How has your football club changed over time?

The earliest known written record of a Football match taking place in England, was penned by cleric William Fitzstephen after a trip to London in 1170 AD – it went:

After dinner all the youths of the city goes out into the fields for the very popular game of ball.

Over eight centuries later and this very English “game of ball” was transformed into the most watched sports-league in the world.

English football has enjoyed a long and proud history. But while football as a whole has been a pillar of our culture, each individual club is forever in flux, rising and falling in the league tables as new players, talent and money are attracted from all corners of the globe like magnets. But how has your club changed over this time?

Specifically, how has the makeup of your squad changed since the inception of the English Football League in 1888? What regions of the globe has your club historically attracted talent from? How did it change when the EFL was superseded by the Premier League in 1992? And did any of this have an affect on your clubs historical success in the final standings?

We’ve conducted a data-driven study investigating exactly these questions.

In order to get this data we:

  • Found the final standings of the top football division in England per season, every season since 1888 (over 130 years worth of data).
  • Found the names of every player in each of these clubs, for every season.
  • Found the exact country of birth for each of these players.

And when we merge all this data together, we have over 54,000 individual data points (21 players x 20 clubs x 130 seasons) which allow us to create a visual timeline of how the makeup of squads has changed overtime, versus how many times those clubs topped the tables.

Below, you can see these results for five of the top English football clubs: Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, and Manchester United.

(For readability purposes, the data displayed is from 1950 onwards.)

1 – Arsenal

Arsenal

2 – Chelsea.

chelsea

3 – Liverpool.

Liverpool

4 – Manchester City.

Man City

5 – Manchester United.

United

Some headline takeaways:

  • Scottish and Irish players used to play a far bigger role in English football than they do today.
  • Since the EU’s Bosman Ruling (allowing easier transfers of footballers within the Single Market), continental European players have grown in influence, overtaking that of Scotland and Ireland in many cases.
  • With the exception of Liverpool, most of the top 5 clubs have topped the league more times as their squads became more diverse.

But what if you don’t support Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester United or Manchester City? Will you be able to see the history of your own club?

You’re in luck. We’re busy making an interactive tool which will not only let you see these results for every team that’s ever played in the top division of English football, but also in every season that’s been played since 1888.

That’s 130 years of this very English “game of ball”.

NOTES:

  • Club data was assembled using the top division per season. From 1888 to 1991, this was Division 1 in the English Football League; from 1992 onwards, this was the Premier League. The graphs above follow this format.
  • The football league was postponed on a number of occasions, for example, during the two world wars. For these occasions, no league data was pulled – though in some instances we were still able to find an official squad list.
  • Squad data limited by its availability on 11v11.com. For example, for Cambridge United, we have squad data from 1971 onward.