I wanted to look at the points totals accumulated by the teams winning the top division, and the teams who finished bottom each season.  It was my belief (possibly mistaken) that the league is becoming harder to win, in terms of the total number of point required to secure top spot.  At the same time, I wanted to know if the gulf between top and bottom was getting wider as time has gone on.  Was the league more competitive in the 60s and 70s?  Certainly the variety of teams who won the title during this phase would seem to suggest so.

So I looked at the points totals of the top and bottom placed sides, each season for the past 50 years, and began plotting them on a graph.  I soon came across two problems.  Firstly, between the first season of my study, 1961/62 and 1980/81, teams were only awarded 2 points for a victory, this meant that it wasn’t possible to look at points totals alone for fair analysis.  The second problem was that between the mid-eighties and the mid-nineties, the number of teams in the top flight yo-yo’ed between 22, 21 and 20, which once again meant that I wasn’t comparing apples with apples.

My solution was instead to take the number of victories and the number of draws accumulated by each side.  I multiplied each teams victories by 3pts and each team’s draws by 1 point.  I applied this same points system for each year of the study (including the old 2pts for a victory years).  I then simply divided this figure by the total number of games played in the season, which gave me an average points per game.  Whilst this may not be perfect, it did at least give me a much fairer way of comparing the results of all 50 seasons.

The resultant graph indicates two things.  Firstly that the points totals accumulated by the title winning sides is increasing over time – throughout the 60’s and 70’s it was common to see teams averaging fewer than 2 points per game winning the title, whereas in the modern era, this total would not have been good enough for victory in any of the past 12 seasons.  The second thing the graph shows is slightly more interesting.  the gulf between top and bottom is getting greater – it stands to reason that if the teams at the top are picking up more points to win titles, there must be teams elsewhere in the league who are suffering as a result.  However, the teams finishing at the bottom are still managing to pick up a similar average number of points per game as their peers, throughout the fifty years the study covers.

This suggests to me that a gulf is being created between the very best sides in the league, accumulating points heavily throughout the season, and those beneath.  However the rest of the league is incredibly competitive, with a core of teams of a similar standard, who are proving that they capable of collecting points against those teams around them.

1. Tim

Would be more interesting, and effective, to see where each team placed on the bar that season but adding a little line across the bar where there was a team with that pts/game. There may have been a title winner 12 points ahead of 2nd and a loser 12 pts behind 19th but how competative were the other 18 teams?

Yeah, you’re absolutely right, that would definitely be interesting. My aim with this was only originally to look at top and bottom, to see if there was any sort of pattern emerging. I think in my shoddy attempts at analysis, and by making suggestions about competitiveness, I end up creating more questions than I answer. I’ll revist this at some point in future though!

3. ellis

Can that stat about derby taking 15.85 seasons to catch man utd be correct? If they got 11pts in a season x 15, that would be 166 points? The bit about the points ratio is right, but 317 games would be closer to 8 seasons?

Ellis, you are absolutely correct. I lazily divided the 317 games by the number of teams in the league (20) instead of the number of matches played (38). The correct answer is 8.34 seasons!

4. Did you look at the 2nd top and/or 2nd bottom?

Is it possible that in the days of 2-1-0 that a 2nd placed team might have won the league by virtue of having drawn less but won more than the eventual tittle winners?

As you can probably guess I am just browsing your back catalogue…good stuff.