Telling stories with numbers!

I am not a big football fan, but I was intrigued by an article in this week’s Economist newspaper, ‘A Country of Two Halves’, which argues England’s beautiful game has gone south. The article contends that although the four clubs based in Manchester and Liverpool are still forces to be reckoned with, outside those cities, northern clubs are in decline and southern clubs are in ascendency. An accompanying graphic shows the final positions for northern football clubs in the English Premier League from 1992/93 to 2015/16.

Whole truth

But the article left me wondering whether there was more to this than meets the eye, and whether the numbers had been (consciously or unconsciously) cut to support the premise of the article.

Data set

The first question I asked myself, is whether the graphic considers all of the relevant data – i.e. is the data set complete? When Premier League was formed in 1992/93 there were 22 teams in the league. That was reduced to 20 teams in 1995/96. All of the seasons are accounted for, but not all the clubs are. The graphic only shows the final position of the ‘northern’ clubs. A careless reader might therefore assume the others are ‘southern’ clubs, but this is not the case.

Northern Clubs

A little bit of detective work, revealed only those clubs included in the ‘Manchester & Merseyside’ and ‘Other Northern’ columns of the table below had been included in the graphic. And whilst it would be wrong to claim cities like Birmingham or Cardiff lie in the North, it would be equally wrong to assume they are in the South.

Southern Clubs

It would also be wrong to suggest the South is awash with Premier League clubs. It might therefore be helpful to separate the southern teams between those based in London and those based outside of the M25 orbital motorway.

London and the Northern Powerhouse

With the exception of 1997/98 (one of two years Manchester City spent in the First Division following their relegation from the Premier League in 1995/96) between nine and eleven clubs from London and Northern Powerhouse have been in the Premier League. Over the last eight years, these clubs have become increasingly concentrated in the top half of the table.

Outside of London and the Northern Powerhouse

When comparing the performance of the relatively small number of southern clubs outside London with those in the rest of the country (there were no southern clubs in the Premier League in 2010/11 and 2011/12), it would be difficult to conclude that the region is nirvana for football fans.


Cut the numbers another way and one might argue that after a difficult time between 2001 – 2008, football in the Midlands and other parts of the UK is enjoying a resurgence (possibly at the expense of teams in the north).

And the moral of the tale?

Be careful when cutting numbers. The story may be more complex than it first appears.

I hope you enjoyed reading this blog which is meant be a light-hearted diversion from the rather more serious issues facing the economy. To read more of my blogs visit my main blog page.

#Football #Statistics #Analysis

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