Lloyd Lowell Messersmith and the Origins of Notational Analysis


This is a revised version of a paper I wrote in 1994 to celebrate the life and work of Lloyd Lowell Messersmith.

I reproduce it here to share his achievements with a new generation of performance and notation analysts.

This is a copy of the paper for download LLM (1994).

Lloyd Lowell Messersmith and the Origins of Notational Analysis

1. Introduction

There is a growing interest in notational analysis as an academic area of study. In this paper I draw attention to one of the pioneers of notation in sport, Lloyd Lowell Messersmith. Most of his work has been under reported in historical overviews of notation although many of the issues he addresses are of fundamental interest.

The paper reports biographical information, details of his publications and a summary of his doctoral dissertation. It is intended as a contribution to a sociology of knowledge of notation in sport.

2. Biographical Detail

Lloyd Lowell Messersmith was born in Francisco in Gibson County, Indiana on 29 January 1905. He was the first of eight children in his family. He graduated from Francisco High School in 1922 and attended Oakland City College. He taught for two years in a one-room rural school house before he went to DePauw University, Greencastle, Indiana in 1924.

At DePauw he represented the University at basketball, baseball and football. He earned freshman numerals and three varsity letters in each of these sports. He was captain of basketball in his senior year and was selected as an end on the first all state team in football by the Indianapolis News in 1927. He damaged his retina in his right eye in a basketball accident in his senior year and was advised to “refrain from all strain and excessive exercise in order to prevent any greater detachment of the retina”.  When he graduated in 1928 he was awarded the Walker Cup for outstanding performance during his time at DePauw.

After graduation Lloyd received a teaching and coaching position at Shortridge High School in Indianapolis. He taught history and coached basketball at the school for two years. Lloyd also ‘moonlighted’ by refereeing basketball and football games all over Indiana. Whilst at the school he married Fae Houston in August 1929.

His coaching ability was much respected by his students at Shortridge where he made “a deep impression during his all too brief stay”. In 1930 Lloyd returned to DePauw University as freshman coach and assistant in the Department of Physical Education. In Shortridge’s last basketball under his guidance the local newspaper reported that the team:

will be at their best in this game, at the end of their bright career because of their regard for their mentor, Coach Messersmith.

On his arrival at DePauw he coached football, basketball and baseball. His position did not attract a high salary and he supplemented his income by officiating at basketball and football games during the Depression years. Many years later his wife wrote of these times:

The pay was $15 for basketball officials and $25 for football. The fellowship with other officials was good and the extra money was nice. Fae didn’t mind the excited Indiana basketball fans and their boos at the officials as she knew that ‘Messer’s’ decisions were fair; however there were times they hurried away after a game!

Lloyd received a Master’s degree from Columbia University in 1932 after four summer terms there.

He taught at DePauw for fifteen years from 1930 to 1945. Towards the end of his time there he was the Acting Director of Athletics. He had a sabbatical year in 1942 to complete his doctoral dissertation at Indiana University. The original title for his dissertation was A Study of the Comparative Physical Fatigue Engendered by Participation in a Major Sport – Basketball but  ultimately this became The Development of a Measurement Technique for Determining the Distances Traversed by Players in Basketball.

During this period of their lives Lloyd and Fae Messersmith had three daughters Ann (b 1935), Jean (b 1937) and Kay (b 1941).

In 1945, Lloyd was offered the position of Chairman of Physical Education at the Southern Methodist University (SMU), Dallas. He remained as chairman for the next 25 years until his retirement in 1970. Throughout this period he taught handball. It is reported that he reserved an ‘A’ grade for any student that could beat him and that no student had ever gained that grade!

He held a number of offices in Physical Education Associations in Indiana and Texas. In 1961 he received an Honor Fellow award from the American Association for Health, Physical Education and Recreation. In 1969, as part of the centennial celebrations of the game of football, he was chosen as one of DePauw University’s twenty-five outstanding players. His hobbies included photography and he was the movie photographer for the SMU Mustang football team for almost three decades.

Throughout his life Lloyd was an active Methodist and was listed in Who’s Who in American Methodism. He and his family were members of the Highland Park Methodist Church in Dallas. He was a non-smoker and a non-drinker.

He retired from his University post in 1970. All his life he was a physically active person. From 1970 to 1975 he exercised daily and at the age of 70 was still able to do 100 push ups a day! In his more restful moments he particularly enjoyed playing bridge and was described by a friend as “a better partner than opponent”.

He suffered a stroke in January 1975. A second stroke resulted in his death on 27 July 1977. At his funeral service a eulogy by his friend Willis Tate, President Emeritus at Southern Methodist University, observed that:

A giant tree has fallen in the forest leaving a wide empty space in the sky. … He served by being an example of absolute integrity and fairness… Lloyd took great satisfaction from being a teacher. His students admired and loved him.

His funeral on 29 July 1977 in Dallas was attended by a large congregation.

