The Premier League is the title everybody wants, but realistically few can win.
But, believe it or not, within the Premier League there is another league. A league which any team can win, a truly level playing field in which any side - no matter the budget, the stadium or the resources - can come out on top. The Fair Play League.
Of course, nobody takes any real interest in it - but nevertheless the Fair Play League serves an important purpose. Teams may not actively try to "win it", but nobody wants to come bottom.
In the 150th year of the Football Association, the Fair Play League ensures that each side plays within the famous "spirit of the game".
It rewards those that compete fairly - lets not forget, the entire purpose of the FA was too make sure every team plays within the rules, to codify, organise and regulate the beautiful game.
These days, that's not too much of a problem - the era of steel-toe boots, nail studs and waist-high tackles is over.
But the Fair Play Table endures, now run by the Premier League, with it's own unique system of separating out the good guys from the bad, those that play fair to those that play rough.
Like anything related to football rankings - see FIFA World Rankings, UEFA coefficients, etc - it's needlessly complicated. Simply counting red and yellow cards accumulated throughout the season would be too basic, too base for game as complex as football.
Instead all manner of points are awarded for various categories - positive play, respect for opponents and referees, and good coach behaviour is scrutinised and marked by a studious group of match delegates who scurry back to Premier League HQ, clipboard in hand, coattails flapping in the wind, and report to the bigwigs. These are football's unseen observers.
Let's start with the basics. When it comes to red and yellow cards, every team starts with 10 points. Very kind of the Premier League, that.
But for every yellow card received, the Premier League snatches back a point, like a disappointed parent. For every red card, three points will be rescinded. Harsh indeed, and the particularly aggressive among you should be warned - there is no minimum points total. Get enough players sent off, and your points total will quickly tumble. Soon enough, you'll be in negative points.
Next up is positive play. This one's for the fans. The Premier League wants entertaining attacking football - so gung-ho tactics, rapid attacks and efforts to speed up the game will all be rewarded.
unrepentantlyFancy telling your ball-boys to jump on the ball? Eager to waste time? Happy for your players to dive to the floor like injured doe? Then you, my friend, will find yourself short of Fair Play points. 10 for the most pure, just the 1 for those who sin .
Respect towards your opponents and match officials is still important, but not enough to get you the maximum 10. Seven is the top total here, and it can be achieved by keeping your mouth shut, accepting decisions with fair grace and basically getting on with the game. Fat chance of a maximum, then.
But it's not just the players who need to show a little respect. As Sir Alex Ferguson recently found out, screaming and wailing at a match official like a red-faced toddler upset at losing your toy is frowned upon.
Whipping your fans and players up into a frenzy like a crazied zealot in a tracksuit and baseball cap is also a no-no. If you remain neutral, and refuse to be drawn into any incidents, you'll score five out of six. To get that elusive sixth point you need to go above and beyond, you need to demonstrate your saintly qualities. I assume teams rarely get six points.
The final component for your score comes down to you - the fan. Supporters are scored out of 10 for their behaviour. All start with five points, and match delegates then sit in judgement of your "vocal support" - basically how enthusiastic you get without going out-of-your-seat-foaming-at-the-mouth-crazy at a particular thrown-in that didn't go your way.
"Covert recognition of outstanding play by opponents" will also boost your score, which sounds a little James Bond MI5-style but probably actually just means respecting your opposition. A quiet clap, a small nod, perhaps a hat-tip to a particularly stunning goal scored against your good side. These are the things that could make the difference.
Needless to say the opposite leads to deductions. All points are then swiftly divided by the number of games played to give you a handy little average.
So, now you know how it works, who's top of the league so far this season?
1. Arsenal | Average score 8.72
2. Fulham | 8.59
3. Southampton | 8.59
4. Liverpool | 8.58
5. Tottenham Hotspur | 8.55
6. Manchester United | 8.50
7. Chelsea | 8.37
8. Norwich City | 8.35
9. West Bromwich Albion | 8.3
10. Reading | 8.29
11. Manchester City | 8.28
12. Everton | 8.23
13. Swansea City | 8.15
14. Wigan Athletic | 8.14
15. West Ham United | 8.07
16. Aston Villa | 8.03
17. Queens Park Rangers | 8.0
18. Sunderland | 7.96
19. Newcastle | 7.79
20. Stoke City | 7.70
To see a full breakdown of the Fair Play League table, visit the Premier League Official website. It can be be found here.
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