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Excerpt - from demo Chapter 2

If any single day can be marked as the day that football analysis really came of age it is Boxing Day 1949. It is the first known day that an analyst attended a professional game with a system in place to record the match, had a series of indicators to monitor performance, and collected data to show where improvements to a team’s chances of winning could be made.

During his Christmas leave from the RAF, Charles Reep returned to Plymouth and had the opportunity to watch Argyle at Home Park. He kept minute-by-minute notes of every chance created and every occurrence that a ball fell loose in the area. During the Boxing Day game versus Cardiff City, which ended 0-0, Reep noted that eight goal-scoring chances were wasted because the wingers were not in the ‘correct’ position to score an easy goal. He classified these chances as 4 ‘superb’, 2 ‘good’ and 2 ‘possible’.

Five days later on New Year’s Eve 1949, Reep was back at Yatesbury and he was prompted to pen a letter from the Officer’s Mess to a Plymouth Argyle Director who he had previously been ‘under articles to’ in the 1920s. Reep had been considering an approach for the past two years and now, after the Christmas matches, felt he had enough evidence and was ready to make a proposal. He knew that the prevailing feeling was that it was insanity to think numbers could decide a football match. He felt he knew better.

“The proposition may, and probably will, appear fantastic at first sight,” he wrote. “I do not hesitate to make it, however, as I have accumulated an overwhelming mass of evidence in support, which I will produce.” Reep continued to explain that by having certain players follow some simple instructions a team would be able to obtain at least ONE ADDITIONAL GOAL [his caps] per match, “without it being apparent to the ordinary observer how it is done.” Argyle had missed several of these opportunities in the recent weeks. “I have a complete record of them,” he continued, “with the time each happened, as part of my evidence. The exploitation of this principle . . . could not fail to lift the team well out of the relegation zone, without the need for any further payment of exorbitant transfer fees for ‘star’ players”.

The director he addressed was overseeing finances at the club and Reep appealed to the chance of not paying extra transfer fees and of safeguarding the income stream of being a second rather than a third division club. These were among his stated reasons for not approaching the manager, Jimmy Rae.

Before stating a price for his work, Reep asked what a 40 goal a year scorer, capable of one goal per game, would be worth? Up to £50,000 he reckoned, though Eddie Quigley had just set a new British transfer record when he moved from Sheffield Wednesday to Preston North End for £26,500. Reep would be asking for “a very small portion of such sum” and explained that for a 90 minutes for a lecture he would require a fee of 250 guineas [just over £7,000 when adjusted to current values]. If the directors wanted to proceed he would hand over exclusive rights to the method and his fullest support for one or two seasons, at which point a further fee would need to be paid. “I am confident in the integrity of the directors of course, otherwise I should have asked more.” Plymouth failed to take up Reep’s offer and were relegated at the end of the season. Undaunted by this opening rejection, Reep forged ahead. He wholeheartedly believed his data and continued along that path.

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