3. Publications

Lloyd Messersmith’s research publications related to notational analysis appeared between 1931 and 1944. His dissertation, The Development of a Measurement Technique for Determining the Distances Traversed by Players in Basketball,  was submitted in May 1942 in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Education in the School  of Education, Indiana University.

This incandescence of notational analysis was reported in:

Messersmith, L L & Corey, S 1931, ‘The Distance Traversed by a Basketball Player’, Research Quarterly, II, 2, pp. 57-60.

Messersmith, L L & Fay, P 1932, ‘Distances Traversed By Football Players’, Research Quarterly, III, 1, pp. 78-80.

Fay, P J & Messersmith, L L 1938a, ‘The Effect of Rule Changes Upon the Distance Traversed by Basketball Players’, Research Quarterly, IX, 2, pp. 136-137.

Fay, P J & Messersmith, L L 1938b, ‘The Distance Traversed by College and High School Basketball Players and Effect of Rule Changes upon Distance Traversed in College Games’, Athletic Journal, XVIII, May, np.

Messersmith, L L & Bucher, C C 1939, ‘ The Distance Traversed by Big Ten Basketball Players’, Research Quarterly, X, 1, pp. 61-62.

Messersmith, L L,Laurence, J & Randels, K 1940, ‘A Study of Distances Traversed by College Men and Women in Playing the Game of Basketball’, Research Quarterly, XI, 3, pp. 30-31.

Messersmith, L L 1944, ‘A Study of the Distance Traveled By Basketball Players’, Research Quarterly, 15, pp. 29-37.

In order to stimulate interest in and a reading of the papers I have included here a brief summary of them in relation to: keywords; methods; research design; data collection; validity and reliability; results; recommendations; and references.

Summary of Lloyd Messersmith’s Research Reports 1931-1938

Content Messersmith &  

Corey (1931)

Messersmith &  

Fay (1932)

Fay &  

Messersmith (1938)

Keywords Distance Traversed 

Basketball Player

Distances Traversed 

Football Players

Rule Changes 

Distance Traversed

Basketball Players

Methodology 1. Real-Time Player Track in Game 

2.Electric Pursuit Apparatus

1. Real-Time Track in Practice and Game Play 

2. Electrical Pursuit Apparatus

1. Real-Time Track in Game Play 

2. Electrical Pursuit Apparatus

Sample Size A trace of the DePauw University floor guard v Miami University (whole game). Three games (two college and one high school) one player traced in each game analysed. Traced: right half-back; left end; half-back. Data set of several games played by DePauw University basketball team. Three games reported. Tracks of guard, centre and forward.
Data Collected 1. Student estimates of anticipated distance traversed. 

2. Distance traversed noted every two minutes.

3. Recorded changes of possession from defense to offense.

1. Distances traversed in: offense and defense; ‘time in’ and ‘time out’. 

2. All four quarters notated.

1. Distance traversed 

2. Recorded changes of possession from defense to offense.





Different observers used pursuit apparatus with “no noticeable difference”.


Validated scale measurements of the pursuit apparatus. “any inaccuracy in the results obtained would lie in the inability of the operator to duplicate accurately … the movements of the player on the football gridiron.”


Validated scale measurements of the pursuit apparatus “so any inaccuracy in the result lies in the inability of the operator to follow accuratel the movements of the player.”

Results 1. Player traversed similar distances first and second half. 

2. Traversed approx 608′ every two minutes.

3. There were 92 changes of possession in the game.

4.Much greater distances were traversed in attack.

5. The player traversed a distance of 2.34 miles.

1. Distances reported for 3 players in: offense and defense; ‘time in’ & ‘time out’. 

2. Activity pattern was comparatively regular during four quarters of play.

3. Additional data presented from other games.

1. Distances traveled consistently greater than in 1931 data. 

2. No conclusion about effect of rule changes.

3. Distances traveled were up to 3.97 miles compared to 2.50 miles in 1931.

Other Aspects of Report Specific footnote about patterns of attack and defense in the game (footnote 2). No tables of data or reports of practice/ scrimmage data Report intended to explore effects of rule change but seemed vague? Data appears from 1931 that was not reported in 1931 (distance traveled then was 2.34 miles) See
Future Work 1. Modifications to apparatus. 

2. Activities in different positions.

3. Football & basketball.

None suggested.
References None Messersmith & Corey (1931). Note that Messersmith incorrectly referenced this and cited Corey first. Messersmith & Corey (1931). Note that Messersmith correctly referenced this.
Number of Words 800 950 500
Tables etc 4 0 1


The Indianapolis Times carried a report on its sports page on Thursday, 17 February 1938 of the research undertaken for the Fay and Messersmith (1938) paper. The newspaper reports that in a study of  four DePauw University players in four different games:

  • the guard in Boston v DePauw game traveled 3.9 miles
  • the forward in Ball State v DePauw game traveled 3.96 miles (12,138 feet in offense and 8.798 feet in defense)
  • the guard in Franklin v DePauw game traveled 3.87 miles
  • the centre in Earlham v DePauw game traveled 3.97 miles

The report concludes with the note that “Prof. Fay follows the player while Prof. Messersmith does the recording and figuring of statistics.”

