How the Premier League manages to have a feeling of continuity



By Tony Attwood

Tucked away in the middle of a very long article on what football will look like in seven years time in the Independent is the thought that there is just a chance that there could be more competitive balance.

And it certainly has been a constant strain in media reporting that football is getting less competitive.    Yet in 1992/3, three of the top five teams are no longer in the Premier League (Norwich, Blackburn and QPR) which hardly makes the league seem like a club with a fixed membership doing the same thing year after year. 

And there are some big differences: the winners’ of the league in its first-ever season, got the same points as Arsenal this past season, but played four more games.  But while this past season Arsenal and Manchester City scored 182 goals between them and conceded 76, in that inaugural season with its extra four games the top two scored 124 goals (30% fewer) and conceded 71 – almost the same.   

Which set me wondering if all our thoughts of a Big Six or Big Seven is a bit misleading as it suggests everything is fixed.

So I thought I would do a little analysis looking at the last ten seasons and measuring two figures that could give some insight.  One is the gap in the number of points between the league winners and the club that came fifth, and thus missed out on the Champions League.  The other the gap between the top club and the eighth, who now normally miss out on Europe totally.

And I did this to find out if the top four clubs are forever getting further away from the rest of the league.  Here is the table showing the gap between the first and fifth club, and the first and eighth club over the last ten years. The figures in red are those which are above average.

So you will see that in terms of the points difference between top and fifth, the four largest gaps have occurred in the last six years.  In terms of the points difference between top and eighth, the six largest gaps have occurred in the last seven years.  In short the Premier League is on average across the last ten years, less competitive now than it was ten years ago.  Figures in red are above the average.


Season 1st to 5th PL gap 1st to 8th PL gap
2022/3 22 39
2021/2 24 41
2020/1 20 25
2019/20 37 43
2018/19 28 44
2017/18 30 51
2016/17 18 47
2015/16 15 21
2014/15 23 31
2013/14 14 30
Average 23.10 37.20


As for the clubs at the bottom, parachute payments, which I believe are unique to the Premier League, start at around £42m for the first season after relegation and decline over the next two years, unless the club is then re-promoted in which case they stop.

The argument for this unique system is that the club will be paying Premier League salaries but now in the Championship has far less money available to pay out, while probably retaining some of its squad in an effort to jump straight back to the Premier League.  

What we now have are a number of teams playing the relegation and promotion system.  So while Nottingham Forest came up and spent a fortune and a half buying players in order to stay up, other clubs have apparently been quite happy to bounce up and down, knowing that they not only get a big payout from being in the Premier League they also get the solidarity payments if they go down.

In the table below showing relegated and promoted clubs, the number after each club’s name is the number of times it has either been promoted or relegated in this 10-year period and we can see that of the 30 relegations that have occurred in the last ten seasons, only 13 clubs have been relegated just once.   Meanwhile clubs that have never been promoted find it much harder to go up for the first time.

In the table below the number after each club shows how many times it has been promoted or relegated over the last ten years.


Season Relegated Promoted
2013–14 Norwich City 4
Fulham 3
Cardiff City 2
Leicester City  1
Burnley 3
2014–15 Hull City 2
Burnley 2
QPR  1
Bournemouth 2
Watford 2
Norwich City 3
2015–16 Aston Villa 1
Norwich City 4
Newcastle United 1
Burnley 3
Middlesbrough 1
Hull City 1
2016–17 Sunderland 1
Middlesbrough 1
Hull City 2
Newcastle United 1
Brighton & Hove Albion 1
Huddersfield Town 1
2017–18 Swansea City 1
Stoke City 1
Wolverhampton Wanderers 1
Cardiff City 1
Fulham 3
2018–19 Cardiff City  2
Fulham 2
Huddersfield Town 1
Norwich City 3
Sheffield United 2
Aston Villa 1
2019–20 Bournemouth  1
Watford 2
Norwich City 4
Leeds United 1
WBA -1
Fulham 3
2020–21 Fulham 2
Sheffield United 1
Norwich City 3
Watford  1
Brentford  1
2021–22 Burnley 2
Watford 2
Norwich City 4
Fulham -3
Bournemouth -2
Nottingham Forest -1
2022–23 Southampton 1
Leeds United 1
Leicester City 1
Burnley 3
Sheffield United  2
Luton Town 1


These figures suggest that although the clubs that get relegated would prefer to stay in the Premier League, mostly the clubs do not attempt to stay up “at any cost”.  Instead they are budgeting across several seasons.  And so in fact we have three leagues: the clubs fighting for the top six places, the mid-table clubs perhaps hoping for a decent cup run, and those seeking to avoid relegation.

But could it be that this is all about to be blown apart?  I’ll try and answer that in the next piece..


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *