Sunday 26th June 2022

How football’s data boom began after the VHS tapes were sent to the South Pacific


Published on : 24 April, 2022 3:23 pm

Kathmandu: Richard Pollard arrived at the University of the South Pacific in Fiji, to work in the month March of the year 1986. On his way to work, he checked his pigeon-hole and discovered a padded envelope among the normal mails. It was stamped with an airmail sticker and a Watford, England postmark.

A Video Home System (VHS) videocassette and a letter were found inside of the envelop. Watford’s matches against Chelsea in the Premier League and Crewe Alexandra in the Milk Cup were recorded on the tape. It was found Watford manager Graham Taylor wrote the letter gently requesting that the cassette be returned to England “together with an analysis in due course.”

Pollard had been interested by football data for more than two decades by the mid-1980s. He’d read the early published works of Charles Reep (1904-2002), regarded by some as the Godfather of modern football analysis, as had many other young analysts in the year 1960s.

VHS referred to as Video Home System, was created by JVC (Victor Company of Japan) in the 1970s as a standard for consumer-level analog video recording on tape cassettes.

At the time, analysts had access to video footages, which provided them with fresh opportunities. It made it possible to look into deeper parts of the game, and some unexpected results were discovered. When Graham Taylor (Reep’s neighbor), who was a football manager of a team, a mile down the road from where they used to live, sent his video of Watford conceding more efforts at goal when they had more defenders back in the penalty area, for instance- Pollard discovered that Watford conceded more attempts at goal when they had more defenders back inside the penalty box.

Numerous information from the video could be listed out such as goals were scored 15 percent of the time when shots were taken from inside the box, but only 3% of the time when they were taken outside of the box. Analysts may find such data reassuringly familiar today, but it was pioneering and a break-through work for football data history done in about 40 years ago.

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