Summary of Research Reports 1939-1944

Content Messersmith & Bucher (1939) 

Messersmith, Laurence & Randels (1940) Messersmith (1944)
Keywords Distance Traversed 

Big Ten Basketball Players

Distances Traversed 

College Men

College Women


Distance Traveled 

Basketball Players

Methodology A continuation of earlier studies: real-time player track with electrical pursuit apparatus A continuation of earlier studies: real-time player track with electrical pursuit apparatus Development of a measuring device for measurement of distance traversed by individuals. Procedures discussed. Sometimes used three boards at a game.
Sample Size Three games chosen from several studied during 1938-39 season: Indiana centre (W Menke); Indiana guard (Armstrong); Minnesota guard (Kundla). DePauw University intra-mural games 1939-1940 season. Twenty games selected at random reported here (10 male and 10 female games) 200 players from variety of ability levels at DePauw University, Indiana University, Greencastle High School. Tracks of players who played whole game.
Data Collected Distances traversed in offense and defense. Distances traversed in whole game Distances traveled per unit of playing time on offense and defense


No explicit discussion No explicit discussion Validity of measuring instrument discussed: accuracy checked. Any inaccuracy “due to the inability of the operator to follow accurately the movements of the player under observation.” “Errors of over and underestimation probably canceled.” 

Reliability of data discussed. Experimenters trained. Checks at one game gave error between observers of 3.5% but then reports different data?

Results Distance traversed in offense and defense similar to games at college level but more than  high school players. Range of Big Ten Players was 3.46 to 3.89 miles. Distances traversed by men were approximately twice that traversed by women per unit of playing time. Discussed in relation to: effect of floor size on distance traversed – a direct influence; effect of rule changes – impact of removal of centre jump. Distances traversed
Other Aspects of Report Referred to high school data (1938). Uses three “representative” games for research report. Big Ten are state teams and might thus confuse term “representative”. Discussed potential of 40′ x 70′ court for intra-mural basketball Noted the researcher’s role as coach and the pattern of play of team.
Future Work No discussion No discussion. No discussion
References Three 

Messersmith & Corey (1931); Fay & Messersmith (1938a); Fay & Messersmith (1938b)


Messersmith & Corey (1931); Fay & Messersmith (1938a)


Messersmith & Corey (1931)

Number of words 400 500 3000
Tables etc 1 1 1 and 1 drawing of apparatus


For a photograph of the pursuit apparatus see The Indianapolis Times report on its sports page on Thursday, 17 February 1938. Professor Paul Fay is photographed operating the pursuit apparatus and Professor Messersmith noting the distances.  His dissertation, The Development of a Measurement Technique for Determining the Distances Traversed by Players in Basketball includes a drawing of the apparatus in the appendix.

4. Lloyd Messersmith’s Doctor of Education Dissertation

In May 1942, Loyd Mesersmith submitted his dissertation to the School of Education, at Indiana University. Its title was: The Development Of A Measurement Technique For Determining The Distances Traversed By Players in Basketball.

The dissertation has 79 pages, 13 tables and cites eleven references. It is divided into 10 chapters.

In Chapter I (Introduction), Lloyd included the following:

Statement of the Problem

1. The development of a measurement technique for determining the distance traversed by basketball players

2. The application of this device in determining the distances traversed by individuals when playing the game on floors of three different sizes.

Purpose of Study

In addition to 1 above

To ascertain, if possible, the relationship which floor size has upon the distance traversed per unit of playing time.

Delimitations: courts of three sizes were studied:

Size of Court Players
94′ x 50′ College teams in Indiana and the Big Ten Intercollegiate Conference
74′ x 50′ (regulation size for secondary schools) ‘A’ & ‘B’ team players in secondary schools in Indiana; intramural games at secondary school
70′ x 40′ (size comparable to that use by smaller secondary schools without access to modern gymnasium) Intramural games at DePauw University (cross court games)

The measuring device used in the study was developed at DePauw University. All data were collected in Indiana. The secondary school data were collected mainly from Greencastle. College team data were collected either at the DePauw or Indiana Universities.

In his review of Related Studies there is reference to: Fullerton (1910) on baseball; Hodgson (1936b) on women’s two-court basketball and (1939) on three-court basketball; and Miner et al (1940) on distances traversed in women’s basketball. He cites five of his own research reports (1931, 1932, 1938a, 1939, 1940).

Chapter II reports the Measuring Instrument for his study. The electrical pursuit apparatus is described. It was built to scale and was used to trace a player’s movements. Observations of players were made from above from “a clear and unobstructed view of the entire playing surface at all times”. Nine floors were created – three for each size of basketball court to be studied. It was described by Lloyd Messersmith as a compact, portable piece of equipment. Sometimes it was placed on a table in the press box and at other times on the observer’s knees with the batteries between his feet! An assistant recorded data from an impulse counter.

