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Telling statistics on the impact of football without fans in Premier League and elsewhere

1 month ago
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The recently concluded 2020/21 football season has been tagged a “season like no other” by commentators and pundits for the Premier League and elsewhere.

For the first time, the top European leagues saw out virtually an entire season with empty stadia, as fans were forced to watch from home due to COVID 19 protocols.

It’s anybody’s guess what effect this had on the actual football played.

Some may say the absence of home support left some teams in the lurch, pointing to the dramatic turn in form of Sheffield United, who went from being FA cup quarter-finalists and missing out on Europe following a disappointing drop into 9th place, to being relegated from the Premier League the following season.

Others may say the effect of empty stadia has been minimal, due to the fact that this season’s top five were the same as last year’s, and the immediately relegated duo of Fulham and West Bromwich are well known to be so-called ‘yo-yo’ clubs.

In my opinion, the quality of the Premier League football we witnessed was greatly reduced this season. I feel pity for Fulham and West Brom who definitely looked like they could use some crowd energy, while my deepest condolences go out to Sheffield United who I thoroughly loved watching in 2019/20, pre-lockdown.

In an attempt to find objective evidence of how poor the 2020/21 season really was, I did an overview of the top leagues across Europe, and took a closer look at the Premier League, including a comparison over the the past four seasons. The results were quite telling!!

Across Europe, the effects of football without fans were conspicuous and almost uniform. There were upsets in the Portuguese, Spanish, Italian and French leagues, where the top spots were claimed by teams who had not won those titles in the previous seven years or more (Porto, Atletico Madrid, Inter Milan, Lille). Only Bayern Munich maintained the status quo, retaining their title in Germany. There was also a change of champions in England, although Man City who won it this year have been regular customers over the past four years.

The degree to which pandemic football affected the Premier League can only be appreciated when we examine the points tallies and season records.

This revealed that there were historic underperformances at both ends of the table this season. We saw a reduced dominance of the top three teams, who combined for a measly 195 points (lowest in at least a decade). Also, the relegation battle was non-existent as the teams in the bottom three put in a record poor performance, accumulating just 77 points all season (also the lowest in at least a decade).

There was also a strange new look in the mid-table. There were five points between 8-11th, and six points between 12th and 17th, while both groups were separated by a massive 10 points. This was a deviation from the usual pattern seen over the past decade, when the top and bottom five of the mid-table had never been separated by more than four points (until last season when the gap was five, a season influenced by the pandemic as well). Over the past decade, the few seasons which had seen disparities in mid-table usually involved one standout team in 8th, with the rest on par.

Summing these statistics up, it would seem that playing without fans has made things difficult for the top teams in the league who are probably feeling the effects of playing without their proud/loud fans to cheer on and make their home stadia into fortresses. Also, none of the teams that were really threatened with relegation were able to sustain a push to stay afloat, and for over half of the season, were unable to make it out of the bottom up the table. The mid-table was arguably reduced to the seven teams between 11th and 17th, as those in 8th to 10th were head and shoulders above the former.

Away from the league, the FA cup was claimed by a team outside the traditional big four for the first time in eight years, and only the 4th time in 20 years (2008 – Portsmouth, 2011 – Manchester City, 2013 – Wigan, 2021 – Leicester City). However, there were no surprises in the League Cup, as Pep Guardiola’s destroyers claimed their 4th title in a row.

From a Newcastle perspective, we probably missed out on the opportunity to convince Willock to stay, as none of his goals were met with a standard SJP roar, and the fans never had a chance to serenade him properly with chants. Steve Bruce also had it easy in the dugout, even being able to carve out time to slag off fans on radio. I can’t imagine how vocal the fans would have been in the wake of the cowardgate incident. Had fans been in the stadium, we would most likely have seen an entirely different, sober Bruce all season long.

To sum it all up, the feeling that Premier League football suffered a drop in quality this season has been backed by figures. This has been the most mediocre season in over a decade. I wouldn’t take another season with the fake crowd noises and empty seats. I hope we can get stadiums filled to capacity again next season, especially at St James park. Football will always need it’s 12th Man.

2017/18
Bottom three record: W21 D34 L59 (97pts)
Top three record: W80 D18 L16 (258pts)
Gap from 5th-10th: 26pts
Gap from 8th-17th: 13pts (2pts)
Points needed to make top 4: 75pts
Points needed to stay up: 34pts

2018/19
Bottom three record: W20 D16 L78 (76pts)
Top three record: W83 D18 L13 (267pts)
Gap from 5th-10th: 20pts
Gap from 8th-17th: 18pts (4pts)
Points needed to make top 4: 71pts
Points needed to stay up: 35pts

2019/20
Bottom three record: W22 D34 L69 (89pts)
Top three record: W76 D18 L20 (246pts)
Gap from 5th-10th: 8pts
Gap from 8th-17th: 21pts (5pts)
Points needed to make top 4: 66pts
Points needed to stay up: 35pts

2020/21
Bottom three record: W17 D26 L71 (77pts)
Top three record: W58 D25 L21(195pts)
Gap from 5th-10th: 7pts
Gap from 8th-17th: 22pts (10pts)
Points needed to make top 4: 67pts
Points needed to stay up: 29pts

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