When I started making the All Time League Table I reckoned Reading were nearly always the fifty-somethingth best team in the league. And I was right. For example, we spent 40 unchanging years in Division Three between 1931 and 1971, when we dropped into Division Four. Lovely!
But who, if anyone, is more consistent than the Biscuitmen (as the Royals were known when Reading used to make biscuits)? Who are the Top 5 Predictable Placings? We’ve calculated the Standard Deviation for all 135 teams ever in the league, so let’s find out.
You can see the SD table at the foot of this page.
Note on Standard Deviation: if you assume that the league position data for each club forms a normal distribution / bell curve, then the SD shows how many places away from the mean you have to go to include 68% of the results. A small number shows that a set of results are close to the mean. So that’s that nice and clear then.
First, the blink-and-you’ll-miss-them entrants at the foot of the table. Many of these only have a low score because they were given an arbitrary 100 for most years, so we’ll ignore those – even Thames Association who register a remarkably low 2.6.
Then there are the high flyers, who spend all of their time at the top of the tree. Manchester United, Aston Villa and Newcastle United spend 68% of their season ends within 10 places of their average position (11th, 11th and 15th respectively). Liverpool, Arsenal and Man City spend 68% of their season ends within just nine places of their average position (9th, 10th and 14th). But the Mr Consistents of the Johnny Big Boots club are Everton, who can be found 68% of the time within just seven places of 10th.
But what about the regular clubs? Who’s next?
If it feels like Leicester City, Birmingham City and Middlesbrough are always yo-yoing between the top two tiers, that’s because they are. They spend 68% of their seasons finishing within 10 or 11 places of about 23rd spot. That’s a lot of time in the promotion/relegation places. Rarely out of the top two tiers, rarely challenging for the title (2016 excepted), these guys consistently fall between two stools.
And if it feels like Sunderland and West Bromwich Albion are always dodging relegation this also is true. They spend 68% of their seasons within 11 places of 15th and 18th respectively.
But the stars of consistency in a world of lower league turbulence, are Southend United. Any season, look for them four from bottom in the third tier, scan up and down a mere 12 places, and 68% of the time there you’ll find them. Northampton Town and Gillingham are often to be found nearby.
They’re closely followed in consistency by the bad-but-not-that-bad quartet of Rochdale, Hartlepool, Exeter City and Torquay United. Bumbling along at the foot of the league, but somehow usually staying in it, these are the teams you played in the dark days of your history, or in your seasons in the sun, depending on whether you support Bolton or Boston.
Reading, it transpires, are somewhere in the middle.