The validity of instrument was tested. Measurements of known distances on the courts were checked. For short distances measurements were reported to be exact but for longer distances there was some variance. A measurement of 300 excursions up and down 94′ court produced a result 1.75% less than the actual distance (6.29 miles rather than 6.40 miles)  but the apparatus consistently measured known distance thus:

any inaccuracy in the results obtained was due to the inability of the operator to follow accurately the movements of the player under observation. Errors of over and underestimation probably canceled so that the final result was, in all probability, a reasonably accurate record of the actual distance traversed.

The reliability of data collected was discussed. Experimenters were trained to secure reasonable uniformity in technique in handling the tracing wheel. Differences between experimenters tracing the same player were approximately 3%.

Game Operator A Operator B Difference
1 3.20 miles 3.25 miles 1.56%
2 3.10 miles 3.22 miles 3.87%
3 3.26 miles 3.32 miles 1.84%

Lloyd Messersmith reported the procedure in collecting data. If the player tracked was substituted the track continued with the substituted player. Data collection focused on playing positions and those players who were on court for whole game. “In a large number of cases the player under observation did play the entire game.”

There were two operators at each data collection event: a tracer and a recorder. An apparatus illustration and a tally sheet were included as appendices to dissertation.

Data collection started in 1931 but the majority of material covering secondary school and intramural players was collected 1938-1941.

With regard to the applicability of the measuring instrument to other sports it was noted that the pursuit apparatus was applicable to a range of sports and had been used in football  (Messersmith and Fay, 1932).

Chapter III reported the Distance Traversed By Players On College Teams. Data were collected on 57 college positions in Indiana Intercollegiate Conference (data collected at DePauw University) and the Big Ten Intercollegiate Conference (data collected at Indiana University). Lloyd Messersmith regarded this as a fair sampling of the type of game played by representative college teams in the United States of America and represented “a typical basketball situation as could be found in any section of the country”. Twenty-five of these 57  played entire games.

Data were collected over a decade from 1931 to 1941. Distances traversed ranged from 2.12 miles to 4.22 miles per game with a mean distance of 3.38 miles for 57 positions included in the study.

Centre Guard Forward
Average distance traveled per game 3.44 miles 3.33 miles 3.28 miles

All positions travel approximately equal distances. There appeared to be no difference in the distances traversed by Big Ten players compared to teams in Indiana Conference.

The introduction of  a ’10 second rule’ and the elimination of the centre jump appear to have increased distances traveled by approximately a mile during the course of the study. The removal of the centre jump after a basket was scored increased actual playing time and speeded up the game in majority of cases.

Lloyd Messersmith collected information about distances traversed in offense and defense. Of the 57 positions observed the average distance in offense was 9,043.41 feet and in defense 8,810.38 feet.

With regard to change of possession it was noted that: Big Ten averaged 3.3 per minute, Indiana Conference 4 per minute. The removal of centre jump made it mandatory to change possession and thus the 75 pre-rule change became approximately 130 post-rule change.

Of the 25 out of 57 who played whole games: distances traversed ranged from 4.23 to 3.15 miles per game (mean 3.40). Players of whole game traveled as far as those sharing a positional responsibility.

The distances traversed in final quarter were greater than in previous quarters and Lloyd Messersmith noted that:

The distance traversed in any segment of the game appeared to be a function of the score and style of game employed by the competing teams rather than the physical condition of the players.

Chapter IV discussed the Distance Traversed By Players On Secondary School ‘A’ Teams. Data were reported from games on courts 74′ x 50′. In all 63 positions were traced. Distances traversed  ranged from 1.79 miles to 2.88 miles.

Chapter V discussed the Distance Traversed By Players On Secondary School ‘B’ Teams. 32 players were observed.

Chapter VI discussed the Distance Traversed By Players On College Intramural Teams. 42 players were studied on a court 70′ x 40′.

In Chapter VII Lloyd Messersmith discussed the Relationship Between the Size of Playing Floor and Distance Traversed. It was concluded that the size of the court has a direct bearing on distances traversed:

Size of Court Average Distance Traveled
94′ x 50′ 441.86 feet per minute
74′ x 50′ 404.63 feet per minute
70′ x 40′ 345.92 feet per minute

In Chapter VIII it was noted that there was no significant difference in the distances traversed in relation to the Effect of Position Played Upon Distance Traversed. Big Ten players traveled furthest at an average of 3.34 miles per game.

Chapter IX discussed the Effect of Certain Rule Changes Upon Distance Traversed.

In Chapter X a number of Conclusions and Recommendations were made. It was concluded that:

  1. Individuals in good physical condition are able to play a complete game of basketball without noticeable signs of physical strain.
  2. Distance traversed were a function of style of game employed and floor area.
  3. All players on a modern basketball team travel approximately equal distances.
  4. Rule changes increased activity as measured by distances by approx 50%.
  5. College A and B teams less cautious in ball handling than Big Ten teams.

Most of the recommendations were game focused but did include a link between distances traversed and muscular strength. It was suggested that consideration should be given to energy requirements in the game.

