Goal difference

A few little observations about English football, specifically about goal difference. Look away now if that’s not your kind of thing.

This season I am spending even more time than usual studying football league tables, the Championship table in particular. Right now it shows my team, Leeds United, at the top, ahead of Norwich City by 1 point and with a superior goal difference. Here’s a screenshot of the Top 6, taken from the BBC website.


If, as in the last two seasons, Leeds drop out of the Top 6 before the end of April, and we spend the summer preparing for a 16th consecutive season outside the top flight, I can console myself with this graphic, a reminder of a happy time at the top of the second tier of English football. It’s the team’s highest league placing for over 14 years.

Looking at the table in full, it shows that 12 of the 24 teams in the Championships have a positive goal difference and the other 12 have a negative goal difference, as you might expect. By contrast, the Premier League shows just 6 teams out of 20 with a positive goal difference: the Top 5 (currently Liverpool, Manchester City, Spurs, Chelsea and Arsenal, in that order) and Everton in 8th. Maybe this is nothing unusual, but the sight of just those 6 teams with a positive goal difference jumped out at me earlier today as I reminded myself of Manchester United’s start to the season, two days after they sacked Jose Mourinho as manager.  They lie in 6th, with a goal difference of 0.

Thoughts of goal difference prompted me to check the details of the 1965 English football season. Newly promoted Leeds finished level on points with Man U that season, but ended up in 2nd place on “goal average”, or more accurately “goal ratio”. Many years ago someone told me that if the places had been decided on goal difference Leeds would have been champions. I believed him but had never checked the details until now. It looks like he was mistaken. As this Wikipedia page shows, if goal difference had been the deciding factor Man U would still have won: Goals For 89, Goals Against 39, for a difference of +50. Leeds scored 83 and conceded 52 for a difference of +31. Ah well. There are still plenty of other historic injustices to keep me going, not least the 1975 European Cup Final.



2 thoughts on “Goal difference

  1. Hi SJ – I realise that the Goal Average/Goal Difference had no effect on the outcome of 1964/5 season in England but did you know that it had huge implications in Scotland:

    In season 1964/65 Kilmarnock won the Scottish League on Goal Average from my team, Hearts. Hearts would have won if the league had been decided by Goal Difference. Hearts were then one of the major clubs to campaign for a change to Goal Difference in Scotland and England ……….. and guess what? …………………. In season 1985/6 Hearts finished level with Celtic but lost out on Goal Difference. To make matters worse, had there still been Goal Average in place, Hearts would have won the League.

    Ah well!


    1. Thanks for this. It’s the kind of sporting detail that’s right up my street. And commiserations. I didn’t realize until checking just now that Hearts haven’t won the title since 1959/60, or just how close they came to winning it in 1986. “Two late goals by [Dundee] substitute Albert Kidd” Wikipedia tells me.
      I wrote this piece back in 2016, “If you could change one result …”, [] about which sporting result(s) you would change if you could go back in time. I guess a 0-0 draw in that deciding game would have suited you fine. Or a return to Goal Average instead of Goal Difference. Cheers.


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