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Dirtiest Teams In Premier League History, 1992-2011

Photo by Jonathan_W

Some clubs have reputations as being the dirtiest teams in the Premier League. Derby County, Stoke City and Hull are some of the most penalized in history.

On an average weekend in the Premier League, we see a host of yellow cards being pulled out of the pockets of referees. And sometimes we see the red card pulled from the top pocket. But have you ever stopped to consider which Premier League club has amassed the most yellow cards and red cards since the Premier League began in 1992?

Thanks to excellent research by My Football Facts, we took their comprehensive research and then calculated some averages. First, we added up the yellow cards and averaged that number by the number of seasons each current Premier League club has been in the league. Blackpool skews a low average because it’s their first season in the Premier League and they have yet to complete it yet. Several clubs, of course, have been in the league for 19 seasons since it kicked off in 1992.

Second, we added up all of the red cards and calculated an average based on the number of seasons played.

Third, and lastly, we took the number of red cards for each club and multiplied that by two (one red card is the equivalent of two yellow cards). We then took that points total for each club and added one point for each yellow card. We were able to generate a “Total points scored” based on that. Then, we took an average total points scored based on the number of seasons played. Thus, we ended up with a method of determining which are the dirtiest (and cleanest) teams in the Premier League.

Dirtiest teams in Premier League

One final note before I share the results. The data is based on yellow cards and red cards awarded, not fouls committed. But we believe that yellow cards and red cards are the best indication of whether a team is playing dirty (or making silly mistakes) or not.

Here are the findings:

And, after combining the yellow cards and red cards together to produce a points total and then dividing that points total by the number of seasons each club played, here are the findings:

There are many observations that can be made from this data. And also many theories. Is it a coincidence that the Big Four clubs are in the bottom half of the table (i.e. do referees give them preferential treatment or not?)

What are some of the interesting observations you see in this data? Share your opinions in the comments section below.

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  1. @davey_lad

    March 15, 2011 at 6:23 am

    Another observation… these stats are based on the teams that currently play in the Premier League. How about stats for every team that has ever played. I’d like to see what Leeds, Wimbledon, Sheff Utd, Crystal Palace etc look like.

  2. Sean

    March 9, 2011 at 1:32 pm

    While this is interesting, there is also another problem with trying to figure out which side is the dirtiest by just adding up cards this way in addition to the ones that have already been pointed out.

    In just adding up the cards you are just getting a grand total without properly weighting those cards so you have a baseline to work with in order to show a true reflection of just how many cards a side has received compared to others.

    For example, in 1995-96 season the Premier League gave out 383 yellow cards. In the 1998-99 season the Premier League gave out 1 416 yellow cards or 3.7 times as many yellow cards as it gave out in the 1995-96 season. By just dealing with total amount of cards the 1995-96 Manchester City side that led the Premier League with 35 yellow cards (or 9.1% of the total yellow cards handed out) looks less “dirty” than every single Premier League side from the 1998-99 season (where they would only account for 2.5% of the total number of yellow cards handed out). If you used the 1998-99 season as a baseline however and thus multiplied their yellow card total by 3.7 they win the yellow card title in a cake walk by a whopping 37 yellow cards.

    Tabulating tables like this would be problematic if the Premier League never relegated or promoted any side throughout its entire history. It becomes even more problematic dealing with sides that are up some years and down in others when different Premier League directives cause officials to take note of different things conversely affecting the total number of cards handed out.

  3. chuckazooloo

    March 8, 2011 at 10:21 am

    the problem is that the EPL has been dismal about keeping up with stats. the clubs have just recently started hiring real “Sabermetric” type statisticians. until they have real hard data, then the math just doesn’t really “add up”. great new book out by Simon Kuper & Stefan Szymanski called “Soccernomics” which bemoans that fact that international soccer is run by people who precisely don’t look at data the way it should be monitored and analyzed. it’s a fascinating read.

    • Matt

      March 8, 2011 at 12:39 pm

      Chuckazooloo, I just finished “Soccernomics” a few weeks ago and also found it to be a fantastic read. I especially enojoyed the research around transfer fees being a waste of money.

  4. TWS

    March 7, 2011 at 9:38 pm

    The one thing that stands out to me the most is Liverpool and United are both on the very bottom end of both statistics. Why? They both play extremely hard over the years and have their share of mishaps and bad issues. I think if anyone is given preferential treatment it is these 2 clubs. Constantly, over and over again it can be seen that the old guard receive the apple of the eye treatment from media to what based on this would be assumed officiating. I am not one to state officials are corrupt, but biased, without a doubt. Hence the case of the ’66 World Cup where Germany won that game and title if not for the line judge, who was Russian, calling the ball a goal when it clearly had not crossed the line. Years later on his death bed, the man stated that he would never give Germany anything regardless of what was the correct call because of WWII.

