A collection of VHS tapes were funded by a Kickstarter campaign and donated to the South Pacific. The shipment will be in care of anthropologist Dr. Bronwyn Bancroft, who has been documenting cultural practices on some islands in the region for over 40 years
The “vhs tapes wanted” is a project that sends old VHS tapes to the South Pacific. The goal of this project is to preserve culture and history by sending these tapes to people who can watch them.
In 1985, Pollard gave a lecture.
Richard Pollard arrived to the University of the South Pacific in Fiji on another beautiful day in March 1986.
On his way to work, he checked his pigeon-hole and discovered a protected envelope among the normal communications. It was stamped with an airmail sticker and a Watford, England postmark.
A VHS videocassette and a note were found inside. Watford’s matches against Chelsea in the Premier League and Crewe Alexandra in the Milk Cup were recorded on the tape. Watford manager Graham Taylor sent a letter gently requesting that the tape be returned to England “together with an analysis in due time.”
In the 1980s, a top-level English club used this method of match analysis: entrusting the sole cassette recording of a game to long-distance airmail, having the analysis done by hand, and then returning over a year later.
Pollard had been interested with football stats for more than two decades by the mid-1980s. He’d studied the early published writings of Charles Reep (1904-2002), regarded by some as the Godfather of contemporary football analysis, as had many other young analysts in the 1960s.
Reep was the first statistical analyst to work directly with a professional football team, first in 1951 with Brentford and then with Wolves in the same decade.
Reep’s efforts attracted a number of individuals to pay a visit to his Plymouth house, which generally featured lengthy afternoons of tea, sandwiches, and football talk.
Reep had amassed hundreds of matches worth of statistics tracking passing plays, efforts at goal, and where teams gained and lost possession by the time Pollard’s first visit in the mid-1960s. Stacks of handwritten notes, typed-out calculations, and enormous boards displaying the latest match diagrams would be pored over and analysed in his snug front room.
Reep had devised a one-of-a-kind method for collecting data for each team in real time. He had to do everything by hand, which was a problem. He would labor for 80 hours to create a chart from his notes of every passing move from, say, the 1958 World Cup final. Pollard would be able to work considerably more quickly in no time.
The Atlas computer took up two enormous rooms; the ‘engineer’s console’ is seen here.
“Not wanting to be left behind when the computer revolution began, I pursued a degree in applied computer science,” recalls Pollard. “Statistical computing was one of the subjects covered in one of the classes. Reep’s data lent themselves to the kind of multivariate analysis that could only be done on a computer, I quickly realized.”
The computer in question, the Atlas 1, is currently housed at the Science Museum in Kensington, although it was originally located in Gordon Square in Bloomsbury and was used by the University of London between 1964 and 1972. The windowless concrete bunker that held the computer was nestled among lovely Georgian terraces. Students were seldom given the opportunity to see it in operation.
Anyone who needed to use the Atlas machine would punch a sequence of cards, drop them off at reception, and come back 24 hours later to pick up their printout. This is what Pollard accomplished in February 1969, making him the first person to use a computer to analyze a football match.
Pollard states, “Reep provided me summary performance statistics for 100 matches.” “Each side has 68 separate performance metrics for each match.” There were a total of 13,600 values in all.
“The study’ original goal was to summarize the distribution of values for each of the 68 variables, such as mean, standard deviation, and so on. Then it was time to evaluate whether numbers were substantially different between the winning and losing teams.”
Although the early findings were equivocal, Reep continued to collect data. Meanwhile, Pollard was on the road again, this time to Belo Horizonte, Brazil, for two years of education.
In 1975, when he returned to England, he acquired a property approximately a mile down the road from football manager Graham Taylor. Things really took off at this point.
Following his appointment as Watford manager in 1977, Taylor was seen with Elton John. John had been named chairman the previous year.
Pollard quickly saw that Taylor preferred an all-out attacking approach comparable to Reep’s, so he got them in contact. As a result, during the 1980-81 season, when Watford finished eighth in the Second Division, Pollard began analyzing games.
Pollard remembers, “The second game I filmed was when Watford defeated Southampton [in the League Cup].”
