He’s a familiar sight to Hibs fans sitting in Easter Road’s main stand, the wee guy who, on the stroke of half-time, can be seen bobbing and weaving his way through those supporters heading for a cup of tea and a pie, a laptop clutched to his side.
Those few fleeting glimpses are all they’ll catch of Calvin Charlton, Hibs’ head of performance analysis as he hares from his seat in the “Gods” down to the home dressing room, using every second of those 15 precious minutes to pass on vital information to boss Neil Lennon and his coaches as they prepare for the second 45 minutes.
The vast bulk of the work Charlton’s department does, however, remains very much hidden from view, hour upon hour spent producing detailed information upon which all professional sports, not just football, are placing an ever greater reliance.
When Charlton first stepped through the door at East Mains, fresh from a year working with English Premier League side Southampton, such a concept was very much in its infancy on this side of the border but, he believes, Hibs are now reaping the rewards for the vision shown in investing in such a venture at a time when the club had just been relegated to the Championship.
He recalled: “Southampton was my first paid role after two years unpaid at Portsmouth, so I had kind of done my apprenticeship and was looking for a full-time role. It just happened that Hibs, probably the furthest club away from me, was the first job that came up.
“I applied and when I came up and met Alan Stubbs and Graeme Mathie (head of player identification and recruitment) I felt it was somewhere I could flourish. There was no performance analysis department so it was a fresh canvass to create something.
“It was massive for me to come up and realise the investment Hibs had made when it could probably have gone into the first team, but instead it’s probably kudos to Leeann Demptser (Hibs chief executive) and George Craig (head of football operations) for looking at the future and the way the game is going because I think analysis is only going to grow and grow.
“It was another way to get that extra per cent and luckily enough I was the guy who was going to try to help to get it.”
Charlton admits the demands of working for a Premiership club mean the hours are long, his laptop rarely leaving his side, but it’s clear it’s a pressurised environment in which he thrives.
“People see me running around like a headless chicken,” he laughed. “But we only have 15 minutes at half-time so every second counts. The coaches want to see a goal or big chances, but the main thing is looking at set-pieces, seeing who is picking up who and what system the opposition are using.
“The coaches want to see the clips before they speak to the players, so that’s why I’m brushing into people, racing down the stairs.”
Charlton puts his work into three categories, the pre-match preparations, the “live stuff” and the post-match debrief in which all players will have a 30 minute “highlights” package sent to their phone within an hour of the final whistle.
He said: “Pre-match, all the focus is on the opposition. We look at four or five of their previous games and try to cover a number of different variables, see them home and away, against so-called lesser teams, teams similar to us, look at how things change depending on the game situation.
“Everything goes into an iPad dossier for the coach at the start of the week, the opposition’s goal for the season, their line-ups, their squad depth, what they do in possession, patterns of play as they look to move the ball through the first, second and third areas of the pitch and a big focus on set pieces.
“After games players will receive a review of the game on their phones, in which they can see a goals package of those scored or conceded from different angles so they can begin their own analysis. Then on the Monday morning we will have individual clips ready for anyone who wants to come and see them, while the loan players also get their clips sent to their parent club.”
Charlton revealed he sees his role as being to facilitate learning rather than as an educator in conventional terms, he and his team there to help coaches, players and other members of staff, creating a culture of “self-awareness and ownership” in which individuals will seek out for themselves what is on offer.
“I don’t want to force them to sit down and watch something for 20 minutes if they are going to switch off, I want it to come from them.”
To that end, Hibs have now appointed a lead academy analyst in Tom Doyle, appointed having spent a year working – as do a number of other students – at East Mains, and now tasked with educating youngsters from an early age about the benefits of performance analysis.
He said: “When I was at Southampton we had a group of players like James Ward-Prowse, Luke Shaw and Callum Chambers who had been provided with analysis from the age of eight. Ward-Prowse would be in looking for extra snippets of information to improve himself week-on-week having had those sessions from such an early age.
“Hopefully the young players we have within the academy at the moment will, if they get through to the first team, they’ll have been brought up in such a way that they’ll almost be pestering us.”
It’s not only players who are being educated but, revealed Charlton, a host of future performance analysts, students from Waterford and Bath Universities who are spending a year working with Hibs.
He said: “We are not in the business of exploitation, it’s important people know these guys need this experience to pass their third year at university. What we pride ourselves most on is when the students leave us they have been educated to the highest level. We’ve had guys on work experience here who are now excelling in big clubs in England.
“They not only work in the recruitment and analysis departments, but get a rounded experience so when they leave they aren’t pigeon-holed but have a broadened horizon of where they can go. It’s a tough environment, there’s a number of hours that go into it, but they are working in a professional environment and getting an education to go out and work in professional sport, skills they can take into rugby, tennis – analysis is growing in sport.”