Jack The Lad: Two hundredths of a goal?

11th October 2017

With the Swans hosting Huddersfield Town in the Premier League for the first time, supporter-turned-blogger Jack The Lad looks back at how the Terriers lifted the top-flight title in 1924.

When I was a schoolboy I used to be fascinated by footballing facts and figures.

Pele having scored over 1,000 career goals, West German striker Gerd Muller’s remarkable international strike-rate of 68 goals in 62 games, the original Maracana Stadium’s capacity of 200,000, the fact an estimated 250,000 people attended the famous White Horse FA Cup Final at Wembley . . .

I could go on and on . . . but believe me, you wouldn’t want me to!

However, one of the most intriguing facts I remember reading for the first time was that in 1924 Huddersfield Town were crowned English League champions by two-hundredths of a goal, or 0.024 of a goal to be precise!

Now, as an athletics fan, I was used to sprinters winning races by hundredths of a second.

That was a margin I could almost picture in my mind, some say it’s as close as the thickness of a running vest. It’s probably a bit more than that, but not much.

But two hundredths of a goal? What on Earth does that look like?

And as a fan brought up on goal difference, where goals separate teams on the same number of points, why were they talking about hundredths of goals back in the 1920s?

Well, the answer is that back in those days if teams finished level on points, the title wasn’t decided on goal difference, it was decided on goal average.

Instead of subtracting the number of goals conceded from the number goals scored, the total number goals scored by a team were divided by the number of goals conceded. The team with the highest goal average would win the title.

On the final day of the 1923-24 season, Huddersfield were one point behind Cardiff City at the top of the table. A win for Cardiff at Birmingham would make them clear champions.

But Cardiff drew 0-0 at St Andrews, while Huddersfield beat Nottingham Forest 3-0.

Cardiff had scored 61 and conceded 34, while Huddersfield’s figures were 60-33. I won’t bore you by showing all the workings out (unless you’re a maths teacher and it will get me extra marks), but by the time all the sums had been done, Huddersfield became the first team to win the title on goal average.

This method of deciding the champions survived until 1976 when it was decided it wasn’t the best way of breaking the deadlock. Maths geeks pointed out that goal average in some circumstances encouraged conceding less goals rather than scoring more goals, so goal difference was created to encourage attacking play.

Had modern-day goal-difference been in operation back in 1924, both Huddersfield and Cardiff would have finished on plus 27 – and the Bluebirds would have been league champions by virtue of having scored a whole goal more goal than their rivals – a huge margin compared to two-hundredths of a goal!

On reflection, and speaking as a Swansea City fan, perhaps goal average wasn’t such a bad method for deciding the champions after all!

C'mon you Swans!