5. Publications by Lloyd Messersmith’s Contemporaries

Lloyd Messersmith’s dissertation cites 11 references: five of these are to his own work. The remainder are:

Blake, R (1941) The Distance Traversed by Basketball Players in Different Types of Defense, Athletic Journal, XXI, January, 18-20.

Fullerton, H 1910, ‘The Inside Game: The Science of Baseball’, The American Magazine, LXX, 1, pp. 3-13.

Hodgson, P 1936a, ‘Studies in the Physiology of Activity: I. On Certain Reactions of College Women to Measured Activity’, Research Quarterly, VII, 1, pp. 3-25.

Hodgson, P 1936b, ‘Studies in the Physiology of Activity: II. On Certain Reactions of College Women Following Participation in Two-Court Basketball’, Research Quarterly, VII, 2, pp. 45-55.

Hodgson, P 1939, ‘Studies in the Physiology of Activity: II. On Certain Reactions of College Women Following Participation in Three-Court Basketball’, Research Quarterly, X, 1, pp. 53-60.

Miner, N, Hodgson, P & Espenschade, A 1940, ‘ Study of Distance Traversed and Time Spent in Active Play in Women’s Basketball’, Research Quarterly, XI, 1, pp. 95-101

In order to get a sense of the range of literature available these references (with the exception of Blake (1941)) were examined. The references cited by Lloyd Messersmith’s contemporaries were:

Hugh Fullerton (1910) does not cite any other sources. Pauline Hodgson (1936a) cites 21 references from physiology texts. She cites 6 references in (1936b) – one to 1936a, one to unpublished data prepared by A Espenschade, J Falconer and N Miner in 1935 and four physiology texts. Her (1939) paper cites one reference – her (1936b) paper. Nancy Miner et al (1940) cite three references: Hodgson (1936b, 1939) and a psychology text.

What is interesting in this cluster of research is that two research groups appear to have been working in the study of distances traversed. Lloyd Messersmith and his co-workers did not refer to Pauline Hodgson and her co workers. Nor did they refer to Lloyd Messersmith.  Both groups used the Research Quarterly of the American Association for Health, Physical Education and Recreation as the prime vehicle for sharing their research reports.

6. Conclusion

Lloyd Messersmith’s work in the notational analysis of sport has received comparatively little attention. The purpose of this paper has been to bring his work to the attention of a wider audience and to stimulate interest in the forging of ideas about notational analysis. In doing so I have sought to link his academic endeavour to a biographical  context. Such an approach emphasises the personal construction of knowledge in notation and the gains to be made from retrospective study.

Photo Credit

Championship Basketball Game

Basketball Team

Basketball Wins My Heart Again

Goal Scoring in Association Football: Charles Reep


Back in 1996 I had an opportunity to meet Charles Reep at his home near Plymouth in the United Kingdom.

I spent a day in his company discussing his involvement in the analysis of association football and corresponded with him thereafter.

The paper reproduced here is from proceedings of the International Society of Notational Analysis (1997). Charles commented on the early drafts of this paper. It is written in the present tense five years before Charles’ death.

I have been thinking about this paper for some time given my interest in goal scoring at the FIFA World Cup 2010 and the Asian Football Cup 2011. We have a number of research projects exploring goal scoring underway in UCNISS too.

Charles Reep died in 2002. Richard Pollard wrote an appreciation of Charles’ work in the Journal of Sports Sciences. In his introduction , Richard notes:

Seldom can the birth of a new activity be pinpointed with any accuracy, but at 15.50 on 18 March 1950, a spectator at Swindon Town’s home game against Bristol Rovers took a pencil and notebook out of his pocket. Wing Commander Charles Reep was at that moment beginning to create the first comprehensive notational analysis system for football. In the years that followed, he quickly saw how the information he was collecting could be used to plan strategy and analyse performance. He soon became the first professional performance analyst in football and later co-authored the first scientific paper to apply statistical analysis to football. Charles Reep died recently at the age of 97; the aim of this memorial paper is to review the existing published work both by and about this remarkable man, much of which is scattered in relatively obscure locations.

The paper I wrote in 1997 was titled The Long and Direct Road: Charles Reep’s Analysis of Association Football. (Please note that I have written this post in February 2012 to address issues raised by Neil Lanham about the contents of this paper.)

1 Introduction

This paper is an exercise in what some people call the ‘history of ideas’, that others call the ‘sociology of knowledge’ and still others call the ‘social construction of knowledge’.  I am fascinated by the process by which a person becomes a researcher and then shares the product of research with an audience. I am  interested particularly in those who established careers in the notational analysis of performance in sport.

My interest in notational analysts as people arises from my own background in qualitative research. By inclination I am an ethnographer and I am constantly intrigued by how people make, reproduce and transform culture. My first attempt to link qualitative ‘life history’ approaches to notational analysis (Lyons, 1994) focused on the life and work of an American pioneer of notation in sport: Lloyd Lowell Messersmith. I want to extend that approach in this paper to investigate the work of a notational analyst of association football: Charles Reep.

