Punching Above Our Weight (2010/11)
Tuesday, 28th Jun 2011 12:00 by Wessex Exile
For many years, a byword for Colchester United – and then Parky took us to the Championship, George for a brief moment even challenged the Premier League play-offs under Robbie and his fortune, and we moved to shiny new WHCS.
Suddenly we seemed to have forgotten that even being in League 1 used to be considered one hell of an achievement, suddenly supporters were expecting, even demanding success, and Robbie had to bankroll that expectation. But not anymore – Robbie has (quite rightly) served notice that his season-on-season bail-out cannot continue – the U’s must learn to stand on its own two feet again, with John Ward’s squad budget limited to the money he can attract through the turnstiles.
Time then to look at the figures, and maybe resurrect the proud tradition that Colchester United is punching above its weight?
The hypothesis for exploring this is simple; attendance equals money, and money equals success – of course there are notable exceptions, former giants with large fan-bases who find themselves languishing in the lower leagues, small clubs with fantastically generous chairmen, and I can’t sensibly factor in revenue from the various cups, transfer money received or televised match revenue – but the general principle is sound.
Accepting that as the 2010/11 season kicked off, there was little any of the 92 could do about the league they found themselves in (regardless of their fan-base), analysis will first look at each of the four leagues independently. As a general note, attendance stats are taken from the excellent website http://www.european-football-statistics.co.uk, and analysis compares rank according to average attendance compared to actual league position, to see who ended up furthest ahead of (or behind) where their attendance average suggested they should have finished in their league (the Punching above Weight rank, or PaW) . Where clubs have matched on their PaW rank, order has been determined by average attendance (smallest to largest).
In the Premier League, the star performer was Fulham, seven places above their attendance rank, followed by West Brom (6 places) and Spurs (5 places). Only Stoke City (13th in the league, 13th in attendance) and Man Utd (1st and 1st obviously) actually finished where they should have done.
The long-suffering Toon Army, with a massive average attendance of nearly 48k will probably not be consoled that they finished nine places below the 3rd position they should have finished in, matched by relegated West Ham, and Wolves five places below the 12th place they should have achieved.
Special mention must go to Bolton and Wigan, both of whom should probably have been relegated on the back of their relatively poor average attendances, but actually managed 14th and 16th place respectively.
Premier League PaW Table
In the Championship, QPR demonstrated perfectly the exception to my rule – on attendance alone they should have been lower mid-table, but bought the league title thanks to the deep pockets of Lakshmi Mittal and friends. Heyho, let’s instead celebrate Swansea’s stunning performance, 15th in the attendance rank, yet promoted via the play-offs, and (begrudgingly) no one’s favourite visitors Millwall, who should have flirted with relegation, and ended up flirting with the play-offs.
Three teams did exactly what it said on the tin; Scunthorpe and PNE were rightly relegated, and Middlesbrough, boring boring Middlesbrough, finished a predictably boring 12th in both ranks.
At the wrong end of business (look away now Mr Happy), with the second largest average attendance in the Championship, Derby should have been promoted, and ended up 17 places down only just avoiding relegation, a feat which Sheff United would probably have paid good money to avoid – 8th highest average attendance and now facing a trip to the WHCS next season. Possibly thanks to the influence of former son of Col U Aidy Boothroyd, Coventry only just avoided a similar fate, seven places below the comfortable mid-table position they should have achieved.
Not much to make special mention about here – Donny did well I suppose to only just avoid relegation, everyone’s favourite Nodge (pfft) should have been disappointed if they hadn’t got promotion, and dirty dirty Leeds, best supported team in the league, must have been gutted to even miss out on the play-offs – shame.
Championship PaW Table
Right then, this is the one that counts – but before we get to the mighty U’s, hat’s off to Rochdale, should have been relegated, but nearly made the play-offs. Colchester United came in a very credible second, our 10th position ten places ahead of the flirting with relegation 20th we should have achieved, and a result matched by Leyton Orient who should have been 17th but nearly made the play-offs in 7th place (though don’t forget their cup-run money).
No one in League 1 did exactly as they should, though Walsall (nearly relegated), Oldham, the Mongs, Huddersfield and Southampton (promoted) finished within one position of their rightful place.
