FA Cup Draw Experiment – Preliminary Findings
In light of today’s FA Cup 3rd Round draw, and another draw that brought together two of the biggest teams in the country, I decided to carry out my own draws, using an internet random number generator, to see if any trends could be spotted that would suggest (though not prove, obviously) if the draws in recent years are fixed (by hot balls or otherwise). It’s only a little casual experiment – I am aware that it’s a bit basic and small to have any real weight, but I’m just looking to see if anything’s noticeable.
I took the last 6 3rd Round draws as my initial evidence for now, my reasoning being that the year before this run of 6 was the last time Torquay drew a top flight club in the 3rd Round (Birmingham City) – since then, we have failed to draw a top flight club despite reaching the 3rd Round and beyond on several occasions. Given that, if they have been fixing or engineering the draws, they haven’t been doing it forever, and are more likely to have started in the recent media-centric past, you have to start somewhere relatively recent. I then did 6 of my own draws (I hope to expand this further when I’ve got time, as it’s clearly nowhere near a big enough sample size) to compare.
To examine how often these money-spinning ties appear, I decided to take the ‘big four’ English clubs – Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United – and put them into a group called Very Big Clubs. I then picked six further notably large clubs – Aston Villa, Everton, Leeds United, Manchester City, Newcastle United and Tottenham Hotspur – and put them into a group called Big Clubs. Yes, all a bit arbitrary, I know, but as it’s not really a serious experiment, I’m not particularly bothered.
I then created some further parameters – any match between two Very Big Clubs would be in the group called Very Big Ties; any match between a Very Big Club and a Big Club would be known as a Quite Big Tie; and any match between two Big Clubs would be a Big Tie. But I did also allow for a number of overrides, with Manchester United vs Manchester City or Leeds United, Liverpool vs Everton, and Arsenal vs Tottenham automatically being Very Big Ties due to their historic rivalries.
I also decided to examine how many ties there would be between Big/Very Big Clubs and other Premier League clubs, as well as between two other Premier League clubs, and all Premier League clubs coming up against non-Premier League clubs.
The results, even at this basic level, make for interesting reading. For one, in the last 6 years, there have been 4 Very Big Ties, but in my draws, there was only 1. There have also been more Quite Big Ties in the 6 real draws, although not by many – 4, compared to 3 in my draws. Added together, that’s twice as many in real life than in my draws, which is an…interesting trend.
However, intriguingly, looking further down the Premier League pecking order, there are less “Premier League vs non-Premier League” ties in my draws than in the actual ones – 76 in mine, 86 in reality. This is because in my draws, there are 7 “Very Big Club vs other Premier League” matches, 5 “Big Club vs other Premier League” matches, and 5 “other Premier League vs other Premier League” matches, giving a total of 22 all-Premier League ties in total (not including matches involving Leeds, who aren’t in the Premier League). In the last 6 actual draws, again not including Leeds, there have been 17 all-Premier League ties, of which 7 are Big Club vs other Premier League”, 4 are “other Premier League vs other Premier League” and only 1 is “Very Big Club vs other Premier League”.
On the surface, a difference of 5 isn’t enormous, but it does mean that over the course of 6 years, 10 non-Premier League clubs get to face Premier League opposition, which is worth quite a lot of money to them. When conspiracy theorists (such as myself, on occasions) bring up these theories of the draws being engineered, they usually focus around the big clubs – nobody ever really suggests that the draws are fixed to help the smaller clubs; it’s always that they are fixed in favour of the big clubs and that this hinders the smaller clubs.
So, while I can’t really draw any concrete conclusions at this stage, the evidence, if it suggests anything at all, could suggest there is some level of draw engineering to try and get more Very Big Ties, but it could also suggest that the draws are engineered to prevent all-Premier League ties. Obviously, there is no way of proving this anyway, and it is still very unlikely (surely if it was the case, it would have leaked by now) – I certainly don’t believe that it is totally fixed, given that you can see the draw taking place, although vision and sound aren’t the only senses we have.
However, I certainly feel that the FA should consider the introduction in seeding in the earlier rounds of the competition. All-Premier League and all-Championship ties aren’t really what we want at this stage of the competition. If you want genuine romance in the cup, there needs to be more opportunity for the lower league and non-league clubs to be able to draw a genuinely big club at their home stadium, with a larger attendance than they would get at their restricted grounds. The irony is that purists would object to this, and usually those purists support the lower league clubs that need the money from big cup ties…
I’ll report back if I ever get round to expanding it. Which is unlikely