On the ball … in 1935

Simon Gleave and Jurryt van der Vooren have been tracking down the earliest example of football statistics.

There have been some Twitter exchanges

In response to:

This encouraged me to write a blog post about the game.

Today Jurryt came up with two new leads, one from a Holland v Belgium game in 1935:

and this from De gronwet on 15 January 1936

This second source refers to some French journalists at the Jour newspaper. My brief enquiries suggest this might be a newspaper published in 1933.

I do need to follow up on these leads but I am immensely grateful that Simon and Jurryt are sharing their treasure hunt.

1937 Back Pass

Last year, thanks to Jurryt van de Vooren and Simon Gleave, I was introduced to what was thought to be the earliest example of football statistics. The game was played on 20 June 1937.

Simon’s forensic skills have come up with an earlier example from a game played at the Olympic Stadium in Berlin, Germany on Sunday 3 January 1937.

The statistics are from the final of the national Tschammerpokal 1936 competition played between VfB Leipzig and FC Schalke 04. VfB Leipzig won 2v1 with all three goals scored in the first half (1:0 Jacob May (20), 2:0 Herbert Gabriel (31), 2:1 Ernst Kalwitzki (42)). The referee was Egon Zacher who officiated games in Germany from 1935 to 1952.

News of the 1937 statistics appeared on a Deutscher Fussball-Bund’s news page about the 2017 Cup competition and the availability of the DFB-Pokal-App to explore performance data.

The 1937 data:

There is a very short film (18 seconds) of the game:

An English Wikipedia entry has a picture of the match program:

There is a detailed German Wikipedia entry about the 1936 competition. In the match report there is this sentence “Der VfB verzichtete auf jede Effekthascherei und ließ nach englischer Art den Ball laufen”. This appears to be a comparison between VfB’s second half pattern of play and an English approach to playing the game.

Kicker has information about the teams. Of the players listed, ten of the eleven Schalke players have Wikipedia entries:

Hermann Mellage, Hans Bornemann, Otto Schweisfurth, Rudolf Gellesch, Hermann Nattkämper, Otto Tibulski, Ernst Kalwitzki, Fritz Szepan, Ernst Poertgen, Ernst Kuzorra. Ernst Kuzorra was the captain of the team. The only Schalke player without a Wikipedia entry is Ernst Sotnow. The trainer, Hans Schmidt, has a page.

The German Wikipedia page about the game has one link to a VfB Leipzig player, Rudolf Grosse. This is incorrect. It is a link to a sociolinguist with the same name. He would have been 13 at the time of the final. Kicker has a date of birth for Rudolf as 25 August 1910.

Kicker provides dates of birth for 8 of the VfB Leipzig team and all of the FC Schalke 04 team. These data give the median age of VfB as 26.5 years ((range 20 to 30) and Schalke at 24 (range 18 to 31). Bruno Waller, the VfB goalkeeper, won the cup on his birthday.

If the start of the birth year was 1 January for German football, then the places in birth year for both teams at the time of the final were:

I am delighted Simon is on the case. I had better start scanning pre-1937.

Photo Credit

FC Shalke 04 (YouTube frame grab)


The Weltfussball page for the game.

Revisiting the Inside Game

Rian Watt has published a post titled How fielding analytics are making a great generation of shortstops even better.

In it, he discusses Gary Jones’ work as a third base and infield coach (with thirty-six years of experience in baseball). Gary’s coaching of fielding is based on footwork, mechanics and angles. Rian quotes Gary:

It all starts with the routine play … I know over the last 6-8 years, analytics have become a big part of the game, and positioning even more so. But I still believe that because these guys are still basically working the middle of the field, one way or another, they’re still in a position where they mostly have to use their fundamentals and athleticism.

Rian points out that players coming into baseball today perform in an information rich environment that includes Statcast.One example of the interplay between coaching, data and tactical behaviours can be seen in the use of defensive shifts.

This is a video about Statscast’s services to major League Baseball.

All of which took me back to Hugh Fullerton’s 1910 discussions about the Inside Game.

In his discussion, Hugh considers the mathematics and geometry of baseball. He used twentieth-of-a-second watches to calculate the time it takes for ground balls to travel 100 feet (1.6 seconds). He observes:

Given the speed and direction of the fielder … it is possible to figure to a millionth of a watt where his hands will meet the ball.

Whilst Gary uses footwork, mechanics and angles in his coaching, Hugh looked at five infield grooves and four outfield grooves.

I found it fascinating to discover the connections between 1910 and 2017. I am thinking that I might add the discussion of baseball fielding as a resource for the Sport Informatics and Analytics open course that would resonate with other performance monitoring and pattern recognition activities from other cultural contexts.

Photo Credit

Baseball (Peter Miller, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)