Richard, Neil and Charles

Last week, I had the good fortune to correspond with Richard Pollard. Our email exchange coincided with the publication of Richard’s most recent paper titled Invalid Interpretation of Passing Sequence Data to Assess Team Performance in Football: Repairing the Tarnished Legacy of Charles Reep (2019) (link).

Richard Pollard

I have been following Richard’s work since the publication of his paper on skill and chance in ball games co-authored with Charles Reep and Bernard Benjamin in 1971 (link).

I will write a much more detailed post about Richard’s work but in this brief post I want to affirm his part in the story of the emergence of the observation, notation and analysis of performance in association football.

Along with Neil Lanham, Richard is a custodian of Charles Reep’s experiences as a football analyst. Both have a vital role to play in demystifying Charles’ place in a history of ideas and practices.

Richard’s statistical insights and vision over the last forty years combined with Neil’s experience of recording oral traditions (link) make it possible to compile a rich account of their experiences in the early years of football analysis.

Neil Lanham

Neil has a book awaiting publication that, like Richard’s 2019 paper, should address some of the profound misconceptions about Charles’ work and locate it within Neil and Richard’s involvement in analysis (link).

Like Richard and Neil, I believe Charles’ work has been misrepresented and unfairly demonised. I hope to continue to share accounts of Richard, Neil and Charles’ work in the spirit of Sam Wineburg’s suggestion that each generation “must answer for itself anew why the study of the past is important” and “remind us why history can also bring us together” (link).

I did meet Charles at his home in Torpoint but did not make it to his shed. I am immensely grateful to Richard for sharing this picture of Charles with his archive of papers at the bottom of his garden. Somewhere in there is his roll of wallpaper that is a hand notation of the 1958 World Cup final that Charles notated in real time at the final. He transcribed his A4 paper notations onto a roll of wallpaper in an attempt to capture the flow of a game that had seven goals and included two goals scored by Pele (link).

There is no record of what happened to this archive. We can do much better with his legacy.

A photograph of Charles Reep in his garden shed with his archive of papers.
Charles Reep at home

2 thoughts on “Richard, Neil and Charles”

  1. Enjoyed this piece and Richard Pollard’s article on Charles Reep, pioneering work in match analysis which is all to easy to criticise.

    1. Hello, Chris. Thank you for finding the post. I have often wondered what it would be like to be in an Anfield type bootroom with you, Charles, Neil, Richard and coaches.

      Best wishes


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