How do clubs tend to fare from one season to the next?

We’re approaching the time of year when a host of club-by-club season previews start appearing, with fans and pundits predicting how their team will fare. Inevitably, most will be targeting an improvement on last season’s finish, but how do expectations tend to compare with reality?

I’ve already had a go at visualising what the bookmakers think, but we can also set a simple benchmark by looking at how previous seasons have panned out. Using a similar set of categories, I’ve taken data from every season since the current promotion and relegation structure was introduced in 2002/03 and tracked how clubs have moved in the table.

The idea is that you can effectively build sentences from these graphics, starting with the row heading and then moving over to a column. Obviously we can’t use this to predict anything about a specific club, but we can compare our expectations to the precedent that’s been set and get a general sense for how fluid the divisions are from one season to the next.

Here’s what it looks like, starting with the Championship…

CH season to season

For example, the top left bubble tells us that 25% of the clubs relegated from the division above (i.e. the Premier League) to the Championship made an immediate return to the top flight, either from a top two finish or via the play-offs. The bubble immediately to the right tells us that a further 25% made the play-offs but failed to progress, and so on.

The bubbles in each row add up to 100% (apart from the odd bit of rounding). Incidentally the 3% at the end of the first row is one club: Wolves’ double relegation in 2012/13.

We can also see that nearly half of the sides who finished in the bottom half (48%) have finished there again the following season, while only around one in three sides to make the play-offs will match or better that achievement the following season (adding together the two green 17% bubbles on the second row).

Next here’s League 1:

L1 season to season

Bouncing back has been tougher for teams relegated from the Championship, with only around a third finishing in the top six and nearly half (47%) ending up in the bottom half of the table.

Clubs finishing in the play-offs have fared slightly better the following season than in the division above, but still fewer than 40% (adding the two 19% bubbles together) end up matching their previous achievement.

It’s worth remembering that there’s an extra relegation place in League 1, which is why the red bubbles are generally larger than in the Championship.

Finally here’s League 2:

L2 season to seasonHere we have some zeroes for the first time, although this is less surprising given that they all refer to teams being relegated to or promoted from the National League. There are only two slots available, compared to three or four higher up the ladder, so there are fewer teams to spread across these categories.

What’s interesting here is that half of the teams to be relegated from League 1 will finish somewhere in the bottom half (the 44% + 6% from the right of the first row). Tranmere recently became the third side – after Stockport and Luton – to suffer successive relegations to the National League.