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Obituary – Keith Lyons

On Wednesday 13th May 2020, Keith Lyons, loving husband, brother, father, and grandfather died at the age of 68.

Keith with his Grandfather c.1960

Keith was born on 7th May 1952 in Buckley, North Wales and was given a good start on his learning journey by his Grandfather, who among other things taught him to write in the compact, neat and unique script that helped Keith to graduate from Mold Grammar School, University of York, Loughborough College and the London School of Economics.

While at York, his desire for equality and justice came to the fore when he joined the anti-apartheid movement. In the following years he continued to speak out about the impact of apartheid on sport with his vocal opposition leading to him being banned from traveling to South Africa.

Keith graduating from the University of York 1973

Keith had the opportunity, while he studied for his PhD at the University of Surrey, to refine his interest in learning through an ethnographic study. This paved the way for his unique approach to observing sport and laid the foundation for his future career in performance analysis. Sport was a central part of Keith’s life, as a rugby player,  a coach, a performance analyst and a coach mentor. The roles he performed were diverse, from lacrosse to canoeing, made possible by his ability to observe patterns and his desire to support people.

The suicide of his brother John in 1982 had a profound effect on his life after which Keith became more introspective. His wife Sue believed that it was this moment that solidified Keith’s desire to help others, especially those going through difficult times. Following Keith’s death, a number of the coaches he mentored recounted that Keith was often the only person to contact them after defeats or when they faced difficulties. When most people stayed quiet in times of trouble, Keith was there. Keith believed the time to step forward was when things were hard.

A triumphant moment for Keith came when he finally got to travel to a unified South Africa in 1995 as part of the Welsh Rugby World Cup Team. He later recalled that one part of that trip, an outreach project to teach young black South Africans to play rugby, was one of his happiest moments.

Keith (far right) while playing for London Welsh

Keith moved to Australia in 2002 with his family, who were the core of his identity. He loved being at home with his wife, children and later his grandchildren. Keith unconditionally supported his family in their endeavours and would travel the globe or stay awake for days to help them if they were in need. For his son Sam he spent thousands of hours on the riverbank watching and coaching regardless of the conditions, never complaining and always shouting encouragement.

Keith in his fire-fighting uniform 2012

The belief in the need to help others in their time of need led Keith to volunteer for the Rural Fire Service (RFS). For years, Keith was there when the community needed him, fighting fires and helping at road traffic accidents. The camaraderie of the RFS gave Keith the supportive community that he had always hoped to create for others but for once got to experience for himself. Keith recounted one particularly difficult fire where he had to protect a house and its occupants – a mother and four children – from a fast-moving bush fire. After hours of effort, Keith and his fellow crew mates saved the house, something that brought the normally reserved Keith to tears when reflecting on the positive impact he had on that family’s life.

Keith’s unique skill was to make everyone with whom he communicated know they were valued and their experience mattered—including those that provided him with care while his battled lymphoma of his brain. It was a real comfort to Keith’s family that they could spend that final year with him, focussing on his health and the family. His daughter Beth reflected that this was his last journey in learning, as he embraced the new skills he needed and the new people he could share his time with.

Keith with his wife Sue and Grandchildren 2014

Following several rounds of chemotherapy and radiotherapy Keith died in The Canberra Hospital at 1:30 am on 13th May 2020 surrounded by his family.

Just 10 days before his death Keith wrote for the last time in a birthday card to his wife Sue. His handwriting was still compact, neat and unique, a fitting tribute to the power of a supportive teacher willing to invest in learning, an investment Keith made in so many, for whom life is better because he was there.

Keith was preceded in death by his parents Donald and Joan, and his brother John. He is survived by his wife Sue, and his two children, Beth and Sam, his grandchildren Ivy and Jolyon, and his sister Judith.

There were many achievements from Keith’s life that are not recorded here but are documented in this Wikipedia article, a fitting place for a tribute to a man who championed open education for decades.

Keith’s funeral will be on 20th May 2020 at 4pm (Canberra time). Information can be found here.

Vale Keith

It is with immense sadness we share the news that Keith Lyons, of Braidwood NSW, died on 13th May 2020, aged 68.

Keith was everything to us, as a husband to Sue, father to Beth and Sam, and Pa to Ivy and Jolyon.

Details for the funeral are posted here

We will post a full obituary in the coming days.

Changing managers in football


Why do football clubs sack their managers?

Eni Aluko has written a post in The Guardian about sacking football managers (link). In it she proposes that sacking managers does not work. She points out that in 2019-2020 “a lot of clubs have spent the season yo-yoing around the Premier League”.


The yo-yo teams are particularly affected by results. A heavy home defeat often raises questions about a manager. Home games are very important as determined supporters attend these games. Southampton lost at home 0v9 to Leicester in October (link) (it was 0v5 at half time) in front of a home crowd of 28,762. It was fascinating to see that Southampton believed politically in what Ralph Hasenhüttl was doing as a manager. In doing so, the club supported their choice of him as manager. When he was appointed he was given a two-and-a-half-year contract. The club hoped “the appointment will enable them to recover the identity they have lost” (link).

Ralph Krueger, the chair of the club, said in the announcement: “Southampton football club’s past success was built on a clear identity. The foundation of this identity was a focus on developing players, whether from within our academy or after joining from other clubs. Ralph’s ability to teach the game and to develop talent is evident in his past and is a centre piece of why he is the perfect choice to be the new Saints manager” (link) (emphasis added in bold).

