Football Management

Commentary on the management of over 160 English football clubs by Dr John Beech, winner of the FSF Writer of the Year Award 2009/10 Twitter: @JohnBeech Curator of! Football Finance

The points deduction lottery

Posted by John Beech on May 13, 2011

As we move towards the end of the season and the state of ‘ups’ and ‘downs’ begins to harden, I am, as usual (here are my earlier findings on this topic), looking more closely at how the deduction of points impacts on the particular clubs who are promoted or, more typically, relegated.

The impact (or lack of it) can be five-fold:

  • No impact even to a club at the top of the table.  A classic example is that of Arsenal who were still Champions of the old Division 1 in 1990 in spite of having three points deducted.
  • Points deduction results in a club failing to be promoted, as happened to Leeds United in 2008, when a 15 points deduction moved from a guaranteed promotion spot into the play-offs (where they failed to gain promotion).
  • The position of the club is so ‘mid-table’ that the deduction of points is irrelevant other than to their final position.
  • A club is forced into relegation because of the points deduction.
  • The deduction of points is irrelevant because the club was going to be relegated anyway, as was the case when Portsmouth were ‘punished’ with a ten points deduction last year.

You can see where I’m going with the reference to ‘lottery’.

It’s too early yet for a systematic survey, but some examples are all too apparent already.  Plymouth Argyle have been relegated because of their ten points deduction (1), and St Albans have been relegated anyway (2), although by a narrow margin.  Their fans must look enviously north of the border to Dundee, where, in spite of a massive 25 points deduction (3), the club has managed to escape relegation.  Their fans may not necessarily see this as ‘a lucky escape’ however, as, without the deduction, Dundee would have finished a single point behind champions (and automatically promoted) Dunfermline.

The most interesting case is one in which no points have been deducted – that of QPR.  A disgracefully slow investigation finally concluded with a massive fine but no points deducted for 7 alledged breaches of FA financial regulations (4), five of which were found ‘not proven’.  As QPR finished the season as Champions, and 8 points clear of the play-off places, any points deduction would have proved highly contentious to whichever set of fans affected.  The saga may yet continue, as Swansea, who would have been automatically promoted had QPR been deducted nine or more points, are, at the time of writing, undecided as to whether to mount a legal challenge (5), preferring to wait until the full judgement is published.

The use of points deduction as a sanction is unarguably dysfunctional.  The real question is whether it is the ‘least bad’ alternative.  Certainly alternatives need to be explored, and thought given to whether it is possible to distinguish between offences that affect performance on the pitch and more technical financial or administrative offences which have no impact on sporting performance.


6 Responses to “The points deduction lottery”

  1. Hoopy said

    QPR had 2 charges proven, not 7. Neither had precedent of a substantial points deduction.

    • John Beech said

      Thanks for pointing out my error Hoopy. More haste less speed, I’m afraid. Text above now ammended.

      The charges that were found ‘not proven’ (has the FA moved to Scotland?) were indeed the more substantive ones, for which points probably would have been deducted.

      To be absolutely clear, I wasn’t implying that QPR should have had points deducted, and I’m not now saying in any way that they should have been found quilty. Merely that they had been caught up in the uncertainty of a lottery. It would have been ludicrous to see them denied automatic promotion because of issues that had no relevance to their playing performance.

  2. Jim said

    I do not see how any financial offence is technical and has no impact on playing performance. I’m a Plymouth Argyle season-ticket holder. It is unarguable that we deserved *at least* a 10 point deduction: we were paying players wages we could not afford. One of those, Bradley Wright-Phillips, on a hefty and unaffordable wage scored 13 goals for us this season before his transfer in January, goals which won us vital points, not least against fellow strugglers Swindon and Bristol Rovers. Paying players you can’t afford is cheating, pure and simple, and a points deduction is the only answer.

    • John Beech said

      I really can’t disagree with sentiment with which you write, Jim – Portsmouth, my club, present an even more complelling case!

      In some cases it could be argued that a club could afford the players at the time they were signed, but that the withdrawal of a ‘benefactor’ left them with wage bills that became clearly unsustainable. Just dumping over-paid players is easier said than done with transfer windows.

      Portsmouth would have been relegated anyway, and when you say ‘at least a 10 point deduction’, well, there’s the rub. For some clubs, as in the case of Portsmouth or Dundee, it’s arguably no punishment at all, but for another club in identical financial circumstances it could have resulted in relegation or failed promotion, as in the case of Argyle. Consider the example of QPR – if they had been deducted points, whether it had been 7, 8, or 9 would have had very different outcomes.

      It’s the lack of equity in the punishment which can result from the same sanction in the same circumstances which bothers me. Points deduction as a sanction, for whatever reason, is a flawed process.

      Another eason why I don’t like it is that it can heap punishment on an incoming regime that was in no way responsible for the misdemeanour – Luton is a classic example of this. It is directors who are guilty, not clubs. It is the directors of the club at the time of the misdemeanour who should be punished.

      I wouldn’t agree that no financial offence is technical, but certainly there is very large area where the financial offence does impact on the pitch. An ideal system would be one which had a rationale for translating the scale of the financial or organisational misdemeanour into an appropriate sporting punishment. Points deduction definitely isn’t one, and I don’t think it would be possible to create one. Which brings me back to my question – is ponts deduction the least bad option?

  3. The rules are unclear and therefore someone will be upset from every situation. NO one really knows what QPR were quilty of and how it matches up to the West Ham offence

  4. Gazza said

    In season 1990/91 Arsenal were deducted 2 points and Manchester United 1 Point for the Brawl.

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