The League: A marathon, not a sprint?

Although football is currently going through a process of self-examination, there is one thing that will never change: football’s love for clichés.

The game is inextricably linked with them and managers, media and spectators alike are all too guilty of reciting them without batting an eyelid. But do they hold up to scrutiny when examined under a microscope?

One that often gets rolled out is that “you don’t win the league in September”, a response usually heard from a manager after an early-season loss against a perceived rival, or defeat in a make or break fixture.

Another cliché of the same family is the famous “the league is a marathon not a sprint”.

Both quotes lead to the same assumption that the domestic campaign is a long one, and that teams have to battle right to the end of May to take the title.

Evidently, this is sometimes the case. The final day of the 1988/89 season saw Michael Thomas’ last-minute strike take the league away from Liverpool at Anfield.

And who can forget the way that Manchester City forward Sergio Agüero broke United hearts with an injury-time winner against QPR last season?

But these memorable days are exceptions to the rule. More often than not, the eventual winner of the league is the team that gets off to the quickest start, not the team that rallies at the end of the campaign.

35% of all victors in the past 121 years (1892/93 to 2011/12) have been in first place as early in the season as September.

Extending the ‘early season’ to the end of October where teams have usually played about a quarter of their games, the percentage of eventual champions who topped the table at this time rises to 50%.

The figure increases to 61% in November and then to 69% in December, proving that in the vast majority of cases we know the eventual champions by Christmas.

In other words, if you sprint to the top of the table by the festive period, you’re the overwhelming contender to take the title.

Manchester United topped the table this Christmas, and are now seven points clear of their Manchester counterparts. They are indisputable favourites to claim their 20th title and once again the pattern seems to be unravelling as forecast.

These figures appear to contradict a popular cliché, but there are plenty more left unresolved.

All I can say is that I believe I’ve given 110% in writing this piece and I hope that it proves to be a great advert for student journalism. Early doors, I advise you to take it one paragraph at a time, because there are no easy phrases at this level.

Remember, writing’s a funny old game and at the end of the day I just have to hope that I’m too good to go down.


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