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Did Blackpool break Premier League rules?

30 January 2011

Blackpool fell to Aston Villa without their "full strength team" (Shaun Botterill/Getty Images Europe)

In the past week, Blackpool have been fined £25,000 for fielding a weakened team against Aston Villa on 10 November last year. Blackpool became the second club in the space of a year to receive punishment for the offence, and the fine has caused much displeasure from both Blackpool manager Ian Holloway and the wider footballing community.

Blackpool were deemed to have broken Premier League Rule E.20, which states:

E.20. In every League Match each participating Club shall field a full strength team.

It’s possible to understand the reasoning behind the rule when it was first devised: it’s a measure to guarantee supporters receive as much value for money from attending each Premier League game, and also helps prevent collusion between teams attempting to ensure a certain result.

When implemented, however, the rule is farcical, and rings a little of the team orders rule that existed in Formula One till the end of last season. The rule places the power in the Premier League, who can decide for any club what their ‘full strength team’ is.  It makes little sense, and even less so with new rules requiring clubs to name a 25-man squad, which, by definition, gives them a pool of their best players to choose from.

Most people’s frustration is with the existence of the rule itself, which resulted with the fine. However, no one has really sought to question the Premier League’s implementation of the rule in the context of Blackpool’s match against Villa.

Common sense suggests that Holloway’s team against Aston Villa, which had ten changes from the previous match against Everton, was not their strongest in terms of individual ability. Blackpool’s ‘full strength team’, however, has often been greater than the sum of its parts, and it’s fair to say their second string side outperformed themselves at Villa Park, where only an 89th minute James Collins goal was the difference in a 3-2 defeat.

On the whole, Blackpool have fielded their strongest team in their thirteen away matches this season. Two of those matches, against Arsenal and Chelsea, ended in heavy defeats, but in every other game the team has performed admirably. Here’s a statistical overview of Blackpool’s away record this season:

All away matches All away matches except Aston Villa All away matches except Arsenal, Aston Villa & Chelsea Aston Villa 3-2 Blackpool, 10 November
Possession 48% 47% 48% 60%
Shots on target 4.2 4.3 4.8 3
Shots off target 8.6 8.4 8.8 11
Pass completion 74.5% 74.5% 73.6% 75.2%
Interceptions 13.5 13.4 11 15
Tackle success 53.9% 54.2% 53.3% 50.0%

Possession-wise, Blackpool had much of the game against Villa with a 60% possession, much more than their average of 47% in other away matches. The Seasiders’ 14 shots on goal also beat the 13 or so that they typically enjoy on their travels. Pass completion and the number of interceptions (which may have helped possession) also exceeded their average, whilst only the tackle success fell below what Blackpool normally see away from home. In their next match however, Blackpool won only 41% of tackles away at West Ham.

It’s fair to say that Blackpool’s ‘reserves’ very much impressed at Villa Park, matching or even bettering the performances of the ‘full strength team’ in other matches. It therefore begs the question why the Premier League chose to fine Blackpool for not fielding a ‘full strength team’. The body governing England’s top division should surely recognise the sport is a team game; that 11 average players able to play as a team can outperform an XI of better individuals.

More than being disrespectful to the Blackpool players who started at Villa Park, the Premier League hasn’t even utilised the loose interpretation of their own law to avoid an unpleasant situation that may even see the departure of the league’s best personality.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. Ben permalink
    31 January 2011 3:25 am

    The sticking point as to how it is so ridiculous to me is how Man Utd weren’t fined for fielding a weakened team against Hull on the last day of the 2008/09 season and Liverpool weren’t fined for fielding weakened teams before Champions League games under Benitez. Whilst I have nothing against either of these two teams for doing so, it just shows such bias towards the bigger clubs from the FA.

    • 31 January 2011 9:09 am

      Agreed. Would’ve been interesting if Blackpool had held on for a draw too. I’d be hugely surprised if the rule stays in place for next season, or at least amended in some way.

  2. Arrays permalink
    4 April 2011 12:45 pm

    Errghh, thats bcause united had a european final in days later, but beside fielded the “weakest” team (as you say), they still could manage a winning, aren’t they? (That should be a “massive” helps for both newcastle &m’ddlesbrouh who got relegated that season, wasnt it?)

    • 4 April 2011 1:16 pm

      But according to Premier League rules, United should have been fined, yes? They fielded what most people would interpret as a weakened team.

  3. Often Partisan permalink
    7 April 2011 8:26 pm

    I know it’s a bit late, but I’d like to add that Arsenal this season fielded a weakened team in a midweek match vs Wigan, and got a 2-2 draw, and then played their strongest 11 vs Birmingham City at St Andrews and won 3-0. (no punishment for Arsenal of course). Wheras Birmingham had played the exact same 11 against Manchester United in their midweek fixtures
    Being as Birmingham only lost 1 home game in 2010,(this was the first game of 2011) it’s not inconceivable that they could have got a result if the Arsenal they’d been playing was a bit more leggy.(not saying this was the only reason for the result mind but it was n0 doubt a factor.)
    The reason this rule exists is because of a scenario like this, if Wigan stayed up by a point, and Birmingham got relegated by one, surely this behaviour by Arsenal would have had a distorting effect on the league?
    If they have the rule though I do think that they need a clear definition of what an actual weakened team is though rather than just punishing Blackpool/Wolves and ignoring it when the Arsenal/Man U do it.

    • 8 April 2011 5:51 am

      Excellent example, particularly as it’s during the Christmas/New Year period when teams rotate, or even field much weaker teams as you say.

      At the moment it seems as if the Premier League applies the rule as they do because Arsenal’s weaker team will still be stronger (or equal to) the full strength ‘smaller’ teams in the league – Wigan, Wolves, Blackpool etc – whereas a weaker team from Wolves, Blackpool is supposedly significantly weaker than any other team in the division. I’d be very surprised if they use it again.

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