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A follow-up to the blog post "The Major" by Tony Ridge

Further interesting information has been received by way of a response to the original blog about Major Frank Buckley. This concerns a man called Thorold Charles Reep, (born 1904 died 2002) who became the first soccer analyst and who worked without the benefit of a laptop !

Original Blog

Major Frank Buckley (known as “The Major”) was manager of Wolverhampton Wanderers FC from 1927 to 1944 and his attention to detail re players’ fitness, game tactics etc, became the template for the famous managers who followed him in the English game - including the likes of Stan Cullis, Bill Shankley and Matt Busby. The Major made Stan Cullis his captain and mentored his career with Wolves and England. Cullis became Wolves’ manager in the golden years of the 1950’s and practised much of what The Major preached.

Enter the Analyst

In 1951 RAF Officer Thorold Charles Reep was posted to RAF Bridgnorth. He had joined the service in 1928 and after a long career in the Accountancy Division was to retire as a Wing Commander in 1955. In 1933 Reep had attended a series of talks at RAF Henlow given by the then high flying Arsenal captain, Charlie Jones, who described the way in which wide players were fed with long balls and quickly moved the ball up the pitch and into the penalty area. Reep was impressed and used his mathematical skills and hand-written charts to analyse games and improve RAF teams. He realised that the quicker the ball was put into or near the penalty area, the more likely a goal would result. It was to him a simple matter of figures, statistics and logic. In early 1951 a Brentford FC scout heard about the success of Reep’s RAF teams and Reep was asked to help the struggling Division 2 side. This he did to great effect. It was much too late in the season for Brentford to trouble the top of the table teams, but results dramatically improved.

Reep and Cullis

When Reep was posted to Bridgnorth in late 1951 he made contact with Stan Cullis at Molyneux. Wolves had won the FA Cup in 1949 and were becoming a force in the 1st Division. Cullis bought into Reep’s data analysis and in season 1953/4 Wolves became 1st Division champions. Wingers Jimmy Mullen, Johnny Hancocks and Les Smith were key to this and to further success in the 50’s, and it is a matter of record that at a civic banquet in 1954 to celebrate winning the 1st Division championship, Stan Cullis publicly and generously acknowledged the part played by his analyst Charles Reep.

Reep’s career after Wolves

Sheffield Wednesday made Reep a good offer in 1955. This was an improvement on his somewhat informal arrangement with Wolves and gave him employment and financial security on retiring from the RAF that year. The Owls duly won promotion as Division 2 champions. Later he helped a number of other clubs and even at the age of 88 he was asked to help the Norway team in 1993. Norway beat England 2-0.

Reep’s Legacy

Reep’s methods and conclusions didn’t find universal favour. His critics used expressions like “hoof it !” and the “long ball”. But the proliferation of analysts in football and many other sports (just watch Six Nations Rugby), together with his successes with a number of clubs over many years, would suggest that he, with his sheets of paper and coloured pencils, was clearly on to something !

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