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Data Analysis Was Brought Into British Football By The Former Military Accountant Charles Reep

By: Angelina Yang

It is hard to believe that British football analysis originated from a military airfield in Bedfordshire used in World War One. This is credited to Thorold Charles Reep. Reep worked at RAF Henlow, which was Britains first parachute test center. Mr. Reep had one goal; to uncover football’s inner working and find the best way to win. Which led to the common misconception of him ruining the game.

Born in Cornwall in 1904, Reep died at the age of 97. During his time, Reep has made a tremendous impact on football. Reep was a huge fan of Plymouth Argyle. At age 24 he joined the RAF as an accountant and was posted to Henlow. Since he could not make it to Argyle home games because of the distance, Reep visited Highbury to watch Arsenal as often as he could.

In 1932 Charles Jones captain of Arsenal agreed to give 2 three-hour lectures about football tactics at RAF Henlow. Mr. Jones spoke about manager Herbert Chapman's methods for success. Reep sat in the front row, fiercely taking notes.

After listing to Jones’ speech, Reep was inspired to find new ways to study what he was watching on the football pitch. His first attempt was called the ‘Tactic Crime Chart'. After Reep realized players often fail to make most of the opening at Highbury, he created a grading system of chances around the goalmouth. Reep was later posted to Iraq in 1936, where he was put in charge of the RAF base team. Reep used the Arsenal tactics Jones had explained, and the results were great.

Reep had numerous findings such as, seven out of nine goals came from moves of three passes or fewer, and something Reep called a 'regained possession'. Though it may seem obvious now, the game had never been broken down like this before, making Reep the first. Brentford manager Jackie Gibbons was in trouble and needed help desperately. A scout told Gibbons about Reep’s team that had recently won 12-1. "There's some crazy fellow who stands on the touchline with bits of paper making notes," he reported. "[He] produces a tactical plan which seems to work." Reep had created what is called the "whirlwind attacks…an unbelievable and instant success," wrote Reep. Having won only nine of their 29 league matches (31%) before Reep's involvement, scoring 1.3 goals per game, they then won nine of their last 13 (69%) while scoring 2.9 goals per game this would be the monumental step of Reep's journey.

Reeps’ journey continued at several other English clubs, including Coventry, Torquay, and Plymouth, then Stoke City, Chesterfield, and Cambridge, but Reep just could not find his place at the top of the English game anymore, leading to the demise of his reputation. "[The English FA] dismiss me as an eccentric chap," Reep once said. "Obviously it's because I've put a question mark against so many aspects of the game."

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