Charles Reep: history and hagiography

Earlier this month, Simon Gleave included me in a conversation with Duncan Alexander about Charles Reep.

Duncan, in Outside the Box (2017), shares his discovery of a primary source in the discussion of Charles’ views on football. In 1962, Charles wrote an article for the World Sports magazine. The title of the article was ‘Are We Getting Too Clever?’

I read Duncan’s analysis of the article. It set me off thinking about how we account for the lives of others and address the biographical threads that each of us has in coming to know.

I happened upon Jonathan Wilson’s The Anatomy of England: A History in Ten Matches (2010) shortly after reading Duncan’s account. Jonathan refers to another primary source for Charles Reep’s work, an unpublished manuscript from 1973 titled League Championship Winning Soccer and the Random Effect: The Anatomy of Soccer under the Microscope.

My interest in Charles’ work is very personal. I met him and spent a day in his company at his home in Torpoint. Since that meeting I have been keen to contribute to the historical account of his work. I am trying to avoid a hagiography of his involvement in football.

I do think we have a lot to learn from acknowledging his work. He has stimulated enormous quantitative and qualitative discussions. I am particularly interested in his aesthetics of football performance and offering an alternative to demonographic accounts of his work.

I have just finished reading Eva Gillies’ (1976) introduction to E E Evans-Pritchard’s Witchcraft, Oracles, and Magic among the Azande. In it, she observes:

…forty years after its publication, one cannot help feeling a trifle uncomfortable about the ethnographic present. After all, the fieldwork this book refers to was done in the late 1920s: what is described here is a world long vanished. (1976:i)

She adds a sentiment that I think might help our conversations about Charles:

It will, I hope, presently appear that it is a world still fresh and relevant to the modern anthropologist, as well as to the philosopher, and the historian of ideas. (1976:i)

She concludes:

Evans-Pritchard is, for the anthropologist of the 1970s, something much more than a revered ancestor: he is a colleague. Miraculously, he has made the Azande of half a century ago our own contemporaries as well as his … (1976:xxviii)

By coincidence, Charles’ analysis journey started a few years after Evans-Pritchard’s fieldwork in Africa.

I have been keen to embrace him as a colleague whilst understanding his fallibility respectfully. He has focused my attention on what constitutes a game of football, its technical and tactical aspects, and what constitutes success. He has done so by connecting with highly regarded statisticians and expounding his theories to a variety of audiences.

Photo Credit

 A Football Pink report of the Swindon Town v Bristol Rovers game, played on Saturday, 18 March 1950.

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