My access to Lloyd Messersmith’s life work was through his family archives and the extant literature. Lloyd died in 1977 at the age of seventy-two. At the time of writing this paper, Charles Reep was an active, alert ninety-one year old looking forward to celebrating his next birthday with a round of golf. Incredibly he was working harder than ever at the hand notation of association of football. He had in September 1996 completed his 2194th real-time analysis of a match: the Juventus v Manchester United Champions’ Cup game.

This paper benefits from Charles Reep’s revisions of early drafts. It is, after all, his life we discuss. It is a celebration of sixty years’ endeavour in the analysis of association football. It has been a long and direct road to the present.

2 Charles Reep: Some Biographical Data

Thorold Charles Reep was born in Torpoint, Cornwall on 22 September 1904. He was one of three brothers. As a young boy he was a regular spectator at Plymouth Argyle,  his local association football club. At the age of ten he won a scholarship to the Plymouth High School. Shortly after he enrolled at that school his eldest brother was killed at the Battle of Ypres in France in the First World War.

At the High School Charles developed an interest in association football, golf and tennis. Later in his life he became a county tennis player and represented Devon and Cornwall and other counties. He also played in the annual combined services tennis tournaments at the Wimbledon All England Club. To this day his passion for football is intense and drives his wife Evelyn to distraction.

Charles left Plymouth High School in 1923 to take up employment as an articled accounts clerk. He worked  from 9am to 6pm during week days and had two weeks’ holiday a year. In the evenings he studied for his examinations. The mathematical skills and the attention to minute detail he was to use in his analysis of association football were developed at this point in his career. He qualified as an accountant in 1928 and shortly after that won the first prize in an entrance competition for the newly formed Accountancy Division of the Royal Air Force (RAF). Charles attributes his success in this competition in part to his keen interest in reading. He was able to answer a question about flying boats that had everybody else in difficulty.

His career in the RAF started at the age of 24 as a Pilot Officer. He retired from the service in 1955 as a Wing Commander. He was stationed throughout England during that period but in the early days he was sufficiently close to London to watch association football at Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur. He represented his station at soccer and played right half. He also helped to organise station teams and it was this interest that led him to attend a lecture that transformed his understanding of how the game of association football was played.

Charles Jones, captain of Arsenal, came to Charles’ camp one evening in 1933 to talk about systems of play used by Herbert Chapman the manager of Arsenal. The talk involved an analysis of wing play and an account of the understanding that had  developed between the right and left wingers at Arsenal. Charles was fascinated by this idea and over the next seventeen years observed games of football very carefully to find evidence of how to maximise goal-scoring opportunities. (In later years he thought that an alert, goal-scoring forward might be called Homo-Pomo rather than Homo-Sapiens: POMO was an acronym for position of maximum opportunity.) He became convinced that goal-scoring opportunities could be created by careful lines of running by pairs of wingers. His station teams and local amateur teams used some of Charles’ ideas to good effect to score goals. He often “briefed” wingers about their responsibilities.

Some seventeen years after Charles Jones’s talk, Charles undertook his first live hand notation of association football. On 15 April 1950 he went to the Swindon Town ground to analyse Swindon’s play. He felt confident that he could hand notate one team in real-time without too much difficulty but felt that notating both teams was out of the question. His system recorded some rudimentary actions, pitch position and passing sequences with outcomes. He used a mix of symbols and notes to obtain as complete as record as possible of play. He was so taken by his experience of notation that he sought to develop a system for both teams in real-time and by the end of the 1949-1950 season had such a system.

The following season 1950-51 saw Charles’ first involvement with a football league team. Brentford were having a difficult time and were fourth from bottom of the Second Division (corrected 21 June 2012). Charles was introduced to the club by a friend in the RAF and provided analysis of games as well as suggesting how to play attacking football. He recalls that Brentford subsequently won thirteen of their last fourteen matches. Their only defeat was when the manager decided to rely on defence against Tom Finney’s Preston North End team. Brentford lost 3-0 and this proved an informative lesson for Charles about attacking systems. By having a ‘deviant case’ he was able to check his data against this case. (Note: the record of Brentford’s season can be found here which indicates that Brentford lost 2-4 to Preston, Brentford lost three games in their last sixteen games of the season. For a discussion about Brentford see this Forum Thread.)

The next season Charles was moved by the RAF to a camp at Bridgnorth in Shropshire. This fortuitous change had important implications for his work. Once again through a personal contact Charles met Stan Cullis the manager of Wolverhampton Wanderers. Charles spent the next three and a half years with the club in an advisory capacity. He provided detailed hand notations and data summaries of games for Stan Cullis at a time when Wolverhampton Wanderers were at the forefront of the move to link British and European clubs. One of his memories of this period was his real-time analysis of Wolves v Honved. During this time Stan Cullis was keen to develop a style of play that involved long balls into the opponents’ territory. Charles provided feedback to Stan Cullis about this pattern of play in the week  after each match. He describes this time as “sweetness all the way”.