Southampton are currently 12th in the Premier League 7 points clear of the relegation position (held by West Ham United). 26,302 spectators watched Southampton’s last home game against Burnley (link).

Other teams chose to change their managers. This season there have been four changes: Watford, Tottenham, West Ham United and Arsenal. Two clubs (Chelsea (link) and West Ham United (link)) have had to meet significant compensation claims for a replaced manager. It is reported that since 2003, Chelsea has paid out more than £90 million in compensation for managerial sackings (link).

The changes to managers in the EPL this season demonstrate the nervousness of clubs about losing EPL status or not meeting European aspirations.

This graphic illustrates just how difficult it is to change league position and the time each manager might have to bring about change. There is a similar trend in Australia too. There have been three changes of manager this season. In the W League in Australia one of the few female coaches has not had her contract renewed (link).

Eni’s Guardian post makes for fascinating reading in the context of managerial change. She concludes her discussion with an observation about the game at St Mary’s Southampton against Burnley. Eni says of that encounter “I am sure fans of both sides will feel some pride in supporting clubs that have achieved success despite refusing to change managers when many others would”. It is this refusal “to change managers” that seems so critical in the politics of appointment.


When managers are appointed they are spoken of in the most glowing of terms. I have always been of the view that an interview of a manager should take a very disciplined and expansive view of performance. Many years ago, I was asked to advise a national governing body about the appointment of a head coach. I took their brief very seriously and set about analysing the relative merits of the coaches and their historical performances. This involved a detailed examination of each coach’s record and a careful look at the media surrounding the coach (long before the arrival of social media and network analysis). In the end, I managed to persuade decision-makers to go beyond friendship with one of the candidates and I was able to exemplify my analysis with some linear video examples of the performances that I thought were relevant to the performance profiles of the coaches. We almost agreed that each coach should run a coaching session with invited players. This did not happen but I do see such a session as integral to the coach’s appointment. This has become conventional behaviour in a number of professions. The amount of data available now also raises the question of pre-selection investigation (link) and the role a Director of Strategy and Analytics might play in an appointment or dismissal (link).

The coach who has not had her contract renewed, at the time of her appointment “was selected from a huge pool of talented candidates for the role”. News of her appointment reported that she was “vastly qualified in all areas of Football”. She had been an Assistant Coach for the Young Matildas and the Matildas national team” and had worked with “elite players at the highest level of the game” (link). This raises for me the political nature of coaches’ appointments and the investment made in their long-term vision. Eni wrote of Southampton “most teams would have capitulated after that Leicester defeat but this one rolled up their sleeves. They have also shown the rest of the league that sometimes teams can change without sacking a manager”.

I do think this retention of a manager requires a comprehensive structural analysis. Results do matter to Boards. Many of them have unrealistic expectations of success. It takes a long time to be successful and often in a time scale that is overtaken by survival in a Division.The availability of eternal funds minimises the potential losses individuals make in support of football. The combination of status and funds makes it easy for Boards to withdraw their support and to use results as the reason for changes in appointment, that dreadful word ‘sacking”.

Nick Harris (link) has made these estimates of funds in 2018-2019.

The etymology of to be sacked appears to come from France (1750 example ‘On luy a donné son sac’) (link). Tradesmen, craftsmen and labourers moved around on their own, carrying their own tools and supplies, and find work where they could get it. The easiest way to carry their tools around was in a sack, which they would then leave with their employer for safe keeping. Once their services were no longer required, they were given their sack, before being ordered to pack it up and leave (link).

Many coaches accept that “sacking” is a fundamental part of their chosen career path. On their journey to re-employment they meet other coaches who have been sacked. There are very few opportunities for such managers and all of them compete to place their sack at a welcoming club prepared to manage the risk of their appointment..

Photo Credit

Photo by thr3 eyes on Unsplash

Grandmothers and Godmothers in analysis and analytics

The other day, I noticed this enigmatic tweet from Namita Nandakumar (link):

I was delighted to see this announcement and the queries it brought about. Namita’s news seemed a long way from the slow writing process discussed by Anastasia Miari’s Grand Dishes project. “Grand Dishes is a cookbook that preserves; an interaction between generations, a sharing of stories most powerfully told through the recipes that have seasoned these grandmothers’ lives” (link).

The juxtaposition of Namita and Anastasia was brought into focus by Anastasia’s post on Medium (link). In it, Anastasia describes the way conversations about cooking have led to other thoughts about life experiences. She observed the Grand Dishes project began as a personal project “to finally gather all of my Greek grandmother’s recipes interspersed with her insights on life (sometimes philosophical, other times blunt and cutting). After discussing the idea with my best friend Iska Lupton, whose German granny is equally gifted in the kitchen, we set about cooking with as many grandmothers as we could find” (link).

The tweet and the post set me off thinking about how what we do in analytics now might help us celebrate the achievements of the grandmothers and godmothers who established practices that have become part of who we are and will be. I have tried to write about some of these early figures in our history but I am mindful of how little we know about them and the gender equity issues they faced as they sought to analyse performance (link). Anastasia’s post indicated the kind of conversations we might have had with those pioneers in the 1930s as they sought to research a gender charged debate about whom may play what game and in what format.

We have more and more women in senior roles in analytics. Anastasia’s cookbook exploration provides a fascinating example of how we might celebrate the lives of those women who are transforming our practice (link). Namita’s tweet reminds us that there are other ways to share changes, how we might aggregate these and have a record of our provenance.

Photo Credits

Grandma (Anastasia Miari, Medium)

Western College on College Day 1912 (Miami University Libraries, no known copyright restrictions)