was doing at Watford and the mechanics behind it and seemed desperate to learn. Under Charles Reep’s guidance my colleague Simon Hartley was Taylor’s then analyst and Hughes asked him to advise his assistant how to log every touch in shorthand as both he and I did. Hughes then wrote a book purportedly based on 100 games analysis. Reep based his findings on 3,000 games and myself 5,000.

I was the sole analyst working for Graham Taylor when he was England Manager putting every touch of the ball through my bespoke software for a greater understanding than had ever been reached before, I believe Reep’s analysis was thorough and ‘more accurate than it need be ‘ to quote the great man. I believe my analysis based on much of Reep’s findings is of higher meaningful quality than any other then or now even and I have no doubt that the professor of statistics Richard Pollard, also a Reepian football analyst, will confirm that.

It amuses me to hear people talk of ‘flawed conclusion’ in respect of Reep’s work. It was the basis of what I subsequently did and the 12 or so promotions/avoiding certain relegations that I was involved in, and which paid  me handsome dividends

No it is yourselves who are lacking in quality information.

The three volumes containing Neil Lanham’s analysis of every touch of the ball in all 52 World Cup 1990 games, team summaries and probabilities that he sold to Graham Taylor at the FA.

Neil has responded to the Joe Sykes and Neil Payne post about Charles Reep on fivethirtyeight.com:

Charles Reep had nothing whatsoever to do with the rise of Wimbledon Football club. I was the sole analyst and together with Dave Bassett the manager the method of play was formed (The Crazy Gang, 2015:186).

Reep furthermore had absolutely no influence on any England Team Manager or the way the team played. I worked for Graham Taylor as analyst during his period as England manager and the method of play was very different to anything that Reep would have recommended.

To say that ‘the long Ball was England’s official footballing policy’ is absolute poppycock – completely unfounded mythology bearing no truth whatsoever.

As for maintaining possession – for an average team at every level, however they play the ball changes sides 180 on average in between their goals. To base any method of play on passing moves alone is flawed thinking I believe.

I do hope this contributes to the wider conversations about football analysis and the roles Neil and Charles played in a football era that is hotly contested.

I trust that this post does give a clear voice to Neil’s experience and helps us piece together an authentic account of the period and its subsequent impact.

Photo Credits

Shrewsbury v Rochdale Football Match 1950 (Geoff Charles Collection at the National Library of Wales, no known copyright restrictions)

Two photographs courtesy of Neil Lanham.

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