At the end of the 1955 season the then Wing Commander Reep had an opportunity to retire from the RAF. His success with Wolves encouraged him to plan for a new career as a ‘football consultant’. He was approached by Sheffield Wednesday to act as their analyst. Charles was quite clear about the system Sheffield should play and discussed this at length with the manager, Eric Taylor. After some extensive debate at boardroom level Charles was employed for the 1955-56 season on the annual salary of £750. His contract with the club was a one-year renewable contract. He spent three years with Sheffield Wednesday and the club won promotion from Division Two in his first year with them. His links with the club were ended when in the third season and results were disappointing. To this day Charles believes that the refusal of a key player to buy into the system subverted the whole effort of the team, manager and notational analyst.

Charles did not work with another soccer team for the next five years. In that period he worked assiduously to develop his theory of success in association football and the role that random chance plays in this. He watched and notated in real-time 40 games a season in that period. He also attended the 1958 World Cup Final and notated the game in real-time. He kept detailed records of the total number of goals scored, the number of shots and the number of possessions. By 1964 and after this period in the wilderness he had summarised all the data he had collected since 1950. Charles was aware that there was a substantial stability in his data over time.

In this stage of his development Charles investigated whether passing movements, goals, games and championships were determined by the rules of random chance. He made contact with Dr  Benjamin who discussed with him at length the fit between Charles’s data and the law of negative binomial distribution. From correspondence with Dr Benjamin, Charles developed an interest in probability and from this emerged two papers in the Journal of the Royal Statistical Society (Reep and Benjamin, 1968; Reep, Pollard and Benjamin, 1971).

The corpus of Charles’ work to date (1950-1964) encouraged him to conceptualise a strategy for winning association football matches. He felt confident that his data was accurate, reliable and valid. His twofold process of real-time notation and subsequent data transcription and analysis provided a rich bedrock for his thinking about association football. Data analysis of his real time notation took as much as eighty hours. One piece of work, a cartographic analysis of the 1958 World Cup Final took three months to complete and write up.

From that period on to the present Charles’ work has been shared with and discussed by many people involved in and interested in association football. During the last thirty years he has met with and worked with a range of managers. The longest working relationships have been with Graham Taylor at Watford and Dave Bassett at Wimbledon (note Neil Lanham’s observations about these claims). Interspersed with these clubs has been an intermittent link with Plymouth Argyle.

Over thirty years, Charles Reep has received many visitors into his home. He was delighted in 1994 to meet Egil Olsen and share his thoughts about soccer. Charles was a guest of honour of the Norwegian Football Association on the occasion of Norway’s 2-0 defeat of England. Most recently he has been in correspondence with the  coach of the Norwegian women’s Olympic soccer team, bronze medalists in Atlanta 1996.

During his career in notation, Charles has experienced many of the situations that new notational analysts discover. What is impressive about him is that he has constantly updated his work so that the most recent game fits into a longitudinal data set that stretches from the County Ground, Swindon to the major football stadia of the world. In his archive he has data from 2194 games.

At the age of 86 he decided he should turn his attention to Italy’s Serie A games to check out what was happening. He takes great pleasure in recounting that as the supposed champion of three pass moves or less he discovered an Italian game that decided the Championship for AC Milan that involved a sequence of fifty-seven passes by them then four passes by the opponents and the game ended with AC Milan in possession after forty-seven passes.

Charles Reep celebrates his ninety-second birthday next week. What is remarkable is that he is four months older than Lloyd Messersmith. In two Congresses I have tried to give some biographical information about notational analysts as people. The two I have chosen are separated by an ocean but appear to have been driven by the same imperative: the discovery of universals in performance. In the next section of the paper I discuss some of Charles Reep’s Data and Analysis.

3 Near Constants in Performance

After eight years of hand notation practice, Charles Reep sat in the Stockholm Stadium and notated in real-time the 1958 World Cup Final. His record of that game provided the most detailed account of his work to date. In the iconography of soccer it is a Final that is remembered for Pele’s virtuosity. For Charles it provided an opportunity to produce fifty pages of match drawings and feature dissection. He provides a minute, detailed analysis of each game event to provide a “scientific and objective account” of the Final.  He wanted to:

provide a counter to reliance upon memory, tradition and personal impressions that led to speculation and soccer ideologies (personal communication)

He produced a similar cartographic document for the 1966 World Cup Final.

These remarkable documents and his ‘magnum opus’ remain unpublished. His main work League Championship Winning Soccer: The Anatomy of Soccer Under the Microscope was written in 1973. In this tightly typed and tightly argued book he argues that the keystones of the structure of soccer are what he terms the near constants. His search for these constants came about after checking his data over twenty years. In particular he wanted to explore how playing within and understanding of probability empowered teams.