“Southampton, who were flying high in Division One, won the first leg 4-0 at The Dell, but Watford won the second game 7-1. They went on to defeat Nottingham Forest, the European Cup holders, 4-1 in the next round. It was again another ‘night of nights,’ as Reep put it.”
Beyond basic shots, corners, and offsides, Pollard collaborated with Reep to track a variety of variables. A’reacher,’ or the number of times a team was able to pass the ball into the offensive third, was the most important metric. In the offensive third, a’static’ was a throw-in, corner, or free-kick. The number of times a side got the ball back in the attacking third by pressing was counted as a’regained possession.’
All of these metrics are well-known for their importance in winning football games, and they serve as the foundation for current analysis. Pollard was doing this 40 years ago beneath the radar.
He was soon on his way again, this time to Fiji, where he continued his football analysis in his leisure time, giving in-game numbers for local radio and penning a column for the Fiji Sun newspaper.
He remembers: “During my half-time assessment of the 1985 Fijian Cup final, I said that the two sides were evenly matched in terms of shots and’reachers,’ and that it would take more than penalties to separate them. Darkness had fallen some hours later, and the game was called a draw with penalties knotted at 12-12.”
Pollard’s university work visa prohibited him from being compensated for any outside job, but his newspaper editor would send him to games on the other side of the islands and reimburse him well.
“On these free long weekends at hotels on the beach, I used to transport the entire family in our small Suzuki Jeep,” he recounts.
“I used to tell the editor that his readers knew more about football than anybody in the planet!”
“However, there was no coverage on Fijian television. My father used to give me World Cup video records from England, which I could then watch as many times as I wanted in the video lab.”
At the time, analysts had access to video footage, which provided them with fresh chances. It made it possible to look into additional parts of the game, and some unexpected results were discovered. When Taylor provided his film, Pollard discovered that when Watford had more defenders back in the penalty area, for example, they surrendered more efforts on goal.
He also took meticulous notes on the location of each goal attempt. In a letter to Taylor dated January 1986, he clarified this. Pollard subsequently elaborated on this in a study titled ‘Soccer Performance Analysis and its Application to Shots at Goal’, which he published at the University of the South Pacific. It was from this germ that the anticipated objectives metric grew.
Pollard’s study drew on data from several English football levels from the late 1950s through the 1980s, as well as the 1982 World Cup, the North American Soccer League, and, of course, the Fiji National League. The research comprised roughly 20,000 shots in all, with comparable findings across leagues and decades.
It was discovered that between 9% and 13% of all shots resulted in a goal, with a goal-to-shot ratio of 8.2 to 10.6. The distribution of shots attempted from within and outside the penalty area provided further data.
Inside the box, 15 percent of shots resulted in goals, whereas outside the box, just 3% of shots resulted in goals. Analysts may find such data reassuringly familiar now, but it was groundbreaking work 40 years ago.
On his journey to Bhutan, Pollard (left) is shown.
Pollard’s work on site scouting would continue, but his relationship with Taylor would come to an end.
“The timing was terrible,” Pollard adds. “There was a military takeover in Fiji, so I didn’t extend my contract at the university and went to the United States without a job, while [Taylor] was on his way to Aston Villa from Watford.”
Taylor’s meteoric rise led to his appointment as England manager. Norway had another Reep disciple, Egil Olsen, at the helm when they beat his team 2-0 in a 1994 World Cup qualifier played in Oslo. The Norwegian Football Association had invited Reep to the game as a guest.
Pollard eventually landed in California and developed a technique for grading national teams that was rejected by Fifa but seemed to provide more accurate results. He has given analytical sessions in Malawi and China, and he advised Bhutan on how to improve their Fifa rating, assisting them in moving up 40 places.
Expected goals (or xG) has become the go-to measure for measuring a team’s long-term performance, at least in some people’s views. These fundamental data, rather than actual outcomes, may be a better way of measuring a team’s overall performance, since they are unaffected by individual elements such as inaccuracy or genius.
Pollard, like so much of the history of football analysis, was at the epicenter of this change.
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