Players, staff and volunteers at South Shields Football Club are eagerly awaiting the return of football at the conclusion of the lockdown period. One of them is analyst Ryan Chipperfield, who is the first individual to be featured in our new website feature, Behind The Scenes…

Ryan, tell us about when you first fell in love with football.

I was probably aged about four or five and it was mostly down to my dad and my uncle, who were and still are massive Newcastle United fans. I was out playing football from a young age and always remember watching videos of Newcastle playing in the early 1990s. Alan Shearer was an idol of pretty much every Newcastle fan my age growing up so I watched him a lot and he was probably another big influence in provoking my interest in football as he was scoring week-in, week-out. Video games played a big part as well with the likes of FIFA and Football Manager. Since I’ve been able to speak, football has always been a big part of my life.

When did a non-playing role in the game start appealing to you?

It was probably towards the end of my time at sixth form when I was about to go to university, so I would have been 17 or 18. I knew at that point I obviously wasn’t going to be a footballer. That’s a dream for most football fans growing up but the reality for most of them is that it won’t happen. I realised that was the case for me and needed to find a different way to still enjoy the game and be involved. I looked into coaching and for a long time it looked like I was going to go down that road, because I studied for a degree in sports coaching and got my Level 1 coaching badge through The FA. As I went through university I realised football was definitely where I wanted to be, although at one time teaching was an option and I did a bit of work towards that. That made me realise even more that football was what I wanted to be involved in. I guess that is always where my heart was.

How much work has gone into getting you where you are today?

What I do now is totally different to the path I was on when I started university and headed towards coaching. For my first three years at university, most of what I did was based around coaching but then towards the end of my degree I started to dip into other areas I could be involved in. That started with the organisational side of things, which wasn’t for me, and then I came across analysis in sport. It was still a relatively new field and going from there to where I am now has come about quite quickly. I started about three-and-a-half years ago but a lot of hard work has gone in. I studied for a Masters in Performance Analysis at the same time as starting a role here at South Shields, which has benefited me a lot. I’ve also got an analysis job outside of this that pays the bills and is related to The FA. That has enhanced my knowledge and expertise in the area I’m working in. I’ve still got a long way to go because I’m still relatively new and inexperienced so there’s lots of work to come. You don’t get far in life by just riding the wave and going along with it. You have to work for what you get.

When and how did you first become involved with SSFC?

I first got involved in the summer of 2017, just after the club had won the FA Vase, so I’ve been here nearly three-and-a-half years now. Things progressed really quickly. Once I was accepted onto the Masters course, one of my first tasks was to become involved with a club because the course was tailor-made around working for a club or organisation, and the assessments were to be based around that. I needed to find somewhere to work and emailed a bunch of clubs, one of which was South Shields. Thankfully they got back to me, and in fact they were the only club that responded with an opportunity. That was the first time I spoke to Lee Picton and I was invited into a meeting with him and Graham Fenton. It was about finding out what we would be able to do for each other and they had a meeting with an analysis company set up for later that day to discuss some software. I ended up in that meeting with them and by the end we had a rough idea of what I could do here. I came along to the first friendly two weeks later so it all progressed quite quickly. Fast forward three years and quite a lot of work has gone into it! It all started from an email and it’s proof that you don’t get anything if you don’t ask.

You’ve worked very closely in particular with Graham Fenton and Lee Picton over the years – how much do you value the relationships you’ve built with them and others?

Massively. On a personal level I value every relationship I’ve built within the club. Everyone behind the scenes was so welcoming from the start and made me feel part of the club. On a work level, Lee and Graham have been absolutely brilliant. Their knowledge of the game is incredible. I did my degree and courses on top of that but I had very little experience in a football environment within a club and so little knowledge compared to them. Just listening to the things they say and having chats before and after games with them has been an education. They’ve helped me massively with my understanding of the game and you can’t put a price on that. I’ll always be massively thankful to them for giving me the opportunity to learn from them and do the work here. If it wasn’t for them I probably wouldn’t have had the opportunities I’ve had and who knows what I’d be doing now.

Tell us about your role and the work you carry out here.