    But I digress, it is very obvious, Man United and Liverpool are the media darlings and the badge of the old guard of English ball. Just watch the game with Chelsea and Blackpool, all the annoucers could do was critcize Chelsea and state they didn’t have it. Then you put an ex Liverpool player in there and he began hammering on United as well. Watch the Chelsea v. United game from last week, the annoucers were totally biased against Chelsea and for United. They even said at the end of the game “we’re in Fergie time”. Everyone knows, the old man is bully and gets his way or pouts about it. Here we are again with him throwing a tantrum with his press blackout. He already banned the BBC which is ridiculous. His behaviour is a reflection on his team and every time Scholes or Rooney or anyone else spouted off and went on a tirade using profanities to a ref and cursing them out, they should have been thrown out. We’ve all seen it and can read their lips. But no, that never happens. And then when Fergie loses, he can’t stand it and blames it on someone else. Well this is the same mantra as the Scousers, they really are two peas in a pod, I think Manchester has a better work ethic though and the education rate is much higher, it can’t be much worse as I’ve heard no one in Liverpool gets an education.

    Again, I digress, my point is, refs can be biased and to utilize your chart, while eloquent, seems like you’ve missed the point unlike mythic Robin Hood. United and Liverpool will be given more slack and grace until more and more of the “old guard” pass on, at least imo.

  5. ish

    March 7, 2011 at 7:43 pm

    would be interesting to compare the data for chelsea from 92-03 nd then 04-11 because we could see if they got a massive change in cards given.

    • ish

      March 7, 2011 at 7:47 pm

      sry to add something else, one thing is is there a correlation between teams that use their forwards and wingers to press and table position? since referees are more likely to give a yellow to a forward then a defender? you will find that alot of weaker teams might park the bus and harry the midfield with their strikers in hopes of having a turnover or use big guys to do long balls too and these players can do alot of fouls during a game and be given a yellow by a ref to pretend that they are enforcing a game.

  6. Thomas

    March 7, 2011 at 7:19 pm

    Very interesting read for sure.

    The wonderful thing about data is that you can find patterns and explanations for almost anything with it.

    Are the big 4 less carded because of preferential treatment? I doubt it. They employ more skilled players, control the game more, and are less likely to try and kick a team off the park.

    I think the point that less skilled teams (obviously partly why they perform worse in terms of league position), leads them to commit more bookable offenses.

  7. Terry

    March 7, 2011 at 2:51 pm

    Nice idea but very poorly executed. Try again.

    Your data only discusses the number of cards shown to teams but not why.

    • The Gaffer

      March 7, 2011 at 2:57 pm

      Terry, I don’t think anyone has data regarding why the yellow cards or red cards were given. Since the Premier League has begun, there have been 20,480 yellow cards awarded and 1,142 red cards. That’s a lot of data to digest.

      The Gaffer

      • trickybrkn

        March 7, 2011 at 3:24 pm

        and you want us to believe that this blog is better then the NY Times soccer blog… come on, at least try and be objective. do you even read that blog? great piece on West Brom and West Ham today, with real insights and cause and effect journalism.

        • The Gaffer

          March 7, 2011 at 3:54 pm

          I read the NY Times soccer blog but didn’t see any pieces on West Brom and West Ham. I don’t think I said that EPL Talk was better than the NY Times. I do try to be objective but I can’t please all the people all the time.

          The Gaffer

        • R2Dad

          March 7, 2011 at 6:08 pm

          NYT. Because if it’s from New York it’s gotta be the best.

          • trickybrkn

            March 7, 2011 at 7:45 pm

            actually yes.

  8. Jon Sharp

    March 7, 2011 at 1:57 pm

    Very interesting. Agree with the comment that the title is perhaps wrong as there are many cards given out for timewasting and dissent that don’t imply dirty play. Also, “Dirty” implies intent in my mind. But many cards are given out for poor or incompetent challenges where a slower/ less skillful player misjudges a tackle on a faster, more skillful player. Consequently it makes sense to me that the better teams would be lower down the table. Clearly Villa a better than I think they are 😉

  9. Jon

    March 7, 2011 at 12:02 pm

    Hey Gaffer,

    I appreciate the effort and it’s fun as a chatting piece, but you’ve got all kinds of methodology problems with the way you have chosen to do this. I’m not a statistician, but even I can see a few glaring errors that render your conclusions pretty well useless for determining the “dirtiest team”.

    For example, in your master table where you combine yellows and reds, you weight a red card as counting for two yellows. But this is not strictly speaking correct from a “dirty” point of view. It is true that if you get two yellows in the same game, it amounts to a red, but you have not taken account of the fact that a *straight* red is clearly much more dirty than two yellows. Let’s look at two incidents: Vidic’s sending off against Chelsea and Shawcross’s tackle on Ramsey. Vidic gets two points for United on your scale, because he took two yellows which equal one red. His fouls might be rough, might be worth a caution, but are not especially dirty. I would agree that it is fair in that circumstance to give him two points, or the equivalent of two yellows. But when you look at a straight red offence like Shawcross on Ramsey, or some of the tackles in the recent Celtic-Rangers game, or Diaby’s grabbing Barton by the throat, those tackles and other offences are much more reflective of dirty play. They ought to be worth much more than the equivalent of two yellows.

    To be more reflective and conclude that one team is really dirtier, you need to do something to account for the nature of the foul, not just assume that all reds are worth two yellows.

    So, your math is a little simplistic, is just my point.



