Maths of the Day: Number-Crunching The First Fixture Probabilities

ONLY TWO sleeps until the fixtures are published and football speculation is officially back. From Friday nmorning we can whoop and holler like a demented quiz show contestant in over-optimstic delight as we pick out a sure path to promotion glory thanks to an easy set of showdowns in the final straight and/or see the unmistakeable bleak shape of a relegation battle loom out of that tricky run just after Christmas.
By now everyone will have heard the contradictory ‘my mate is a copper and he says…’ rumours and will be checking the AA routeplanner ready for that long trek to Southampton. Or Brighton. Or be all set for Steve McClaren’s return to the Riverside. Or Leeds. Paul Fletcher on the Beeb blog did a fantastic feature last year looking at the intricacies of the fixture computer and the complexities of the pressures of the man with the laptop.
The conclusion is that you can never call these things. Or can you? Southampton might just be a good shout. I’ve been number crunching opening day fixtures over the past 25 years. Here’s some facts and figures…

First the results. Here’s the bones of all the curtain-raisers over the past 25 seasons and (in brackets) where the opposition had finished in the previous season.
1986-87 – D3 (h) – Port Vale – (newly promoted, third in D4) D 2-2
1987-88 – D2 (h) – Millwall – (16th) D 1-1
1988-89 – D1 (a) – Derby (15th) L 0-1
1989-90 – D2 (h) – Wolves (newly promoted, D3 champs) W 4-2
1990-91 – D2 (h) – West Ham Utd (7th) D 0-0
1991-92 – D2 (h) – Millwall (5th) W 1-0
1992-93 – PL (a) – Coventry (19th) L 1-2
1993-94 – D1 (a) – Notts County (17th) W 3-2
1994-95 – D1 (h) – Burnley (newly promoted, D2 play-off winners) W 2-0
1995-96 – PL (a) – Arsenal (12th) D 1-1
1996-97 – PL (h) – Liverpool (3rd) D 3-3
1997-98 – D1 (h) – Charlton (15th) W 2-1
1998-99 – PL (h) – Leeds (5th) D 0-0
1999-00 – PL (h) – Bradford (newly promoted, 2nd in D1) L 0-1
2000-01 – PL (a) – Coventry (14th) W 3-1
2001-02 – PL (h) – Arsenal L (2nd) L 0-4
2002-03 – PL (a) – Southampton (11th) D 0-0
2003-04 – PL (a) – Fulham (14th) L 2-3
2004-05 – PL (h) – Newcastle (5th) D 2-2
2005-06 – PL (h) – Liverpool (5th) D 0-0
2006-07 – PL (a) – Reading (newly promoted, D1 champs) L 2-3
2007-08 – PL (h) – Blackburn (10th) L 1-2
2008-09 – PL (h) – Spurs (11th) W 2-1
2009-10 – CH (h) – Sheffield Utd (3rd) D 0-0
2010-11 – CH (h) – Ipswich (15th) L 1-3

The first thing to note is that the fixture computer has been very kind to Boro. A hefty 17 of the 25 fixtures have been at home, although obviously, the first one, against Port Vale was played at Hartlepool as we climbed out of the coffin at the eleventh hour. The last four in a row have been at the Riverside. Of course, at some point, if they are randomly generated, probability theory suggests there will be a long run of away trips to claw back the deficit. So, St Mary’s here we come.
Another thing to note is that five of the 25 – that is 20% – have been against promoted sides: Port Vale (1986), Wolves (1989), Burnley (1994), Bradford (1999) and Reading (2006). Now, I’m no mathematician but surely the odds should be somewhere around the 3/23 mark or about 7%. Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong. And it is worth noting that of those five, four have been at home. Only Reading – Gareth Southgate’s ill-fated first game (two up after 19 minutes, lost 3-2) – was on the road.
Boro have had a decent if not spectacular return over those games. Here’s a table:
P25 W7 D10 L8 F33 A35 Pts 31
And to save you the headache of working through the results chewing the end of your pencil and trying to work these things out, here’s the number-crunched nitty gritty.

