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A Talented Thinker Who Changed Football Analytics

By: Sophia Wang

Some people like math, and some people don’t, but math is unavoidable. Math is everywhere. It is used to prepare food, figure out distance, time, and travel costs. It can also be used for understanding sports. When I first found out that math could be used for sports, I was shocked. Sports is so physical, and math is more of a brain activity.

A controversial, and mathematical, figure in English football history was Charles Reep. He practically founded football data collection and analysis. Most people look at a football match and either think about which team they’re rooting for, or how they have no idea what’s going on (I’m in the latter). Reep looked at that match and thought about the math behind it. In doing that, he changed football forever. If he hadn’t thought of doing analytics, then football, as we know it today, would probably be different in many ways.

After listening to Arsenal Captain Charles Jones’s lecture on football tactics in 1932, Reep was inspired. He began to experiment with analyzing match notations, a way of recording what happened in the game. He noticed that there were patterns between the types of passes used in different cames and the wins and losses. After a while, he designed a system capable of grading the difficulty of chances to score a goal. His work was so innovative, that it is an early version of a system still used today. The Gx system used today measures the quality of a chance by calculating the likelihood that it will be scored from a particular position on the pitch during a particular phase of play.

Back then, people didn’t view Reep in such a positive manner. His ability to analyze football data was viewed as suspicious.In later years, people respected Reep. The Norwegian Football Association even invited him as a guest of honor. In his honor, they played a football game in a version of his preferred style, playing “direct football,” a style of attacking. In fact, after Reep sports analytics exploded in many sports, such as soccer, tennis, and many other sports.

We should all strive to think more. All talented people start somewhere, and just like Reep, maybe we all have innate talents to awaken.

Link: “Charles Reep: The military accountant who brought data analysis to English game”

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