    • Gaz Hunt

      March 7, 2011 at 1:14 pm

      I like the idea and think it’s very Interesting. What do you have to say for yourselves, Sunderland?

      I may be reading this wrong but I also see an issue with the scoring.

      If Nani gets a yellow card for simulation and another later on for crying, you would equal this to minus three as a yellow and a red. But shouldn’t it be counted as just minus two for being two yellow card offenses?

      Despite this, very fun idea.

  10. trickybrkn

    March 7, 2011 at 10:43 am

    Cards are really only one factor for being dirty. There is even a table in this regard… the Fair play table, do well on it and you may get an extra spot in Europe.,,12306,00.html

    Your headlines really could use some work, to suggest that dirty is in direct relation to cards is a misnomer… Players get cards for time wasting is that dirty? Players give fouls when they know they are beat, hardly dirty. Players are sometimes give cards incorrectly, shocking but a very true reality we see every weekend.

    Dirty was Fat Sam’s Bolton clubs… Stoke under Pullis to an extent… Its negative football, hard tackles with purpose, and general thuggery.

    and to even argue otherwise just shows a lack of understanding of the game end of.. You know better, but wanted to wrangle some pointless stats and couldn’t think beyond the word dirty…

    • R2Dad

      March 7, 2011 at 6:06 pm

      To make you less miserable, I’ve rewritten the title. Instead of “Dirtiest Teams In Premier League History, 1992-2011”, how about “1990-2011 Teams In The History of the Premier League Who Have Been Given Yellow & Red Cards For Naughty Behavior”? You’re a douche.

      • trickybrkn

        March 7, 2011 at 7:44 pm

        yeah you are sure right.. words don’t matter.

        let him bate the neophytes with tag lines that have nothing to do with the context of what is written.

        and thus I guess facts don’t matter.

        yours truly
        the douchenozzle

  11. Renegade Gooner

    March 7, 2011 at 10:21 am

    This confirms what i already knew, that Stoke were a bunch of dirty ****s and should as Arseblogger said “been beaten to death with there mothers arms by a gang of angry warlocks”.

  12. Onedrop

    March 7, 2011 at 9:29 am

    I am curious to find out, on a player basis, who the to 20 “dirtiest” players are based on cards.

  13. Alabi Olushola

    March 7, 2011 at 8:37 am

    The lower you are on the list the more focus you are. If you are kicking the ball, you will have less time kicking legs and players and getting cards.

    • Lesalanos

      January 29, 2012 at 8:17 pm

      Stoke longest run of any team without a sending off. Where did you get these stats?

  14. Mekias

    March 7, 2011 at 8:34 am

    A lot of teams in the lower half of the table probably feel like they have to play harder and dirtier to compete with their richer and more skilled counterparts. I’m sure that’s some of it. They’re more likely to employ an enforcer type to set the tone of the match. Although, that being said, I’m sure there are some refs that give the big clubs a little leniency and maybe some other refs who go out of their way to card the big clubs to show that they aren’t giving preferential treatment.

    • trickybrkn

      March 7, 2011 at 3:22 pm

      Dirty has nothing at all to do with league position…

      Perhaps the dirtiest team ever in the PL was Arsenal around 1990. You may think of them now as the free flowing keep the ball on the floor team they have evolved into, but its just not the case.

      The one of the best clubs of the 70’s was Leeds, and perhaps the dirtiest.

      And then you have Blackpool, one of the greatest underdogs ever to play in the league and you’d be hard pressed to call them dirty.

      There is a huge difference between cards issued and style of play… You take you kit off after a goal, and get carded is hardly the same as an elbow to the head.

      Gaffer didn’t think this one through and used the word dirty to mean most carded. and lets not even get into sample size, as some clubs bounce, while others have been up the entire short history of the league… its just not even close to scientific. but dirty and horrific seem to play better…

      • Dave C

        March 7, 2011 at 4:23 pm

        To be honest, I think there must be a pretty close correlation between being “dirty” and receiving yellow cards. Sure, you can get yellow-carded for taking your shirt off after a goal, but I don’t think it happens often enough to skew the statistical relationship between “proper” fouls committed and yellow cards received.

        Although I do think the analysis raises a further question – do the teams committing the most fouls do so because they are intentionally dirty, or do they do it because they are poorer players (hence likely to be slightly less coordinated than their superior rivals, and less capable of retaining the ball)?

      • R2Dad

        March 7, 2011 at 5:56 pm

        You get a D for not staying on topic (1990-pre-EPL), not following instructions (interesting observations you see in this data?) as well as for being a twit. I know, how ’bout you go make your own blog, do research, post it, and see what you come up with, princess. Thanks for being a hemorrhoid.

        • trickybrkn

          March 7, 2011 at 7:51 pm

          yeah sorry I actually I used examples outside of your limited lexicon…

          You seem to just like having blinders put on yourself and live in a tiny bubble. and BTW that Gooner team was in the PL… the only out of time frame team was Leeds. and I only mentioned it cause many call them the dirtiest English team ever. See I learn’d ya there.

          Maybe you should just speak about what you know… and that clearly is just name calling. innit.

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