As for the under-performers, Plymuff’s 10pt administration deduction condemned them to relegation when they should have made the play-offs (maybe they should have spent less on golf-balls and throwing away all their loose change), and Swindon and eponymous fallen giants Sheff Wed weren’t too far behind.
Special mention definitely goes to Hartlepool, who should have been relegated but managed to dodge the Mick “Bigger B’stard than…” etc. curse to finish lower mid-table, Brighton for winning the league when they shouldn’t have even made the play-offs, and Parky’s former club Charlton who should have aced the play-offs with 15.5k average support, but only just made top half.
League 1 PaW Table
At the bottom of the tree, clear winner was Accrington Stanley (‘oo are they?); their paltry 1.8k average attendance should have seen them relegated second from last, instead of finishing a whopping 18 places higher in the play-offs. Buckle’s Torquay also did extremely well to finish just inside the play-offs on an average of 2.6k through the turnstiles, and Bury likewise for actually achieving promotion on lower mid-table gates.
At either end of the table, Barnet in 22nd and Shrewsbury in 4th matched expectation with performance, and Crewe, Hereford and Gillingham were only one place off their potential.
The City Gent army will be far from happy that their enormous 11k+ average attendance, comfortably the best in League 1 by a country mile, was rewarded with a season spent trying to avoid relegation out of the league altogether, something that no doubt Stockport 14 places below their average attendance rank wished they avoided when finishing rock bottom of the 92, and even Oxford will feel they should have done a lot better, the 2nd best supported team in the league, but only a mid-table finish.
However, special mention for League 2 is definitely reserved for Macclesfield, officially the worst supported team of the football league, yet still managed a very respectable lower mid-table finish (though do have a chuckle at Sarfend, should have made the play-offs, only just avoided Page 2 on Ceefax).
League 2 PaW Table
Overall ranking for the 92
So finally, looking at all 92 regardless of the league played in, but taking the view that if you cram in tens of thousands every game you really shouldn’t be languishing in the lower leagues (we’re talking about you Sheffield Wednesday), who are the overall winners and losers?
In reverse order:
Bradford City, 47th best supported team and 86th place in the football league (-39!!!);
Our friends Sheff Wed, 29th best supported team and 59th place in the football league (-30);
Oxford, 53rd best supported team and 80th place in the football league (-27);
Derby County, 15th best-supported team (that’s Premier League level!) and 39th place in the football league (-24); and even
Southampton – yes they were promoted out of League 1 in 46th place, but they are actually 25th best-supported team in the league (-21)
Only four teams were exactly where they should have been:
Barnet, virtually bottom of League 2, were 90th in both position and support;
Rotherham and Tranmere were likewise 77th and 62nd respectively in both; and
Everyone’s bête noire ManUre were predictably top of both ranks.
Top of the heap, and worthy recipients of The U’sual Punching above their Weight awards for 2010/11 are:
Accrington Stanley, 2nd from worst supported team in the league, but finished 18 places higher in 73rd (+18);
Colchester United, 73rd in terms of support (that’s mid-table League 2 levels), 54th in position (+19);
Daggers, 85th in support, 65th in position (+20);
Hartlepool, 83rd in support, 60th in position (+23); and finally
Take a bow over-achievers Rochdale, 78th for support (an average of just 3,537 per game), but 53rd place in the football league (+25).
The 92 PaW Table
Photo: Action Images
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Letters from Wiltshire #34 by wessex_exile
I won’t dwell on Robbie’s latest message to the supporters – we’ve all read it, and we’ve all probably drawn our own conclusions about what it doesn’t say as much as what it does. To me, bottom line, I suspect the clock is now ticking for Steve Ball (at least), turn around this terrible form pretty damn quick, or start clearing out your locker. Regardless of personal opinions on any of the individuals concerned, I would like to think none of us actually wants to see people made redundant in the current climate. But, these are difficult times that require tough decisions. If Steve Ball is up to the job and can turn this around, I’ll be more than happy to support him. If he’s not, he has to go before irreparable harm is done…and we all know what that will look like, we’ve been there before…
Letters from Wiltshire #33 by wessex_exile
Today we face a trip to Crawley, not usually a venue that bears fruit for the U’s it has to be said. In nine visits we’ve only won once in the league, and once in the League Cup. Of course, we’ll all remember that League Cup victory, indeed many of us were probably there to see us progress through to 5th round and the dream fixture against Manchester United at Old Trafford. All of our goal-scorers that night, Luke’s Norris and Gambin, and Cohen Bramall (okay, technically an O.G.), are no longer with us, so let’s hope at the very least that recent departee and subsequent returnee Frank Nouble can bag another like his late equaliser against Mansfield. Steve Ball commented during the week about how tight the league is at the moment, and he’s right that a couple of back to back victories would see us move significantly up the table away from danger – but we’ve got to win them first Steve – something we’ve failed to do since our 1-0 victory at Scunthorpe on December 8th.
