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PPG: a lucky escape for some, a major injustice for others

Written by Sport, Sport Features

Tranmere Rovers
In these unprecedented times, everything has seemed to have ground to a halt at one point or another. In the world of football, the wounds are just beginning to heal, as we have seen the return of the Premier League, La Liga, Serie A and the Bundesliga.

In England, more specifically, we have even seen the return of the Championship last weekend, as well as the odd playoff game in League Two.

Due to financial strain, shortly after the postponement of football in League Two, clubs voted for the season to be curtailed, and for no other regular league game to be played. The Championship voted to continue, and League One was left in somewhat of a stalemate, with clubs not being able to agree on whether the league should continue like the Championship, or end like League Two.

A basic points per game was proposed by EFL Chairman Rick Parry, and an alternative proposal was made by Tranmere Rovers Chairman Mark Palios.

The points-per-game (or PPG, as it is wider known) is simply calculated by dividing the number of points a team has earned in the season by the number of games they have played, and multiplying that number by the number of games they have remaining.

Now, to most football fans, this would sound like the ‘fairest’ way to do it. Take the Premier League table though for example, when the Premier League originally was postponed. Had the Premier League not returned, and PPG was applied instantly to the Premier League, that would seal the fate of Bournemouth, Aston Villa and Norwich, as they would be relegated to the Championship.

Bournemouth were level on points with the teams two places above them, so just 1 goal in goal difference meant that Bournemouth would have to start again in the Championship next season, and Watford and West Ham (who could easily have gone down) would’ve been rescued by goal difference alone.

For Bournemouth fans, that would’ve been a major injustice. And Mr Palios recognised this. So, Tranmere proposed an extension to the original PPG proposal. The league tables would be calculated using PPG, and then a statistical margin for error would be applied to all clubs’ points (between +6.3% or – 5.45%), to see how a margin for error from PPG could affect a club’s fate. If a club finished in an automatic promotion place or a relegation place when the margin for error both was and wasn’t applied, they would be automatically promoted/relegated. If when the margin for error was applied to clubs, and two very different outcomes were presented (i.e. the difference between being promoted or not), then they would be invited to play in a playoff, to find a fair result to who should be promoted.

Palios then proposed that there would either be no relegation, or the relegation only of clubs who would be relegated even after the margin for error had been applied.  

Now, I know what you are thinking, no relegations? Obviously Tranmere were 21st in the League One table, meaning that under simple PPG, they would go down. However, they only trailed 20th by three points, and had a game in hand. Moreover, they still had to play the three teams that were immediately above them in the league, and were in amazing form just before the season was postponed.

The argument of many Tranmere fans, myself included, was how can we possibly go down when we have that game in hand, and still have to play the three teams above us?

The harsh reality was that for Tranmere, if football had been postponed just two weeks later, Tranmere could easily be out of the relegation zone, and would’ve escaped relegation under simple PPG.

For any club that risks being relegated to League Two, the financial punishment that is attached is striking, regardless of the fact that there is a global pandemic going on right now, that is crippling many clubs financially anyway. When Tranmere were last relegated to League Two, they had to practically sign a whole new team to start the season, and consequently they went down to the National League a season later, causing even more financial difficulty.

But clubs voted, the result was given, and a majority verdict of simple PPG condemned Tranmere to League Two. The major kick in the teeth for Tranmere fans like myself, was that promotion playoffs were permitted in League One, so clubs could fight for the opportunity to get promoted to the Championship next season, however Tranmere could not get the opportunity to fight for their place in League One next season, despite being in a similar position in the League One Table to where Bournemouth were in the Premier League Table. So, because of PPG, clubs that had the same chance of going down in League One, such as AFC Wimbledon, MK Dons and Rochdale managed a lucky escape from League One relegation, at the expense of in form Tranmere, who were most likely a mere point away from getting out of the relegation zone.

The financial punishment that is often bandied around for when clubs get relegated to League Two is over £1m, through lost gate receipts, revenue and TV deals. For a club like Tranmere, I believe this to be quite a heavy price to pay, especially with the many opportunities that Tranmere had left to get out of the relegation zone, over their remaining 12 games.

A similar story is happening in League Two, with Stevenage FC. Trailing Macclesfield by 3 points, with a game in hand, and still having to play the two teams above them. Again, there was never any guarantee that Stevenage would’ve beaten Macclesfield or Morecambe, likewise with Tranmere, but once again League Two promotion playoffs were allowed, and Stevenage were seemingly condemned to non-league football next season, without the opportunity to fight in a relegation playoff.

The major injustice is not something that has been orchestrated by the clubs that voted for the proposal, it is from the EFL themselves. The EFL should never have allowed a proposal that condemns a single one of their clubs to be relegated to be considered. The classic response I get from fans is, “Oh well, there was never going to be a proposal that suited everyone”, but this is completely incorrect, and the EFL have shot themselves in the foot by giving the evidence that proves my point. Ask any Tranmere or Stevenage fan, and offer them the opportunity to play off with the clubs that also would risk relegation, and they would bite your hand off. Even if they lost, they would still feel that they had had the chance to fight for something, like clubs such as Cheltenham, Exeter, Fleetwood and Wycombe are being allowed to do in the Promotion play-offs.

The bigger picture of points per game is a very simple, fair and effective way of bringing an end to the season, especially for clubs that do not risk promotion or relegation because of their place in the table, as well as teams that were going to be relegated or promoted anyway. The reality is that most clubs in League One and League Two were not going to be dragged into any sort of relegation or promotion battle anyway, so simple PPG allows them to safely end the season, and not risk the welfare of players. However, there was a notable number of clubs that could be thrusted into a battle for promotion, or one to avoid relegation, and proposals allowed a fair way for teams to fight for promotion, but when looking down towards the bottom of League One and League Two, the outcome of such a poor proposal has meant it has been a lucky escape for some, and a major injustice for others.

Featured Image: YouTube via Official Tranmere Rovers: “Post Match – Corey Blackett-Taylor (Chicester City)

Last modified: 28th July 2020

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