Whistle while you work
What's in a colour?
a) Top ten over-performing clubs over whole period
b) Worst ten under-performing clubs over whole period
c) Top ten over-performing clubs since 1997-98
d) Worst ten under-performing clubs since 1997-98
e) Top over-performing club by season
f) Worst under-performing club by season
Some local rivals
Some 'sleeping giants'
Whistle while you work
21 January 2004
In last week's postbag we at Cod Almighty received an email from Simon Oakley on the subject of penalty kicks. He asked, following the failure by Paul Durkin to award a penalty against Man Utd at Old Trafford, about penalties for Grimsby Town and whether the number awarded to and against our Mighty Mariners at home or away was in line with other teams around the country. I initially shunned the statto challenge involved in researching answers to Simon's questions, doubting whether reliable data on this subject was readily available. But then I remembered a mate who would have access to such data. After a brief flurry of emails an attachment arrived in my inbox. The task could begin.
Simon initially asked about a study looking at the past ten seasons. The data I received was complete only as of the beginning of the 1999-2000 season, however, so we'll have to make do with that. It did cover all league matches played in the Premiership, Divisions One through Three, the Conference, SPL, and all three Scottish leagues for that four and a half season period though, so it's pretty thorough and gives us a big enough sample to start drawing some conclusions, I guess.
The first thing I looked at was simply the proportion of penalties awarded to home and away teams. You'd expect, if the referees were totally unbiased, that the split would be 50-50, half of the penalties awarded to the home side and half to the away side. Out of 3,566 penalties awarded in the nine divisions studied since August 1999, 2,152 have been awarded to the home side. This is 60.3 per cent, and clearly more than the expected 50 per cent. I could do all sorts of statistical tests to determine whether this is statistically significant, but you'd all nod off, so I'll leave it at that. Bottom line is that more penalties are awarded to home teams than away teams.
If you're free of a Saturday afternoon and fancy a penalty or two to spice up your day, then the grounds you need to hotfoot it down to are Fratton Park and Millmoor. These grounds have seen 38 penalties each over the past four and a half seasons, and sit at the top of the league for penalties awarded. Blundell Park has seen a mere 23 penalties, but this is more than Old Trafford which has seen only 22. To give you some idea of where those 23 penalties leave BP in terms of all penalties awarded at all grounds, if we imagine a league structure of the Premiership and Nationwides One, Two and Three then Blundell Park would be sitting 12th in Division One. Of course I'm looking at grounds by team, so when considering a team like Leicester, who have moved grounds, the total penalties under consideration are those awarded at both Filbert Street and the Crisp Bowl.
I was going to look at grounds devoid of penalties too, the grounds where refs just don't give spot kicks. The problem with that is that it's hard to compare the data. For example, the team at the bottom are Sutton Utd who've had only two penalties awarded in their home matches over the period we're looking at. But they've not been in the leagues we're considering for that whole time, so it's misleading to read too much into that statistic. Looking further up the table to find teams who have been around the whole time, we find Port Vale and Huddersfield. Only 14 penalties have been awarded at their home matches since the start of 1999-2000.
Already we've seen that more penalties are awarded to home sides than away sides, but can fans of certain clubs expect any special treatment? Are any grounds just so intimidating that referees never give the away team penalties? This, after all, was the question that sparked the whole study. Many people would have expected Man Utd to appear at the top of this table but, surprisingly, here sit Hereford United. Is Edgar Street really that scary? It would appear so, because out of 16 penalties awarded there over the period studied, only one was awarded to the away team. That's a massive 93.8 per cent of all penalties awarded to the home side.
Next come Man Utd. Second, not first. Nineteen out of the 22 penalties awarded at Old Trafford have been in favour of the team in red. Data on Grimsby shows that 15 out of the 23 penalties given at Blundell Park have gone the way of the Mariners. Interestingly enough, all 15 have been scored, but that's a separate issue. Looking at where Town sit in the overall table, in the same way as before, we find them again sitting in 12th place in Division One. Merely coincidence, I think.
The other side to teams being favoured at home, I guess, is to consider sides that get a raw deal at home. Are there any teams who see their opponents awarded more penalties than they are? I was actually surprised to find quite a large number of teams in that boat. A fifth of all the teams considered will more often than not be siding for the goalkeeper when there's a spot kick at their home ground. Most hard done by are Hayes and Tamworth, with only 20 per cent of all penalties in their home games awarded to them. Moving up the table, looking for clubs of note, we find Dundee Utd and Gillingham sat together on 40 per cent.