  • The most common score is 0-0. There have been five goalless draws.
  • The biggest win was 4-2 at home to Wolves in 1989
  • The biggest defeat was 4-0 at home to Arsenal in 2001, Steve McClaren’s first game
  • The most goals came in that Wolves game and the 3-3 draw with Liverpool in 1996 when Ravanelli scored a debut hat-trick
  • Boro have played Millwall, Liverpool, Arsenal and Coventry twice on the opening day
  • Boro have never played a relegated team on opening day in the last 25 years
  • Boro have four times played the team who finished fifth in the previous season. The next most frequent ranking is 15th (three times) while they twice played the teams who finished 14th and third.
  • Before then, at 10 am on Thursday, the first round draw of the League Cup will be published on the Football League website. Boro are seeded in the Northern section and will play one of the following sides from the unseeded pot: Accrington Stanley, Bradford, Burton, Bury, Chesterfield, Crewe, Hartlepool, Macclesfield, Oldham, Port Vale, Rotherham, Sheffield Wednesday, Shrewsbury, Tranmere and Walsall.
    Personally I’d like Morecambe or Accrington away as they would be new grounds for me but as I pointed out in today’s old school, steam-driven paper Gazette, it would be a neat bit of anniversary historical coincidence if we were drawn away at Hartlepool as the game would be played almost 25 years to the day we faced them in the same competition – a 1-1 draw – just days after they lent us their ground. The return leg, a routine 2-0 win, was the first match played back at Ayresome Park after the padlocks came off.


32 thoughts on “Maths of the Day: Number-Crunching The First Fixture Probabilities

  1. It’s Southampton 😉
    Unless the classic car convention in the city centre caused concern for police and local authorities … As I’m sure you’ve read on FMTTM 😉
    PP … x

  2. To Be Honest they should write off this season.
    Just repromote West Ham, and then let Reading, Cardiff, Leicester, Forest, Birmingham, and Blackpool fight for the other two.
    And the 3 new promoted sides, plus Palace, Donny, Derby, Cov and us for the relegation slots.

  3. Another interesting fact is that between 2002 and 2006 I always got a Subway on the way to the ground, usually finishing it as we walked through the subway funnily (or not) enough. In the four years prior to that it was normally a pie from whatever bakers I was passing. Prior to that I’m afraid I just can’t remember – a huge gap in the statistical records, but I do remember getting chips for a couple of years in the late 60s.
    I’ve just finished reading Clough & Revie by Roger Hermiston, as recommended in a previous blog. An excellent record of the rivalry between these two local lads. I walked past Cloughies house scores of times in the 60s on my way from Park End to Ayresome Park or Albert Park without knowing at the time that was where he lived.

  4. I hope it is Hartlepool in the League Cup, too. My biggest ever game as a Boro supporter must be the 2-2 draw with Port Vale at Hartlepool in 1986. Glad I was there and the club still existed. Beatiful day (in any way).
    Up the Boro!

  5. AV –
    could you please write about Mendieta during the close season. He fell out of favour with manager Gareth Southgate, who made it clear that the player no longer featured in his first team plans. But why did this happen?
    On 3 November 2009, Mendieta was quoted as saying a part of him would be interested in football management when interviewed by the BBC.
    He said: “A part of me can see the excitement and challenge of being a manager, definitely.” After retiring, he settled with his family near Middlesbrough, in Yarm.
    What is Mendi doing now? He is 37 and could still play for us if fit, couldn’t he? At least Jari Litmanen is still playing even if he’s 40 now and he has played in the Euro qualifiers this year. Slow but above everyone with his passing and thinking.
    Up the Boro!

  6. As we focus on what is of interest to us namely the soon to be released fixtures I had a quick glance at the U21’s last night.
    I can safely say the future players of the national team will be able to blend into the current team. Same lack of technical ability matched by the same level of technical awareness makes seemless transition a distinct possibilty.
    Am I blinkered but I am sure our academy kids try to pass the ball and play football.
    I know we were missing Wilshere but is that it.
    Back to the fixtures and I am predicting a DE double away to Derby first day in the league and a trip to the Brewers to gain revenge for last seasons FA Cup defeat in the League Cup.
    Lots to look forward to in sport, ladies day at Royal Ascot, the third Test against Sri Lanka, the US Open golf followed by Wimbledon.
    AV –
    You will be in your element, will you be reporting on any of these prestigious events? Any chance of a live blog? Mrs Vic could give us comments on the outfits at Ascot and Wimbledon.
    **AV writes: “…there’s one a bit like that in Marksies… ”

  7. I have a hunch for Brighton away or Forest at home.
    Of course the fact that these fixtures are randomly generated means that the odds of that happening are surreal but I just think that it would make for an interesting day at the start of the Championship Season for the media. Not of course that that could possibly influence the Random Computer.
    Regards the League Cup its Accrington away or Pools at home. Think I’ll put a fiver on those permutations!
    **AV writes: It might be bad science but looking through the past fixtures I have convinced myself that statistically we will play one of the newly promoted teams at home….. Burnley away it is then.

