I like statistics and I like football. These two things go together very well. As the new football season is but one night’s sleep away, I thought it might interesting to take a look at how representative the Football League and Premier League are across England (as well as take a detour from my usual political posts).

A little while ago I got into an extremely exciting discussion centred on which county Aldershot Town were from. Football League teams and English counties have always been interesting to me. Coming from Essex, for as long as I can remember, we’ve had just two teams, Southend United and Colchester United, both of whom have shuffled up and down (though mostly down) the 2nd, 3rd and 4th tiers of English football. In recent years, Dagenham and Redbridge have joined us to make it three professional league teams across the county (well, two and a half). Even so, given our proximity to London, it always seemed a paltry number of league teams, especially for the 11th biggest and 7th most populous county in England. But then I began to think.

In terms of ceremonial counties, there are 48 in England. There are 92 English (and the odd Welsh) football league teams at any one point. That means that if evenly distributed, the average number of teams per county should be just under 2. However, given that London alone has 12 professional clubs, this number goes down considerably.

Returning to Aldershot Town, the person I was talking to mistakenly placed them in Surrey (rather than Hampshire). After being corrected, we realised we couldn’t name a single league team from Surrey. As it turns out, that’s because there aren’t any. However, in writing this article, I discovered that there are in fact 10 counties in England without a single league team: Bedfordshire, the City of London (not a shock), Cornwall, Herefordshire, Isle of Wight, Northumberland, Rutland, Surrey, Warwickshire and Worcestershire. This means nearly 21% of counties in England are without a professional team. The total population of these counties is over 4 million people.

In contrast, there are more Welsh teams (Cardiff, Swansea and Newport) in the English football league than teams from these 10 counties, Cheshire and Kent combined.

So let’s put the Football League in perspective. As the new season approaches, I decided to work out the representation of English League football teams by county for the season 2013-14. This first table below shows the top 10 counties based on the number of league teams per county.

Rank County No. Teams
1 Greater London 12
2= Lancashire 7
2= Greater Manchester 7
4 West Midlands 6
5 South Yorkshire 5
6= Nottinghamshire 3
6= Staffordshire 3
6= Devon 3
6= Merseyside 3
6= Essex 3
6= West Yorkshire 3
6= Wales 3

Unsurprisingly, Greater London comes out on top, with Lancashire and Greater Manchester and the West Midlands trailing behind. Surprisingly from my point of view, Essex comes 6th equal. Given that just five counties, Greater London, Lancashire, Greater Manchester, the West Midlands and South Yorkshire account for 40% of English football league teams, Essex and those around it don’t seem to fare too badly.

Rank County Points
 1 Greater London 38
2 Greater Manchester 18
3 West Midlands 17
4 Lancashire 14
5 South Yorkshire 13
6 Merseyside 10
7 Wales 9
8= West Yorkshire 8
8= Tyne and Wear 8
9 Staffordshire 7

This second table ranks the counties based on a points system, with 4 for a Premier League team, 3 for a Championship team, 2 for a League One team and 1 for a League Two team.

Once again, it isn’t a shock to see Greater London way out on top and the top 5 remains relatively unchanged. The only major differences this table makes is to drop Nottinghamshire, Essex and Devon out of the top 10. They place 12th, 14th and 19th on this measure. Unsurprisingly, the more teams you have, the more chance you have of seeing higher level football.

Things get more interesting however when you look at the number of teams in a county based on both its population and its area. This should give a better idea of how well represented each county is.

Rank County Area/km2 Km2 per team
1 Greater London 606 50.5
2 Bristol 110 55
3 West Midlands 348 58
4 Greater Manchester 493 70.5
5 Merseyside 249 83
6 Tyne and Wear 209 104.5
7 South Yorkshire 599 119.8
8 Lancashire 1187 170
9 West Yorkshire 784 261
10 Nottinghamshire 834 278

Going by area alone, Greater London just pips Bristol and the West Midlands to being the most highly represented county in England. Bristol is the second smallest county in England and would have made the top ten even if they had only one of Rovers or City in the league. Lancashire is by far the largest county in the top ten, and does well due having the equal second highest number of teams at 7.

The largest three counties in England: Cumbria, Cornwall and Cambridgeshire share just two teams between them, meaning just two teams in a total area of 13720km2. That’s over half the size of Wales.

The most interesting table to look at is looking at representation by population in each county. This is the measure that arguably matters most – physics tends to limit the number of fans who can fit into each stadium – so just who has the most choice in England?