OK, so that's a summary of the findings for teams when they're playing at home, but what about when they're away from home? Do we still find the same clubs are favoured and disadvantaged?
Earlier I told you that your best chance of seeing a penalty would be to make your way along to watch Portsmouth or Rotherham at home. In truth, your best chance would be to get a copy of Cambridge's fixture list and attending one of their away matches. Thirty-nine times since August 1999, a spot kick has been awarded when the Us are playing away from Abbey Stadium. At the other end of the table, perhaps surprisingly, fans attending Man Utd's away matches have only seen nine penalties over the same period. Grimsby's away matches have seen 19 penalties, which places them 12th in Division Two using the same system of ranking as before.
Moving on to referee bias, we see that in matches involving Celtic away from Celtic Park only 22.6 per cent of the penalties awarded are awarded to the home side. It's a matter for debate, I guess, whether that is down to bias or the fact that they dominate so many of their matches, even away from home. The fact that a similar stat for Rangers shows that only 35.3 per cent of all penalties that are awarded are given to the home sides tends to support the latter argument.
At the opposing end of the spectrum we find Spurs, which will certainly please my Tottenham-supporting shoulder-bechipped colleague. In four and a half years of away matches involving 19 spot kicks, only two have gone the north London club's way, whereas 89.5 per cent are given to the home team. Both of these penalties came in the spring of 2002 as well. This is, incidentally, a statistic where Town excel. Just behind Spurs, and in fifth place in the Premiership in our virtual table, we find Grimsby and referees awarding their home-team opponents 78.9 per cent of all penalties.
In an interesting twist Leeds are awarded only 46.7 per cent of all penalties at Elland Road, but 68.7 per cent of all penalties awarded when they're away from home. On the flip side of that coin we find Chelsea, who are awarded 72.2 per cent of all penalties at Stamford Bridge but get the benefit of the referee's pointing only 18.2 per cent of the time away from home.
Finally, I looked at the combined results – all penalties awarded to or against a team, both home and away. Would this show us which were hard done by and which teams' replica shirt sales are highest among referees?
Well, Cambridge fans have been treated to most penalties. Seasoned fans who have been to every league match home and away since August 1999 will have seen 69. Burnley are second with 67. At the other end, similarly dedicated Plymouth fans will have seen a mere 28. Grimsby sit pretty much in the middle of the bunch here, with 42 penalties in matching involving them, which equates to seventh in Division Two.
In terms on penalties awarded for a team, Celtic sit at the top of the pile with 40 spot kicks in four and a half seasons. Close rivals in the SPL and this category are Rangers on 39, followed by Doncaster on 38. How did they get in there? At the other end of the table we find a small cluster of Premiership teams. Southampton, Aston Villa and Tottenham are grouped together on 12 penalties, not even three a season. The Mariners have been awarded 19 penalties over the same period, which would place them 11th in Division Two.
Next we move on to penalties awarded against a given team. One for all you conspiracy theorists here as we find Man Utd sitting pretty on seven. Arsenal and Celtic are next in the list, both on 11. Unfair bias, or a reflection of these teams' domination of their leagues over the past few years? I'll leave you to decide. The most harshly punished team, or perhaps the dirtiest, is Bradford. They've had 43 penalties awarded against them in the time Manchester United have had seven against them. Town again were pretty unspectacular having had 23 penalties awarded against them – 17th in Division Two.
And now to our final category of the evening, the award for best actress in a supporting role. Sorry, wrong job. Actually we're looking at the percentage of penalties awarded for a team out of the total of all penalties given in matches involving them. It's all pretty cut and dried really. No surprises at all. Celtic sat pretty at the top of the table with 78.4 per cent. More than three in four penalties in Celtic's matches went the way of the Bhoys. Next was Man Utd, then Rangers, then Arsenal. Boring. One surprise was that the remaining team that made up the five who were awarded more than two in three of all penalties was Birmingham.
And now for the team who can claim the title of most hard done by team in the land. The prize goes to Tottenham Hotspur. Only 30 per cent of all penalties are awarded to Spurs. My colleague will be pleased. He suspected this all along, you know. Wimbledon aren't far behind, though, with 31.3 per cent. Grimsby once again cement their place in second division mediocrity with a 22nd place for 45.2 per cent.
So, what's the bottom line? It's difficult to tell whether the top teams are favoured or just dominate, really. One thing is, unfortunately, abundantly clear from all this though – we Grimsby fans cannot claim we're picked on by refs when it comes to spot kicks. In fact we're pretty dull and underachieving really. But you knew that already, didn't you?