The story of 2020-21

At the end of the season 2020-21, here are the significant risers and fallers:

  • Sunderland in 8th place will be overtaken by Chelsea and Spurs next season
  • League founders Bolton Wanderers poor form has dragged them down two places below Sheffield Utd and Middlesbrough. They are likely to be overtaken by Leicester City next season – the Foxes have already leapfrogged Birmingham City and are pulling away from local rivals Nottingham Forest
  • Another founding team Notts County are also struggling – they have dropped a place behind Norwich City, and are likely to drop into the all time third tier in the next few seasons. Bury are also now in free fall.
  • Barrow are back in the league for the first time since 1972, and may now crawl away from dropping out of the top 100 teams.
  • Wycombe Wanderers now have a mean placing that just takes them up into the league – their average placing now is 92.35.
  • The best story, however, is Derby County and Wolves. They now have EXACTLY the same average league placing – both mean and median. And as they are both founder clubs this is a statistical certainty.

The story of Season 2017-18

Gutted! As a Reading fan forgive me for kicking off this round-up by shaking my fist at Brighton and Hove Albion. Before this season they were a slim total of 23 points behind us, but their good first season in the top flight and our woeful escape from relegation in the Championship means they make that up and sneak past us by a couple of points. We are now only the 56th best all time league team.

Sunderland should be looking over their shoulders. They’re currently in 8th place thanks to some title wins back in the day, and some 140 points above Chelsea and Spurs. However, their drop into the third tier means that this lead will probably be cut by 40 points next season alone. If they’re not quick crawling back up the ladder they’ll find themselves pushed back into 10th.

Notts County continue to slide. Barnsley can take some consolation from leapfrogging this fine old club, despite being relegated. Hull should do the same in the next season or two.

2016-17 and 2017-18 follow up.

In my round up of top rivalries a couple of seasons back I noted some close struggles. So how did those play out this term?

1 – Chelsea vs Tottenham (9th vs 10th)

It’s a tight, tight race between Chelsea and Tottenham, and getting tighter! Spurs were just three points behind Chelsea, and now they trail by a single point. If they finish above them in 2019 they move level or even ahead.

2 – Bolton Wanderers vs Sheffield Wednesday (15th vs 16th)

Wednesday did indeed jump over Bolton, despite the Lancashire team dodging relegation in May 2018 with two dramatic late goals. Bolton now have a 16 point gap to make up.

3 – Nottingham Forest vs Leicester City (20th vs 21st)

Can you take the excitement? I the last two seasons Leicester have now drawn level with Forest, and as they play a league above them will definitely climb int the top twenty at the expense of their east midlands rivals. Gripping stuff!

4 – Fulham vs Southampton (27th vs 28th)

Oooh! Close! Fulham trading place with the Saints has allowed the south coast team to creep up to within four places of the Londoners! With the Cottagers now promoted via the play-offs, however, it’ll be eyes down to see if Southampton can still overtake in 2019!

5 – Plymouth Argyle vs Leyton Orient (53rd vs 54th)

…and breathe! After all of the tightening races here’s one going the other way. The noble Os dropped out of the league this season, letting the Pilgrims widen the gap to safety, and opening the door for Reading and high-flying Brighton to gain ground. The Seagulls and the Royals will definitely pass them for 2019, two seasons ahead of my prediction.  

A sad season for League founders

After 130 years, founders Notts County dropped out of the league in 2019. They will now be overtaken in the ATLT by Hull City in 2020, and by Norwich in 2021.

Whoever you support you’ll agree this is a sad state of affairs. Remarkable, too, since 10 of the original 12 clubs have healthy records in the top two divisions.

Apart from Bolton, struggling uncharacteristically in the third tier and heading for the fourth, the only other founding team not flourishing is Accrington. There have been 135 clubs in the league up to 2019, and Accrington’s five seasons in the very earliest league has been enough to keep them in the top 100 – until now.

Wimbledon, the phoenix from the flames, have now pushed them into 101st. This, however, relies on me crediting the old Wimbledon’s record to the new Wimbledon, home of the fans, and not MK Dons, legal owners. I’m sure you’d approve.

Top 5 rivalries 2016-17

In the All Time League Table, progress up and down is glacially slow.

For example, Liverpool would need to spend two seasons outside the top flight for Arsenal to overtake them as the best league team ever. Meanwhile, the Gunners would need a terrible season themselves and finish 16 places below Everton to lose second spot to them instead of inching further ahead.

To assess this for yourself just look at the Total Position column on the All Time League Table, and spot the positions most closely contested.

Screen Shot 2016-09-03 at 09.56.52

Despite the test-match style pace, however, there are always some football teams poised to climb a place. So, in our 2016-17 snapshot, who should we be watching most closely? What are the Top 5 rivalries 2016-17?

1 – Chelsea vs Tottenham (9th vs 10th)

Screen Shot 2016-09-03 at 09.55.36

In early 2016 the unthinkable nearly happened. Spurs were riding high, Chelsea were having a mare, and it looked like Tottenham might climb above Chelsea into 9th place in the All Time League Table. However, a late run by the Blues and a miserable capitulation  by Spurs *again* meant that going into 2016-17 Chelsea still had their noses in front. However, fewer than two places separate these London giants – can Spurs make them up this year?

2019 update: still the same 1.5 places.

2 – Bolton Wanderers vs Sheffield Wednesday (15th vs 16th)

Screen Shot 2016-09-03 at 10.08.29

The Owls, who play in the Championship, are just 12 total places below Wanderers. But with Bolton playing in the third tier next season then the 15th and 16th placed teams are likely to swap. If Bolton make the promotion places, however, and Wednesday struggle, we’ll see the Trotters hang on.