Rank County Population People per team
1 Lancashire 1,461,400 208771
2 Bristol 428,100 214050
3 South Yorkshire 1,343,900 268780
4 Nottinghamshire 1,090,600 363533
5 Staffordshire 1,098,300 366100
6 Buckinghamshire 756,600 378300
7 Devon 1,135,700 378567
8 Greater Manchester 2,685,400 383629
9 West Midlands 2,739,800 456633
10 Merseyside 1,380,800 460267

On this measure, as absurd as it may seem to say, people in Lancashire are the most spoilt. For every 208,771 of them, there is one team in the English Football League. Again, Bristol are well served, but then if Sheffield or Nottingham were their own county, they too would have similar levels of representation. Devon and Buckinghamshire are surprisingly well represented. There are around 380,000 people for every team in Greater Manchester, meaning Old Trafford could conceivably sell out 5 times and Eastlands 6 times every week.

But what about the Priestfield Stadium in Gillingham? Of the counties with at least one team, Kent has the highest population. If people in Kent wanted to only support their most local league team, they could fill the Priestfield stadium nearly 150 times over!

You may be wondering what happened to Greater London. Based on representation by population, Greater London falls way down to 21st in the table, with around 683,000 people for every team. So despite 13% of English league teams being based in London, London is not as well represented as nearly half the rest of England. My own county of Essex fares only slightly better, coming in 17th place.

So if you’re a Blackburn or Morecombe fan, spare a though for the poor folk of Cornwall or Warwickshire. And next time you’re thinking about criticising your friend who lives in Worcestershire for supporting Manchester United, think twice. After all, the biggest side in the whole of Worcestershire is Kidderminster Harriers.

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You can download the data for Excel yourself here. Full table below:

County
Number of teams
Points total
Population
Pop. per team
Area/km2
Km2 per team
Bedfordshire
0
0
617,000
N/A
1235
N/A
Berkshire
1
3
863,000
863000
1262
1262
Bristol
2
3
428,100
214050
110
55
Buckinghamshire
2
3
756,600
378300
1874
937
Cambridgeshire
1
2
806,700
806700
3390
3390
Cheshire
1
2
1,028,600
1028600
2343
2343
City of London
0
0
7,400
N/A
2.9
N/A
Cornwall
0
0
536,000
N/A
3563
N/A
Country Durham
1
1
902,500
902500
2721
2721
Cumbria
1
2
499,800
499800
6767
6767
Derbyshire
2
4
1,019,500
509750
2625
1312.5
Devon
3
3
1,135,700
378566.667
2590
863.333333
Dorset
1
3
745,400
745400
1021
1021
East Riding of Yorkshire
1
4
590,800
590800
957
957
East Sussex
1
3
800,200
800200
698
698
Essex
3
4
1,729,200
576400
1417
472.333333
Gloucestershire
1
1
861,700
861700
1216
1216
Greater London
12
38
8,196,700
683058.333
606
50.5
Greater Manchester
7
18
2,685,400
383628.571
493
70.4285714
Hampshire
2
5
1,176,600
588300
1455
727.5
Herefordshire
0
0
183,600
N/A
842
N/A
Hertfordshire
2
5
1,119,800
559900
634
317
Isle of Wight
0
0
138,400
N/A
147
N/A
Kent
1
2
1,731,400
1731400
1442
1442
Lancashire
7
14
1,461,400
208771.429
1187
169.571429
Leicestershire
1
3
980,800
980800
833
833
Lincolnshire
1
1
1,042,000
1042000
2687
2687
Merseyside
3
10
1,380,800
460266.667
249
83
Norfolk
1
4
859,400
859400
2074
2074
North Yorkshire
2
4
1,072,600
536300
3324
1662
Northamptonshire
1
1
693,900
693900
913
913
Northumberland
0
0
316,300
N/A
1936
N/A
Nottinghamshire
3
6
1,090,600
363533.333
834
278
Oxfordshire
1
1
654,800
654800
1006
1006
Rutland
0
0
37,600
N/A
147
N/A
Shropshire
1
2
473,900
473900
1347
1347
Somerset
1
3
910,200
910200
1610
1610
South Yorkshire
5
13
1,343,900
268780
599
119.8
Staffordshire
3
7
1,098,300
366100
1048
349.333333
Suffolk
1
3
730,100
730100
1467
1467
Surrey
0
0
1,135,500
N/A
642
N/A
Tyne and Wear
2
8
1,104,100
552050
209
104.5
Wales
3
9
3,064,000
1021333.33
20761
6920.33333
Warwickshire
0
0
546,500
N/A
763
N/A
West Midlands
6
17
2,739,800
456633.333
348
58
West Sussex
1
2
808,900
808900
769
769
West Yorkshire
3
8
2,227,400
742466.667
784
261.333333
Wiltshire
1
2
684,000
684000
1346
1346
Worcestershire
0
0
566,500
N/A
672
N/A
Sources: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_ceremonial_counties_of_England_by_population
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