  8. Can this be correct AV? In 2001-02 we opened the season against Arsenal Ladies (Arsenal L) and lost 4-0!
    Pedantry aside, statistics tell us that Boro will play a first game of the season 100% of the time – it’s a certainty. We stastically have a 33% chance of winning, a 33% chance of scoring the first goal (assuming that there could be no goals scoered) – although we all know that the probability of conceding first is somewhere more like 72%. (Typical Boro statistical anomaly number 1).
    Typical Boro Statistical Anomaly number 2 is the vastly increased probability of conceding a last 5mins equalizer/losing goal. I wouldn’t like to guess at the increased probability here, how can you say the statistical probability of conceding a goal in the last 5mins for an average team?
    Some additional matchday statistics:
    – 13% probability that I will be out shopping with the wife whilst the game is played.
    – 24% probability that I will be somewhere on an Alp doing a hike.
    – 37% probability that I will be swearing in frustration at being excluded from the Bosko Jankovic Stand
    – 27% probability that I will be glued to the laptop raising my expectations to unsustainable levels.
    And finally: a 100% probability that the probabilities above don’t sum to 100%.

  9. Hope we get Portsmouth. As it is now, they only have nine players on contract, so chances are that they will still be a team in the making at the start of the season. Out of sync, out of shape and no real tactics.
    West Ham would also be a good team to get, as they will have been chopping and changing the entire summer meaning that the team will be relatively new and still in need of fine tuning and getting used to the hurly burly nature of the Championship.

  10. Anyone fancy a live blog tomorrow starting before the fixtures are released and taking us through the excitement of the unveiling?

  11. What time that is, AV? I will go out sailing with a couple of friends immediately from work and I have the +2 h time difference to consider, too.
    But atherwise nice to “see” friends, again. Especially Simon in US….
    Up the Boro!
    **AV writes: Fixtures are out at 9am. I’m looking at a 8.45 kick off so people can predict and wish, then we’ll have the fixtures first and exclusive, and then we can waffle on for 30 mins about about how it will pan out… the first win, the first defeat, the first boo-boy backlash, where we will launch our glorious run, which game seals the title etc.

  12. Vic –
    Although we now know it’s Walsall, you really have been let off the hook by not having to visit Accrington or Morecambe, believe me kidda!!!
    They play dominoes for kids over there mate

  13. Alf Fisher said: … see comment June 15 @ 2.07pm
    Nice one Alf. If we can all match your enthusiasm for the coming season there will be a terrific atmosphere in the Riverside.
    Jarkko –
    Just for interest, Mendi was appearing on the Sky Sports coverage of Englands Under 21 championship game last night

  14. That must be a new ground for you, AV, too? I don’t think Boro have played at Walsall. Or was the ground too close to Coventry for the fanzine business …
    Up the Boro!
    **AV writes: I went to the old ground (Fellows Park?) but haven’t been to the Bescott. Eric has, Boro played a friendly there under Lennie Lawrence.

  15. Anyone know if there’s any cash machines in Southampton and is the local currency euros?
    Just planning for the first game … 😉
    PP … x
    **AV writes: There IS a cash machine. It is next to the Irish bar on the square with the fountain.

  16. “Of course, at some point, if they are randomly generated, probability theory suggests there will be a long run of away trips to claw back the deficit.”
    Not true actually AV. Past results have no bearing on the future, so if home or away on opening day is a 50-50 chance, probability suggests we should have an even split over the next few years.
    It’s like when you toss a coin, if the first eight are heads, the ninth still has a 50-50 chance of heads or tails.
    We even had a home game to start and finish last year which is normally not allowed, there was a reason for it, but I can’t remember what it was.
    Anyone still awake? Looking at our opening day results, they are pretty dismal so I guess we should hope for a big game first up with the idea we won’t have much to lose. Forest at home would be good.

  17. Walsall it is. They have a number of toy supestores in that area of the West Midlands called ToysamWe.
    I will be game for an 8.45am blog as I am working from home in the morning.

  18. Pink Ponce / AV –
    As the self-styled Boro ambassador in Southampton I can confirm that Euro’s have not yet reached the town however it has undeniably moved towards Europe over the years due to land reclamation. The only problem is it will have to negotiate around IOW – The Land That Time Forgot (Doug McClure still lives there) – if it continues its Euro progress.
    I am unsure where the fountain to which AV refers is. Was it a burst water main per chance?
    I could cope with an opening game at St.Mary’s but not Aug 13th. AV, can I leave this in your capable hands?

  19. Apparently this year the Football League are using the Giant Hadron Collider to generate the fixtures – Therefore by the laws of quantum mechanics it’s likely to be Ipswich away.