Letters from Wiltshire #32 by wessex_exile
Fifty years ago yesterday, Colchester United of the 4th Division pulled off the greatest cup giant-killing ever, beating 1st Division Leeds United 3-2 at Layer Road. Watched by 16,000, and the Match of the Day cameras, Dick Graham’s U’s, a rag-tag band of mostly aging journeymen, defied the odds to defeat arguably the greatest club side in Europe at the time. “The greatest cup giant-killing ever” is a bold claim, and over the years various football magazines and websites have run their own polls of which was the greatest. Whilst that day at Layer Rd always features, as the years have gone by other feats fresher in the memory have been put forward as a candidate – we probably all remember Ronnie Radford’s screamer against Newcastle, Sutton’s exploits, or even Bradford City quite recently at Stamford Bridge – but these pale into insignificance when you pause to reflect on the Don Revie side that we beat that day. Sprake, Cooper, Charlton, Hunter, Lorimer, Giles etc – all full internationals, all household names – the only one missing was Billy Bremner, and that was because he was injured. By comparison, all we had to offer was Ray Crawford – at his peak arguably on a par with some in the Leeds side, but that peak had been ten years earlier playing for Ipswich and England. Eleven heroes didn’t just try and hold out against Leeds United, they took the game to their illustrious opponents with such tenacity, grit and no small amount of flair, and before we knew it, the U’s were 3-0 in the lead. As legs tired, Leeds got back into the game with goals from Hunter and Giles, but we held firm – typified at the death by Graham Smith pulling off an impossible save to ensure the U’s achieved the greatest cup giant-killing ever!
Letters from Wiltshire #31 by wessex_exile
And so the dust settles on another transfer window closing, and despite (my) expectations that the possibility of incoming business was going to be remote, we have instead seen a veritable flurry of activity, with no less than three coming in. Big Frank Nouble, making a very welcome return on loan from Plymouth Argyle, of course needs no introduction. Neither really does feisty Brendan Sarpong-Wiredu, here on loan last season, and this time signed full-time from Charlton Athletic for an undisclosed fee. Actually paying hard cash for someone did come as a surprise, presumably offset by the sale of Cohen Bramall to Lincoln for a similarly undisclosed fee. However, the fact that the Addicks have insisted on not only a sell-on clause, but a rarely used buy-back clause too, suggests (a) Wiredu’s signing fee probably wasn’t too high, and (b) Charlton are protecting those finances with these clauses. The last one, which would have been a complete surprise for me were it not for a contact leaking me the news earlier yesterday, is left-back Josh Doherty on loan from Crawley. Josh was only announced once outgoing left-back Bramall was confirmed, and presumably his loan is directly related to part-time fashion model, TV and radio celeb and former left-back Mark Wright signing for Crawley on a non-contract game-by-game basis in December. We have also released seven from the academy, Ollie Kensdale, Miquel Scarlett, Sammie McLeod, Michael Fernandes, Ollie Sims, Danny Collinge and Matt Weaire, and I’m sure we all wish them the best for the future.
Letters from Wiltshire #30 by wessex_exile
Friday night football – can’t beat it. Gives you that feelgood factor all weekend, sitting back to enjoy a stress-free Saturday afternoon watching others fail in your wake. Of course, you have to win first, which we’ve been struggling to do for a while now, so be prepared for the possibility of a miserable weekend just in case. We share this evening with Reading v AFC Bournemouth, albeit they kick-off an hour later than we do. In the real world, leaders of the UK’s five largest business groups have written to Boris demanding action on the substantial difficulties they are facing over Brexit bureaucracy, whilst French border authorities are reporting that two-thirds of lorries arriving from the UK are empty (i.e. no exports leaving the UK). Still, at least the NHS can enjoy their extra £350m per week…
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