"We finished above you."
That's what we Villa fans have heard a fair amount lately from chirping/bantering West Bromwich Albion and Leicester City fans. Birmingham City fans haven't had occasion to say it since 2003, but bless their hearts I'm sure they'd use that line if they could. For West Brom fans, it's actually fairly understandable. In three of the last four seasons the Baggies did finish above a very woeful Aston Villa.
But I always get a bit miffed at this line of thinking, because it usually accompanies the "which club is bigger/better" argument that I find myself in so often. (I have no one to blame but myself for being in that argument as there are few things I love more than stirring the pot of Baggies and Foxes fans.) And if we're trying to figure out which club is bigger (we aren't, we're pissing into the wind of dumb internet arguments, but let's set that minor fact aside), shouldn't we have a longer view of history than "we finished three points ahead of you last year" (looking at you, Leicester fans)?
So I did what I do when I'm confronted by senseless arguments: I turned to the data. I compiled the relative finishing positions of the four big midlands teams (braces for hatred from those teams not included) for their entire history. The teams chosen were: Aston Villa, West Bromwich Albion, Leicester City, and Birmingham City. You can see all of the results in a spreadsheet here.
But let me just distill things a bit for you:
- Leicester fans, crowing so recently about finishing above Aston Villa in their return to the Premier League from the Championship, have a lot to be proud of. The Foxes have finished above Villa twenty-three times!
- West Brom, too, should be proud. In thirty-two seasons they bested the great claret and blues.
- And even Birmingham City have done well on occasion, finishing better than Villa in eighteen seasons.
- There's just one problem: Aston Villa have finished above Foxes eighty-seven times, West Brom eighty-four, and Birmingham City an astonishing ninety-four times.
- Even if we confine ourselves to the twenty-three seasons of the Premier League era Aston Villa have finished top of the four teams nineteen times, seeing West Brom finish ahead of them three times, and Birmingham and Foxes once.
Pretty much any way you slice the data, Aston Villa are far and away the most successful of the four clubs. You might have a different argument if you wanted to look at the time between the 1952-53 and the 1978-79 seasons, inclusive, but that would be dumb and no one would do that.
So we're all clear that Villa are the biggest club in the midlands so long as we take "biggest" to mean "best" or "most successful." But how do the others shake out? I was set on this entire track by a tweet from a Leicester fan welcoming Yohan Benalouane to "the biggest club in the midlands." After I got over the preposterous ideas that 1) Leicester would claim that and 2) anyone would use that as a boast when welcoming a new player, I found myself thinking "I don't even think they're the second biggest club in the midlands!"
Since I had this table all worked out, I decided to do a totally arbitrary table of midlands clubs based on finishes since the 1894-95 season (the first in which all four teams competed in the Football League or Premier League). I assigned a first-place finish among the four clubs 4 points, a second-place finish 3, and so on. When I tallied the results, you won't be surprised to hear that Aston Villa came out on top with 368 points (out of a possible 440).
Here's the whole table:
It turns out that Leicester City are not only not the biggest club in the midlands, they aren't even the second- or third-biggest! They could conceivably, however, tie Birmingham this season if they can finish top of the group.
So now that this has been scientifically and rigorously proved* we can finally set aside the argument of which club is biggest. It's Aston Villa. As should have been obvious to everyone.
*Note: Proof is neither scientific nor rigorous. It is, however, fairly compelling.