Unraveling Soccer’s Math Mishap: The Impact of One Man’s Error on English Football History

Math Mishap – From the more advanced moves of sabermetrics in basketball and baseball to the more advanced ones in hockey and soccer Evidence-based analysis has prompted new ideas and concepts about the games we all love.

However, there is some negative aspects of using analytics. There are other dangers that could befall you that are not properly interpreting numbers could lead to disastrous choices or lead to behaviors that are hard to change, particularly with the weighty conclusions have when they appear to be derived from data. To illustrate take a look at the situation of English soccer following its beginning with what was believed as a science-based method.

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In the most recent installment of our podcast documentary series Ahead of The Time In this episode, we take a examine Charles Reep, the father of soccer analytics and the man who made a major and glaring error that changed the direction of English soccer to the detriment of. 

However, to reach his erroneous conclusion, he first needed change the way people think about watching a soccer game.

The team had no Opta prior to 1950. There was there was no total Shots Ratio, and no expected Goals. But there was Reep, who took it upon himself to attend every Swindon Town F.C. game that year — often with a mining helmet worn over his head to reflect his notes and meticulously write down diagrams of the play-by-play process that outlined how it all transpired. In the 60s, before cameras for tracking players were popular in professional sport, Reep was mapping out simple spatial data in the old-fashioned method: by hand.

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In the process of scouring through all the bits of information he’d gathered, Reep eventually came to the realization that most goals in soccer are the result of plays preceded by just three passes or less. For Reep the fundamental truth of soccer should determine the way teams play. 

The secret to winning more matches appeared to be as easy as reducing your possession and passing time and moving the ball to the field as fast as you can instead. A lengthy ball was Reep’s favorite weapon.

“Not greater than 3 passes” Reep admonished during an interview on the BBC. “If an organization tries to play football but is able to limit it to not greater than three passing, they has a greater chances of winning games. If you are just passing to get passing is not always a good idea.”

It was the first time in the history of a measurable sports strategy built on next-level data collection like it was. It was also the first time that Reep had plenty of influential people to consider his theories and his ideas, too.

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 It took him a few decades of preaching, but Reep’s recommended playing style was adopted to instant success by Wimbledon F.C. during the 1980s. It then was elevated to the top of English soccer, that was achieved through the fusion with England Manager Graham Taylor and Football Association director of coaching Charles Hughes, each of who were convinced of hooting the ball over the field, and then running it down (and they now appeared to have the facts to prove their suppositions). The long ball was then England’s official footballing rule.

The problem was that Reep’s idea was founded on a flawed idea. According to a post I first wrote in the course of discussing the influence of Reep over soccer’s statistics:

The error of Reep was to dwell on the amount of goals that are generated by passing sequences with different lengths. Instead Reep should have turned the focus to the possibility that a certain sequence will result in an outcome.


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