  20. Oh, you lot! Some of us have work tomorrow, so no time for a Live Blog.
    Could be interesting, though. News of Mrs Vic bringing supplies of bacon sarnies as the fixtures are about to break….sneaky cups of coffee arriving just before people start getting thrown off the Blog …. posts from deepest Brisbane and Perth sniggering at the time differential between our two islands as another tinny is cracked open there…some bewildered soul accidentally alighting on the site and not quite following the references to Steeeeeed Malbranque and wondering about this new Tricky Trees team….US expats discussing the housing market in New England etc.
    Sometimes it is an example of stream of consciousness blogging at its surreal best. Sometimes it is just silly. You have to have a sense of humour. There are those who wonder whether the pharmaceutical industry has had an influence on some of the posts though, on balance, it seems more likely that the whisky distillers are responsible.
    Well – that’s often the case in the afternoon or the evening when the crowds in the virtual BJ Stand assemble to follow the team on its away fixtures.
    If the amount of LOCAL whisky consumption at an early live Blog timed for the publication of next year’s fixture list reaches the same levels as a typical Live Blog, Teesside really does have a problem!

  21. I think it will be away and I feel in my bones it will be a short trip for me.
    Several possibilities with Leicester, Coventry and Brum all within an hour. But I still think it will be Derby away with the distinct possibility it will be a trip to the Trent to facr McMoses tricky trees.
    Steve McClaren, he’s one of our own – Not!

  22. I think I read somewhere that the fixtures fixing (!) is quite complicated manoeuvre. Local fairs, other local sporting events etc. must be considered for example.
    I don’t know but they might see that Boro is not playing the same day as, say, Darlo is playing etc. At least at Hull they have to see that rugby dates don’t conflict etc.
    Sometimes the police says that Boro cannot play Leeds that day etc.
    So I think these dates are far from randomly generated. Of course some are but a few certainly not. And then there is a certain Mr Murdoch – not a mate of Halifaxp – who has his say, too. So money talks as they say.
    I have a feeling we might play McMoses in the first week, though. His appointment came too late to affect the fixtures.
    Pity we missed Hartlepool on the first round of CC but hope both teams are still in the hat for the second round draw.
    See you BJ stand at 8:45 AM today. Up the Boro!

  23. Only 15 mins from Peterborough so an August fixture at London Road for me – it’s a right miserable place in winter. Couple of pints in the Brewery Tap first, arguably the best pub in the town.

  24. Oh yes! I’ll be in attendance for the fixture fix as the cricket it has to be said hasn’t got the same blood pumping eye ball popping effect as the passion for the Boro has for me.
    That said Jarkko mentioned Mendieta and his ability to create and I would just like to remind one and all I posted a diatribe/rant about the lack of creativity and general poor play on a national scale a little while ago on this blog.
    Well seems like the FA’s Director of Football Sirrr T Brooking has now reached the same belated conclusion. Didn’t he take his time-‘No creativity!’ says he.
    Dear Sir T, the nations collective lovers of thee game could and have been telling ‘The Management’ this for years and only now like a sleepy spring dormouse do you all pop yer heads out from under your warm FA quilts and conclude something ain’t right.
    I wonder if eventually after much yoke on yer chops and that of the nation at World Cup and Champions League Finals you’ve decided something must be done.
    ‘Sir Trevor Brooking says England’s uninspired performances at the European Under-21 Championship are due to our flawed education system.’- now pleasssse tell me who set this up, who was responsible and who thinks they can fix it? Yes, all the same blazer wearing clones.
    Makes me fume becuase it’s the same donkey’s who failed to appoint Cloughie because they were more interested in ‘their’ image than letting lose the reins and winning the world cup.
    Still we have the ring fencing from the FA – you can’t access courses in academy coaching unless you’re a)sponsored by a club or a)+ b) you’re an ex-player.
    Can someone please tell me what badges Cloughie had, what badges Mourniho’s got? Both have won the Champions League Final twice with unfashionable clubs.
    One of my ex-mates asks me five years ago ‘How will we get on in the World Cup this year Spartak?’ I tell him ‘There’ll be a lot of huff and puff, running around and snotting on the ground. We’ll win now’t as usual’
    Asked me the same question last time round and i gave him the same answer. What was the result – same as the aforementioned.
    McClaren comes from the same mould – lots of ‘systems’ and scribblings on a board shoved under the nose of a player when he’s just about to come on as a sub. I nearly wet myself laughing every time I see these wasters do it.
    For the very last time ‘You can’t teach/coach genius!!!’ Can you dormice at the FA hear anything? You can only suffocate it and you have done for decades. Nuff said!
    Lets see if this one gets past the post AV 🙂

  25. peaeye said: “Only 15 mins from Peterborough so an August fixture at London Road for me – it’s a right miserable place in winter. Couple of pints in the Brewery Tap first, arguably the best pub in the town.”
    Not sure I agree. On match day I would say either Charters or Palmerston Arms if you are a real aler.

  26. Good stats, I love stats me
    Due to only just returning from an Internet free zone ( Kirkby In Ashfield, on work no less). I find that I have missed a live blog. Gutted.
    As for predictions on the fixtures I think it safe to say #mogganaut will be moved to accomodate the demands of the global viewin audience

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