With every Boro fan still at the stage where they can dream that promotion is still a possibility, the notion of where a club ‘deserves’ to be is again a topic of relevance.
Up and down the country there will be supporters who will assure you that their team ‘should‘ be in the top four, or top six, or top division, or top two divisions. And there will be others who will assure you their team does not ‘belong’ in the lowly place where they currently reside.
It is uncontroversial enough to say that fans of Manchester United (and City), and Arsenal and Liverpool and Chelsea will believe they should have an excellent shot of finishing in the Premier League’s top four. Some Everton fans too, will probably argue that, and those of Spurs.
And there will be plenty from other clubs who swear their club’s ‘rightful’ place is in the Premier League. Leeds fans will be most likely loudest on this subject. Those who support Middlesbrough, Blackburn and Wolves, both Sheffield clubs and Derby will also make claims.
Lower down the divisions, Coventry fans will tell you they really shouldn’t be in the third tier, and lower still, Portsmouth, twice champions of England, can argue that really, all things being equal, they should be at least two divisions higher.
Take a quick look at the top flight from just over 40 years ago, the 1974-75 season (below). It is notable not only for the absence of Manchester United, and for the presence of the likes of Carlisle and Luton, but also for how many of the same names contest the current Premier League; Eleven of the same teams who contested the 1974-75 top division, just over half.
1974-75 First Division final table, England
.The very essence of the English league pyramid system is that clubs can go up and down. Any team can aspire to move from the non-league to the top division, and perhaps even Europe. Wigan in recent decades proved they could make just such a move.
Participating in the Premier League is on the verge of being a ‘majority experience’ for the professional football clubs of England. The ‘breakaway’ league, which began in 1992-93, has now featured 46 of the current 92 teams from England’s top divisions for at least one season each. The fact that half of all clubs have tasted the top division, even in this ‘monied era’ over the past 22 years, shows that upward mobility remains possible.
Yet most clubs remain fairly ‘stable’ in where they play their football. There is a certain order of dominance where the ‘big’ clubs tend to play high up, and achieve titles and cup wins, and the ‘small’ clubs play lower down, only now and again punching above their level.
looking at the post-war experiences of all 92 current clubs, specifically which division each club has played in for each of the completed 68 post-war seasons. (used because it is one unbroken stretch of football history).
Arsenal, lead the way with an unbroken run of 68 years in the top division, followed by Manchester United, Everton, Tottenham, Liverpool, Chelsea, Aston Villa and Manchester City. Using this measurement, those eight clubs are the eight clubs with the highest post-war ‘pedigree’.
And how indicative of success is such ‘pedigree’? Well seven of those eight finished in the Premier League top eight in the 2014/15 season (the last time they all played in the same division), Villa being the only ones who did not. So actually, on a broad level, such ‘pedigree’ is indicative.
14 of the 20 clubs for the Premier League season ‘deserve’ – by their post-war ‘pedigree’ – to be in the top division. Bournemouth, Watford, Crystal Palace, Huddersfield, Brighton and Swansea are all punching above their historical pedigree to be there – a commendable thing for those clubs.
Looking at the Championship, the post-war pedigrees of the clubs suggests that Leeds, Wolves, Forest, Middlesbrough, Derby and Birmingham should be in the Premier League.
Moving down further, Coventry, Portsmouth, Luton and Plymouth are below where they should be in the League.
It will be no surprise whatsoever if multiple clubs across the leagues who are in divisions above and below where they ‘should’ be don’t ‘correct’ that via promotion or relegation in the coming seasons. In fact it would be a surprise if we didn’t see at least a handful of those clubs moving.
It goes without saying there are multiple ways you can measure where a club ‘should’ be playing. The exercise above is just one method. Other considered ways how a ‘deserved’ Premier League might be made up can be done using multiple different factors, such as trophies or ground capacity.
One might average out the finishing positions for all the clubs over 68 years. In that respect you would find Manchester United have a higher average finish position than any club: 5th place on average over 68 seasons.
You could consider 100 years, or 130-plus back to the start of the league in England, or 22 years for the Premier League. You could find all sorts of patterns. And yet nothing, definitively, will tell you, for sure, what will happen this season. Which is the beauty of the game. Today – anything can still happen.