Premier League: No one seems to have planned for anything to go wrong.

By Tony Attwood

In the last set of figures presented via annual accounts, the 20 clubs in the Premier League were shown to have a turnover of £4.827 bn.  Which is quite a lot of money.

Their wages bill was just over half that.  58% to be (more or less) exact.

Now obviously the virus situation does not stop all that income – sponsors have paid for the year or are paying month by month, and won’t have a break clause in concerning non-playing of matches.  And players still have to be paid.

But the current situation does reveal to sponsors for the first time how vulnerable they are when investing in football teams as promotional vehicles.

Thus as we have now seen, with the coronavirus the whole model is rather fragile.  Games have been stopped, and suddenly we find there isn’t time to reschedule these games

Clubs know all about being relegated, and losing money that way, and there are parachute payments to help those clubs that go down from the top flight to the Championship, but I wonder if they have actually ever thought about anything else that might go wrong.  You’d think they might… but this is football, and I wonder…   This lack of agreement over significant issues is rather commonplace in football.

As I have mentioned before, when the Football League was inaugurated in 1888/9, there were no league tables because the clubs could not agree how they were to be calculated.  With the season being played out, various methods were put forward, including three points for a win, two for a draw, one for a defeat (this approach was said to encourage teams that were struggling to get a team together, still to turn up and play the game, and thus get their one point).

Another early idea was to calculate the table entirely on the number of goals scored by each team in the season, yet another was to calculate only the number of wins, with nothing else mattering.

It was not until December of the first season that an agreement was finally reached between the 12 clubs in the inaugural football league, helped undoubtedly by the fact that whether the table was the ultimately calculated on two points for a win, one for a draw, or three for a win, or by goals scored, or by the number of wins, the result was very likely to be the same.  Indeed that is how it turned out. Preston won the League no matter how it was calculated.

Since then the only change other than the move to three points for a win, has been the abandonment of goal average (goals scored divided by goals conceded) as a way of separating teams on equal points.  As a replacement the clubs decided to go over to goal difference (goals scored minus goals conceded) and the rise to three points for a win.   The former overcame the fact that goal average tended to favour low scoring teams while a decline in crowd numbers was put down to teams playing games out for a draw rather than going for the win.

It also overcame the fact that it needed a person moderately skilled in maths (no calculators remember!) to work out goal averages.  Indeed the final league table for 1914/15 was wrongly calculated by the League’s official statistician, and for many years Arsenal were shown as finishing 6th in the league.  It was only decades later that it was realised that Arsenal had in fact come 5th.   I wonder if any other seasons were wrongly calculated (all by long division with pen and paper of course), and indeed if any club was relegated or promoted falsely.  I haven’t gone back and checked.

But I have looked at the change to three points for a win which was introduced in England in 1981/2.  In 1981/2 there were 121 drawn games out of 572 played in the 1st division (21%).  In the first season with three points for a win there were 111 drawn games (19%).  Ten years later in 1992/3 there were 130 drawn games (23%).  Rather than making for fewer draws, the change to three points for a win increased the number of draws.

And yet despite this unexpected outcome, over time all the other leagues in the world went over to three points for a win on the basis that administrators BELIEVED three points would reduce draws, even though the evidence showed this did not happen.

Of course other tinkerings with the rules of football have gone on over time, but only one of them has ever made a sensational difference to the way clubs played, and that was one change related to the offside law.   And given that there is not going to be much football to write about in the next few days, I’ll take a peek at that in a subsequent article… just in case you are interested.

Or, if you have any ideas of others things we could discuss while passing the time before football starts again (other than of course the eternal nonsense about transfers) do write in.  If you can write the article, even better.  Email me at and write Untold Arsenal in the subject line.

But for now the fact that no one really seems to have thought what would happen to the football season if there was an outbreak of a virus should not really surprise us.  No one, it seems, really does much planning in football.  What administrators think is true, tends to be more important than what actually is true.

8 Replies to “Premier League: No one seems to have planned for anything to go wrong.”

  1. football-Italia thinks an announcement by UEFA might be made Tuesday. No guarantee that thought goes into such an announcement.

  2. Sky and BT will not be providing refunds on subscriptions, as the suspension is only short. If the suspension is lengthened, they will come up with some other excuse.

  3. Just interesting and fun to read the piece of the Guardian about Sp*rs and Boorinho.
    In german they call what I feel ‘Schadenfreude’, basically joy of damage (to others).
    This says it all…..

  4. I think there was an article out about the EPL possibly losing 700 million (pounds) (maybe it was 750). Later yesterday or the day before, I pointed out to an article which talked about LaLiga I think losing 700 million Euro. Today, there is an article out of Italy about Serie A losing 700 million Euro. All these leagues are the same “size”? Why does everyone mention the 7? Is there something special about 7?

  5. I guess they are just numbers. Now I see an article which puts the EPL losses at 10 billion (pounds). We could have tons of articles, all saying the same thing except for the number being different.

  6. Tony, can you imagine the chaos at BTSport if goal-average were still in use? Their “team” weren’t even able to add goals scored to points totals at the Emirates Cup. Savage or McManaman “doing” long division. What a thought.

  7. Good article.
    My memory is that the idea of 3 points was to stop teams playing for a draw, or games petering out, as one or both settled for a draw. Not to stop draws as such. If this is right, then the move to 3 points for a win has I believed worked. Games tend to intensify towards a climax (as entertainment would want) in the last 20 minutes or so as one or both teams push for 3 points.

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