2019 update: with Bolton relegated again in May 2019 The Owls are now above The Trotters and will inch further ahead this season.

3 – Nottingham Forest vs Leicester City (20th vs 21st)

Screen Shot 2016-09-03 at 09.57.41

Forest are in the top 20 of our all time football league table, but next are local rivals Leicester. Leicester’s title win in 2016 has put them just 57 places behind Forest. If Leicester repeat their top-of-the-table finish and Forest have a shocker they’ll be very close come May. However, we all expect a mere dozen or so spots to separate them – maybe in a couple of seasons, Leicester?

2019 update: with Leicester continuing their good form in the league above Forest they are now above their neighbours and closing in on Birmingham.

4 – Fulham vs Southampton (27th vs 28th)

Screen Shot 2016-09-03 at 09.59.13

Fulham are a slender 28 total league places above Southampton, some of those gathered in the last few years when they were in the top flight and Southampton were in a slump. Now that the London club are in the Championship the south coast team have a chance to catch up. Fulham need to match Southampton’s finish in their respective divisions to keep their place. They can even afford to give away a few places. However, if Southampton squeeze a top 10 finish the Fulham must do better than 18th to stay ahead.

2019 update: Fulham now have a single point advantage, and will be overtaken by May 2020.

5 – Plymouth Argyle vs Leyton Orient (53rd vs 54th)

Screen Shot 2016-09-03 at 09.59.56

In the bowels of the 4th tier there lies a contest that only those special few will appreciate. If Leyton Orient finish nine places or better above Plymouth Argyle, they overtake them into the giddy heights of 53rd place. Of course, as the three teams above them are two or three divisions higher there’s little prospect of them closing the gap on the top 50 anytime soon, but in a decade or so, who knows. How sad is this?

Note: Reading and Brighton are currently playing two divisions above these teams, and if this stays the same they’ll make up the 200 places needed to overtake them in about five seasons.

2019 update: it’s all go in the mid fifties! Leyton Orient have now dropped out of the league, so Plymouth remain above them. More than this, high-flying Brighton have overtaken Reading and Orient. Reading will overtake Orient as well in May 2020.

P.S. it’s probably going to happen…

There are some lower league place changes that are likely or inevitable this season.

  • Notts County and Bristol City (34th & 35th)

Notts County’s slide continues. No longer supported by their positions in a tiny league 100 years ago, a succession of lower league finishes means they’re sinking into the quicksand of mediocrity. Bristol are playing two divisions above Notts, and will almost certainly make up the 38 total places that separate them.

  • Oldham Athletic and QPR (41st & 42nd)

This could be tasty. Oldham are currently just 19 total places above QPR, and play in the division below. Put simply, they need to finish better in League One than Rangers do in the Championship by about 5 places.

2019 update: QPR are now ahead and stretching the gap.

  • Lincoln City / Stockport County and Bristol Rovers (62nd/63rd & 64th)

With Lincoln and Stockport both out of the league for season 2016-17, Bristol Rovers will overtake them both with a single bound. Playing in League One, Rovers will certainly make up the 15 places to Stockport and the 28 places to Lincoln.

  • Wrexham (and Northampton) and Bournemouth (70th and 71st)

Both Wrexham and Bournemouth are well away from their typical position at the foot of the third tier. Wrexham are out of the league, while Bournemouth are flying uncharacteristically high. This means that Bournemouth will certainly make up the 19 places it needs to move into the top 70 (woo-hoo!). Indeed, if they finish the season 42 places above Northampton Town they’ll move into 69th.

2019 update: Bournemouth have now overtaken Gillingham to go into 68th.

  • Newport County and Scunthorpe Utd (82nd & 83rd)

Newport were relegated from the league in 2016, and join the 100 club. Meanwhile Scunthorpe are sitting comfortably in League One. Even if they finish last they’ll get the 32 places they need to move ahead of the welsh team.

  • Colchester Utd and Mansfield Town (84th & 85th)

These clubs are used to slugging it out in the basement of the league. Mansfield can rise above Colchester if they finish six places above them in League Two.

2019 update: Colchester are still above, but just by 1/2 a place.

  • Wimbledon into the top 100

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Wimbledon will definitely improve on 105th position this season. With promotion to League One in 2016, they’re guaranteed to finish 32 places or better above four non-league 100-Club teams: Loughborough, New Brighton Tower, Middlesborough Ironopolis and Burton Wanderers. This will move them into 101st place. To get into the top 100, however, they’ll probably need to overtake Accrington, one of the 12 founders of the league. For this they’ll need to make up a total of 113 places, which will probably take about four seasons in League One. They could manage it quicker, mind, if Peterborough Utd take a dive and fail to defend their 40 place advantage.

2019 update: Wimbledon are now in 100th place. They, and Peterborough, have now edged Accrington out to 101st.


Top 5 Predictable Placings

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.

Group 1

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.

Group 2

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?

Group 3

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.

Group 4

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.

Group 5

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.

Standard Deviation All time league table2


Winners and losers can depend on statistics

I’ve just read an interesting article about how Jessica Ennis-Hill narrowly lost her Olympic Heptathlon title due the the way scores are calculated.

In particular, they mention the Standard Deviation measure that I use for information purposes on the All Time League Table.

It just goes to show, you have to pick a suitable tool to reveal what you really want to know.