No Stone Unturned – An Interview with Jimmy Dickinson

The pace of change in modern football can often be breathtaking. What was once novel is now commonplace, and this is certainly true of the First Team Analyst… but what does someone in that role actually do? Bury’s Jimmy Dickinson reveals all…

You’ve been a fan of Bury since you were just four years old. What are your earliest memories of the club?

My first ever memory as a Bury fan was at my first ever game away at Radcliffe in pre-season. I nipped to the burger van with my dad and uncle during the match, and as I was just handed my chips, the ball had been cleared into the stand and hit me right on the head, knocking me over! Luckily, I’d just put my chips down. Looking back, it was probably a warning sign of things to come as young Shaker!

What would you say is your favourite moment or match from any time before working for the club?

It has to be Chesterfield away (in 2010/2011). The day we got promoted. That is what I class as my first promotion as a Bury fan, as I still a bit too young to remember the promotions under Stan Ternent in the 90s, and wasn’t going regularly then. So from the time I started properly watching, I only really saw struggling seasons and relegations apart from the odd year, so to witness a campaign and a day like that was very special for me.

Did you always have aspirations of working within a professional football environment growing up?

As a lad growing up, my main passion was football, like most kids. I was always into stats of players and clubs, and my knowledge of players at all levels has always been in-depth. My interest for analysis didn’t spark until university. I took the module in my second year, and enjoyed it so much that I carried it onto my third year, where I went on to do a season placement at Rochdale.

How did you find balancing your first degree with your work under Keith Hill at Spotland?

It was hard at times. With all my uni work, a part-time job, and a placement at Rochdale, I had to manage my time well! Fortunately the analyst I worked under at the time (Dan Fradley) understood the situation after recently graduating himself, so that helped. But it was all worth it in the end.

How did the opportunity at Bury in 2014 come about?

At the time I was studying for my Master’s, and had extended my placement at Rochdale for another season. Around October time, I saw through an advert through my uni that Bury had advertised an analysis placement for the first team. I applied for the placement and got invited down for a trial game for the FA Cup against Hemel Hempstead. That afternoon when I arrived, I got talking to the then manager David Flitcroft, and we had an in-depth chat about how we could improve and utilise analysis at the club and after a couple of weeks of the placement I was offered my first professional role in football.

How would you describe your role to someone perhaps unfamiliar with what a First Team Analyst actually does?

I would say one of my main roles at the club is opposition analysis. Along with Steven Schumacher and Ryan Lowe, we will study our next opposition with great detail. Putting together a video report on them, involving different aspects of the match that we show to the players during the week leading up to the game. On a match day, you will find me in the gantry that sits at the top of the south stand. Up there, I will film and live code the game into stats and video analysis, so we have the match already dissected for straight after the game for the gaffer and the coaching staff to review, as well as for the players to watch their individual clips from their performance.

Has there been much difference to you personally working with the various managers in the past four and a half years?

Every manager is different and likes things done and presented in a certain way. For me, it’s just about adapting as quickly as I can and forming relationships with each member of staff, so I can get my job done as efficiently as possible.

What factors do you think have driven the growth of analysis within professional clubs, especially those below the top two tiers?

I think football these days for managers and staff has become so intense and highly pressured. You see examples of managers losing their jobs after only a few bad results. So from an analysis point of view, if something is there to be utilised that can be used to help or improve how you see things, either in training or on a match day even, if it only helps improve something by a small percentage, that could be all the difference. It’s like that in other aspects of football too, not just analysis; sports science being a prime example.

Has there ever been an instance of something you’ve seen whilst analysing the opposition that’s had a big impact on how Bury have then set up against them, and if so, is there an example you can share?

As staff we look at every area and aspect of the opposition. Defensive weaknesses and strengths, attacking weakness and strengths, set pieces defensive and attacking, penalties, style of play, goal keeper distribution. We look at every aspect to try and give us the edge on the opposition.

Given the number of academy players that have been in or around the first team at different points this season, have you had much chance to collaborate with Hannah Burgon (U18s Analyst)?

Yeah, I speak with Hannah everyday. We work closely together on a lot of things. I oversee all the analysis that goes on at the club and will involve myself in as much academy analysis as my schedule allows me!

What do you want to achieve in the short and long-term in your role and career?

I love working at this football club, as you know I’ve supported them as a kid and all my family are massive supporters. We have a great group of players and staff and it’s an brilliant place to work every day. There’s no hiding that the last two seasons in league one were difficult for me personally and the football club as a whole so the short term goal is obviously to get where we want to this season and keep picking up those wins! Long term for me I want to work at the highest level possible like everyone does in their careers, I want to work with and learn off the best in my field every day.

Have you been surprised at how well this campaign has gone so far?

No, I’ve not been surprised. I’ve seen at close quarters the work and dedication the gaffer and Schuey have put in since taking over last season, and all the planning and preparation that went into this season. Everyone at the club is just taking it one game at a time, we’re in a decent position, but nobody is getting carried away. We know the job we all have to do…