His notation system collects information about pitch position and this provides him with detailed data that can be manually retrieved post-event. He divides the soccer pitch into four sections and identifies a shooting area in each half of the pitch. This shooting area extends approximately 30 metres from the goal-line. Charles discovered that over a number of seasons it appears that:

  • It takes 10 shots to get 1 goal (on average)
  • 50% of goals are scored from 0 or 1 passes
  • 80% of goals are scored within 3 or less passes
  • Regaining possession within the shooting area is a vital source of goal-scoring opportunities
  • 50% of goals come from breakdowns in a team’s own half of the pitch

These data prompted Charles to think about the territorial requirements of winning soccer. From the 1930s he had understood the creative role wingers could play and with Stan Cullis he had developed a pattern of play that involved long balls played to attacking players. The near constants allowed Charles to conceptualise winning soccer. He suggests that by outfield players sending ‘reachers’ into the shooting area or by goalkeepers sending ‘pitchers’ into that area goal scoring opportunities could be created more quickly. An assertive press by the attacking team could also lead to regaining possession which was an important source of goal scoring opportunities.

His detailed in-event notation and post-event analysis has enabled Charles to accurately measure the distance and trajectory of every pass. From his system of reachers and pitchers he devised a formula that stated the relationship between:

  • the average goals per match per season (S)
  • the average reachers per match per season (R)
  • the average number of shots that score goals (N)
  • the number of reachers to provide a shot (n)

The system propounded by Charles Reep is one of constant attack. His data encourage him to believe that sustained, repeated pressure produces scoring opportunities. He encourages managers to set up a chain reaction with the system so that long balls and assertive pressing force errors. A team using the above formula should strive to increase R, reduce N to become more efficient and reduce n to minimise unforced errors.

For Charles Reep this system is a ‘fact’. He argues that winning soccer need not be an argument about aesthetics. Since 1973 he has collected a further twenty years of empirical data. Recently he has analysed a season of Serie A televised games and all the games of Euro 96. He suggests that his theory holds and the near constants are empirically demonstrable.

Charles asserts that over time equally matched teams conform to his analysis. He laments that 2194 games, analysed in detail can be dismissed without critics comprehending the precision of the notation process and the painstaking analysis that follows. He is convinced that his system is the winning formula and that others who have sought to use his ideas without discussing them with him have misinterpreted him.

4 The Status of Charles Reep’s Work

This paper has been written about a notational analyst as a person. Like Lloyd Messersmith, Charles Reep has been misattributed or ignored. On some occasions he has been vilified. His career spans sixty years and he retains a passion for soccer that is remarkable. When I last spoke with him he had spent eighty hours analysing his notation of Juventus v Manchester United (Game 2194) and Newcastle United v Halmstad (Game 2193).

By training, Charles is an accountant and has applied the skills of his profession to produce meticulous notations of soccer games. He sometimes spends hours trying to trace any inaccuracy in his data matrix tallies. His work displays a fastidiousness missing in some academic work. In the 1960s he pursued his interest in probability with trained statisticians and one of his co-authors in the Journal of the Royal Statistical Society articles (Dr Benjamin) was a professor of actuarial science at the City University, London.

In his work he spans Herbert Chapman’s Arsenal championship winning team of the 1930s, Pele at the 1958 World Cup, the 1966 World Cup in England and the current soccer scene. He has worked with twenty three soccer managers and at some point has spoken with or worked with national coaches such as Alf Ramsey, Graham Taylor and Egil Olsen.

This paper is intended to celebrate the life and work of Charles Reep. At 92 he is still extremely keen to argue the merits of his system. He has an encyclopaedic knowledge of soccer and is able to recall games and players in detail. He has kept every one of his 2194 notations and his maps of the games are a choreography of mid to late twentieth century British, European and World soccer.

He has no academic degree but has raised fundamental academic issues. He is a self-educated man with a passion for reading about science in general and cosmology in particular. He has acted as a notational analyst/consultant for forty years. He started his work when I was just four years old.

References and Bibliography

Published Work

Reep, C (1989) Analysis of Scottish Soccer. The Punter, May/June, Issue 1.

Reep, C & Benjamin, B (1968) Skill and Chance in Association Football, Journal of the Royal Statistical Society, 131, 581-585.

Reep, C, Pollard, R & Benjamin, B (1971) Skill and Chance in Ball Games, Journal of the Royal Statistical Society, 134, 623-629.

Pollard, R, Reep, C, &  Benjamin, B (1977) Sport and the Negative Binomial Distribution, in S P Ladany & R E Machol (eds)  Optimal Strategies in Sport. Amsterdam: North Holland Publishing. pp 188-195.

Pollard, R, Reep, C & Hartley, S (1988) The quantitative comparison of playing patterns in soccer, in T Reilly et al (eds) Science and Football I. London: Spon. pp 309-315.

Unpublished Work

Reep, C (1958) Anatomy of Soccer: Cartography of Brazil v Sweden 1958. Unpublished A1 Graphic.

Reep, C (1966) Anatomy of Soccer: Cartography of England v West Germany 1966. Unpublished A1 Graphic.

Reep, C (1973) League Championship Winning Soccer: The Anatomy of Soccer Under the Microscope. Unpublished book, final draft.

Reep, C (1974) Simulation of a Team’s Framework of Probability in Soccer. Unpublished mimeograph.

Photo Credit

Arsenal v Liverpool