Betting on the FA Cup

Betting Fallacy 3


Wrong! In fact, it is arguable that in recent years the betting markets have failed to recognise how comprehensively the FA Cup is now dominated by the big clubs.

It used to be said that the best team won the Premiership and the luckiest team won the FA Cup. Now the best team, or one of the very best teams, usually win the FA Cup as well.

During the nine years from 1996 to 2004, the FA Cup was won three times by Arsenal, three times by Manchester United, twice by Chelsea and once by Liverpool.

During that time, Arsenal and Manchester United were the best two teams in England, Liverpool and Chelsea usually one of the next two. Okay, so one of the best teams usually lift the trophy, but are the others - along with lots of good teams - ambushed on the road to Cardiff or Wembley? Do the corpses of football's giants litter the verges of the M4 and M40?

No more often than they should. In any game, anything can happen. Inferior teams will sometimes beat superior opponents. But in the FA Cup it doesn't happen any more often than it should.

We remember Third Division Bristol Rovers' 2002 victory at Premiership Derby, with a hat-trick from Nathan Ellington. We forget all the other bottom-division teams who did not beat Premiership opponents. In fact, during the last ten seasons, no other team from the lowliest section of the Football League have won away to Premiership opponents.

We fail to notice the unspectacular results, just as, in a different context, we fail to notice all the planes that do not crash and all the ships that do not sink.

In the chart above, I have given the FA Cup results recorded during the last ten seasons by Premiership teams against what we would now call Championship opponents and by what we would now call League One teams against League Two opponents. You will see that Premiership teams scored an average of 0.9 goals per game more than Championship opponents, League One teams scored an average of 0.6 goals per game more than League Two opponents.

We can gauge the relative strength of these divisions from the results of clubs promoted and relegated between them. In the same ten seasons, the average goal difference per game of clubs relegated from the Premiership to the Championship improved by 1.0, while the average goal difference per game of clubs promoted from the Championship to the Premiership deteriorated by 1.0.

The average goal difference per game of clubs relegated from League One to League Two improved by 0.7, while the average goal difference per game of teams promoted from League Two to League One deteriorated by 0.7.

The gap between the Premiership and Championship in one-off FA Cup ties was very similar, though not identical, to what it was in ordinary league fixtures. Likewise, the gap between League One and League Two.

I have correspondents who argue persuasively that in knockout competitions tiddlers can be offered at value prices against the big fish. You will have to judge each match on its merits, using techniques like the ones I described earlier. All I can say is that there is no evidence for the almost universally accepted belief that the FA Cup is a great leveller.

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