How is Data used in the Vanarama National League?

How is Data used in the Vanarama National League?

The Vanarama National League is the fifth tier of English league football.

Wrexham, now owned by Hollywood stars Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney, have brought a new audience to the National League, with their Disney Plus documentary Welcome to Wrexham. Since 2013 BT Sport have provided live coverage of English football’s fifth tier with games being shown each week. 

In recent years the increased media coverage has led to increased attendances, sponsorship deals and BT Sport making history with the games in the Vanarama National League South being shown for the first time in 2023. The interest in the league continues not only in the UK but also worldwide and it is expected to grow even after Wrexham’s promotion to the Football League. 

Along with the Welcome to Wrexham documentary, Wrexham have also just participated in the most competitive National League campaign to date, as both Wrexham and Notts County finished with a respective 111, and 107 points (both record tallies for the National League).

The level of competition in the National League has risen, as well as the funding and budgets involved with the league, which has led to more interest in the division, and more coverage of the division from the likes of BT Sport. With players getting more coverage there is an increased interest in the league, players and games. 

As fans and the public also develop their interest in analysis there is also a need for more detailed information on the players and clubs within the National League. Data providers have realised this and there is now data available on the league for clubs and media partners

Salford City FC is another earlier example of a National League team’s rise, as they were promoted from the National League North (one division below the National League), before gaining a second consecutive promotion, winning the National League playoffs to reach EFL League Two.

Salford City FC, are owned by Manchester United Project 92 Limited, the significant shareholders being David Beckham, Nicholas Butt, Ryan Giggs, Gary Neville, Phillip Neville and Paul Scholes.

The profile of these ex footballers brought more eyes to the League, and more funding to the club (Salford), which had direct correlation to their rise through the ranks of English football.

Data analysis is becoming a crucial aspect of modern day football at all levels of the game and is now becoming increasingly prevalent within the National League.

The ability to track vast amounts of data, and use this data to inform the club staff of results found, is “transforming everything from recruitment to tactics”.

Many clubs are adopting data driven approaches, whether this is player recruitment, strategic decision making, or injury prevention methods, data is now an integral part of their day to day operation.

National League clubs are now investing in their analysis departments, acquiring data analysts to work closely with scouts, medical teams and coaches to help them gain a competitive advantage. Clubs are partnering with data companies, universities and the use of data is now widely seen across the National League.

Aldershot and Fitogether Partnership

Aldershot Town announced their partnership with Fitogether for the 2020/21 season.

Fitogether is a football data analysis company, and is a “FIFA- Approved EPTS (Electronic Performance Tracking System) company based in South Korea”.

This equipment provided by Fitogether is used to track players performances, the Fitogether EPTS “allows managers and coaches to evaluate the players movement scientifically”.

Staff used the output, including scientific data, along with insights to assess players during training sessions, and matches.

Fitogether have allowed Aldershot to enhance their recruitment system, as well as use the data provided to influence training sessions, and tactical strategies.

This partnership is already showing signs of progression as commercial manager Mark Butler said “Having seen how impressive the analysis work is with the equipment Fitogether provide, we are starting to see their significance in the players performances on the pitch as well”.

Oldham Athletic and StatsBomb Partnership

Oldham Athletic were the first National club to work with analytics company StatBomb. The Latics  “become the first National League club to implement StatsBomb’s contextual event data and IQ platform into its recruitment and opposition analysis workflows”.

The club agreed a multi year deal with StatsBomb Data. One feature of StatsBomb Data that Oldham will benefit from is On Ball Value (OBV), and Possession State Value (PSV). The collaboration is put in place to provide a competitive advantage as Oldham look to return to the EFL.

Within the platform a number of models “objectively and quantitatively measure the value of each event on the pitch”. This allows analysts to look deeper into the value of passes in a sequence that lead to a goal, or goal scoring chance, rather than just the assist or goal (which is deemed the most important action).

Oldham CEO, Darren Royle stated  “We’ve had a year to assess the market, scout, we’ve got great assistance with stats bomb, which is an unbelievable objective analytical tool for looking at players and they’ve got National League data”.

The development of data departments

In the 2020/21 season Wrexham advertised for the position of Lead Analyst – Performance and Data Science. A key part of the role was to ’build and lead ‘new department that will grow into a first-class Performance and Data Analysis function. Primarily to support the First Team and Youth Programme but growing into the Women’s Programme and Future Academy’’

Whilst the day to day activities of a Lead Analyst often depends on the size of club, budget and the size of the existing department this particular job role identified there was a growth plan. This was a real pointer towards how important data analytics was becoming outside of the main four leagues. 

The strategic plan outlined by Wrexham within Lead Analyst job advert identified that this was more than just an analyst’s role, it was part of a plan to put in place a long term data analysis function and department across the football club. 

Data analysis is no longer used by clubs in the Premier League and Championship. Access to data analytics platforms combined with a growing skilled workforce has led to clubs at all levels looking to use data to provide a competitive advantage. With strategic plans like the one at Wrexham clubs are looking to embed data across all playing groups with their analyst teams becoming integral to that. 

Whilst budgets for analysis may vary across leagues and clubs there is a clear view that data and analysis can provide support across many areas. A Lead Analyst responsibilities may include recording and live coding games, working with the coaching staff to analyse the teams tactics/ individual players and the opposition teams.

Management teams understand the value of data, now using data from the main providers for technical scouting, recruitment analysis as well as performance analysis. It  is clear that the importance of analysis in football is rising, “The Sports Analytics Market is expected to be worth over $22 billion by 2030. It is growing at a piece of 28% a year”. 

Within the National League budgets will vary significantly and an analysis team many actually consist of one person and they would be responsible for all functions including data/coding, creating statistical reports, video packages and production of material to support training sessions and matchdays.

The Future of Data in the Vanarama National League

The use of data and analysis is now becoming an integral part of performance and recruitment analysis within the Vanarama National League. The likelihood is that more and more teams will increase the size of their data departments and the data driven approach if budgets allow.

As data platforms develop, available data on players increases, the number of clubs using a data driven approach is only going to increase and the number of clubs and leagues using data within their analysis will grow.

With the adaptation of AI within data, the National League may be an interesting area for start-up companies to test new and innovative data products over the next few years.


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