The fans who are aware of me will probably know that I come along on matchdays and stand on the gantry filming the game next to Dan Prince. I film it from a tactical viewpoint so it’s a more zoomed-out angle which the fans won’t usually see on highlights packages. It’s always a lot easier to analyse a game afterwards when the camera is zoomed out. After a match I upload my footage into the software we use for analysis and put together the match stats, which are usually posted on social media the next day. That usually takes a couple of hours and is quite an easy part of the job. I then go back to the start of the game and watch every individual player to pick out their individual highlights and clips. They are posted on a Cloud storage site where the players can access and review their own moments which have been taken out for them, alongside the full match footage. There are other bits and bobs I sometimes get involved with, balanced with my paid job elsewhere. After some games I’ll do post-match presentations when I’ll look at the game and analyse how the team has performed in and out of possession and look at areas for improvement and the positives. I’ve also done some pre-match opposition reports and put them into a presentation for the management. They do their own work on top of that but it’s handy to have this sometimes to back it up. On the odd occasion, I’ve done reports on players the club are looking at as potential future signings, picking out areas for improvement, areas they could improve us and whether they would fit into the team. It’s really just about supporting the management rather than making any decisions. I’m there to reaffirm their opinion or dispute them if necessary.

Describe what it’s like to be involved at SSFC.

It’s great – I love it here. I could quite comfortably say that if I was at any point to step away from my position here, I would definitely still follow the club and get to as many games as I could as a supporter. The environment here is great and I get on well with everyone. It’s a fantastic place to be.

What is the most memorable moment you have experienced here?

There are lots to choose from but on a personal level, I’d say the whole experience of the Cheltenham away game was probably the standout so far. It was fantastic to experience what it would be like being in that position permanently. I got the chance to put a report together on Cheltenham and then seeing my work being presented to the players was brilliant. It was the first time I’d been in the same room when the managers presented what I’d put together and it was a proud moment for me. There have also been many standout games and the best one was probably the match against FC United just before the first lockdown. It was quite a surreal experience. Some people look at non-league football and don’t give it a chance. They think the standard is sub-quality and there aren’t a lot of fans watching, but that game in particular was proof of the exact opposite. To see the amount of fans that were there and hear the noise they made was incredible, and the football was fantastic too. The fanbase was one of the things that shocked me the most when I first came to Shields. I knew there would be fans but I quite quickly realised that I’d greatly underestimated how many there would be and how passionate they are. The fans here are absolutely brilliant and to have an average of over 1,500 when allowed speaks volumes and still amazes me.

Can you tell us any funny stories from behind the scenes?

I hate to admit this because I’m on the receiving end of this story, but I was the victim of a prank before the Durham Challenge Cup final at the Stadium of Light in 2019. It was the first time I’d filmed a cup final for the club and the first time we had played at a venue like that in my time here, so I wasn’t really sure what the procedures were. Dan Prince convinced me that we all needed to wear our finest suits and look all dapper for the occasion but I should have known better. I turned up at 1st Cloud Arena two or three hours before the game to get on the bus and quickly realised I was the only one not wearing my usual attire. Everyone else was in jeans or tracksuits and I looked like a bit of a clown! Everyone else thought it was hilarious of course and were in fits of laughter. It’s a moment I think I’ll always remember and I’ll certainly never fall for something like that again. Thankfully I brought my Shields tracksuit in my bag, so there must have been part of me which was suspicious, and I was able to change before we left for Sunderland. It will always stand out as a funny moment from me but I’ve learnt from my mistake.

How have you been coping during the lockdown and is it fair to say your other role keeps you busy when you’re away from SSFC duties?

That’s an understatement! If I’m not watching football in my Shields capacity I’m doing it on behalf of a company which provides data for The FA. Football is literally my life a lot of the time. If I’m not at a game I’ll be sat at my computer watching football and analysing players. Even when I’m not working I still can’t switch off and end up watching football, but that’s what I love. I’m lucky to be able to say that my job is my hobby. Most of my time goes into football but away from that it’s just the usual things, like watching movies and series on Netflix. Apart from that I’ll go for the occasional drink with friends when we’re able to. As for coping with lockdown, a couple of weeks into the first one a lot of people seemed quite happy but then quickly got bored. When that happened to me I tried to focus on staying healthy so I started doing workouts at home to try to stay fit and healthy. The last thing I wanted to do was to spend all my time in my bed or on the sofa because that would have made me feel a lot worse. It hasn’t been an easy time for anyone and different people have different ways of coping with it. Staying active was the key for me but thankfully I still have football to focus on with my paid job and hopefully we’ll have Shields games back soon as well.