Second Season Syndrome: A Football Myth?

Second Season Syndrome: A Football Myth?
When teams reach the promised land of the Premier League, celebrations undoubtedly follow and although the clubs involved would love to party all through the summer, those festivities must be curbed relatively early. Because as soon as promotion from the EFL Championship is secured, planning to stay within English football’s top tier begins in earnest and with Sheffield United and Norwich recently highlighting the two directions in which fortunes can turn, survival is by no means a given.

With the Canaries dropping back down at the first time of asking, the focus will now be on the Blades (and Aston Villa for that matter) as they approach successive campaigns amongst the elite and whether their invite can be extended for a third time.

After staving off the initial threat of relegation, the perception is that ‘Second Season Syndrome’ could strike for either party and although this illness is often spouted by all and sundry, on closer inspection it is not a big a threat as you may think.

Of the 85 instances where has been relegation from the Premier League (27 seasons x 3 clubs, 1 season x 4 clubs) – ‘Second Season Syndrome’ or SSS as we will label it for the rest of the article, has only occurred 12 times.

Now if we normalise this data slightly, and take the first two seasons of the Premier League out of the equation (because technically a club could not be susceptible to SSS until the start of the third season – 1994/95), it means there are 79 relegations in our data sample.

Which subsequently means, that only 15.1% of all relegations from the Premier League since 1995 have been courtesy of SSS and with that in mind, has this become all too much of a lazy cliché for the media and fans to spout?

On the face of it, you would say it is and if either Sheffield United or Aston Villa get off to a shaky start or hit a mid-season rut, the narrative of showing the symptoms of SSS will undoubtedly come to the forefront.

Therefore, with just over one in seven relegations coming courtesy of this concept, when exactly are relegations taking place and how long does a team last in the Premier League before the end of season peril kicks in?

The answer to that depends on how many times a club has fallen through the trap door and after carrying out some analysis on the length of service, a stint in the top division is broken down as such:

1st Relegation – 4.95 Seasons
2nd Relegation – 2.72 Seasons
3rd Relegation – 3.25 Seasons
4th Relegation – 4.20 Seasons
5th Relegation – 1.00 Seasons

Relatively good news if you have arrived in the Premier League for the first time, as on average a 5 season stint awaits, although this figure is boosted by such long stints as Aston Villa 24 seasons, and Newcastle 16 before suffering the ignominy of relegation.

With Sheffield United dropping out of the division twice before, it is the third relegation statistic that will be of most interest and at 3.25 seasons, the data points to at least another year of mixing it with the biggest clubs in England.

However, Aston Villa may have a reason to be fearful and with their one and only previous relegation in the bank, the fact that on average teams suffer a second drop after 2.72 seasons, will give the West Midlands outfit cause for concern.

While of the 12 times that SSS has occurred, it has also doubled up as first relegation occurrence for the teams involved – 50%, a figure that drops to 41.6% if a club has the anguish of finishing in the bottom three for the second time.

Whether Villa or Sheffield United can be immune to SSS remains to be seen, but hopefully this data will at least provide greater context and next time you hear it in discussion, you can now debunk one of English football’s bigger myths.


Written by Dan Tracey

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