Defying statistics, the NPL way

By Colin Udoh

For the second season in a row, the Glo Nigerian Premier League table is the butt of jokes around the football world.

Kano Pillars finished as champions while Shooting stars ended up as the bottom side, and suffering relegation.

Nothing unusual about that. But a look at the numbers from the table is what leads to some very tasty headlines around the world.

In one particularly brutal description, US site ran with: 'Nigeria Has The Most Absurdly Crooked Soccer League On The Planet' and describes it as an exhibition of 'the most stunning display of home field advantage'.

Bleacher Report is more charitable, going with a somewhat milder 'Nigerian League Table Features Absurd Home, Away Records'.

But that is as good as it gets. Like Deadspin, spares no punches 'Shameful! Corruption is clearly rife in Nigeria; Just look at the Premier League table'.

And one look is enough to show why.

Teams just don't win away. To see an away win is almost an aberration. Now, anybody who has followed the Nigerian League for any number of years will tell you this is nothing special.

As a matter of fact, it is one of the reasons neutrals will tell you is responsible for their lack of interest in the domestic league.

Champions Pillars won just 2 games away from home all season. The only side to win more were Kwara United with 3 road wins, and they got relegated.

Last season, Pillars won a grand total of ONE game away from home, and that came on the final day of the season, after they had been confirmed champions.

It is safe to say that the Nigerian Premier League numbers defy every rule of statistical standard deviation.

Pillars' 2 wins in 19 away games represents just over 10 percent. And relegated 3SC, who finished bottom, racked up a remarkable 68% home win percentage with 13 out of 19.

It doesn't end there, Pillars finished with a points total of 63 for the season, while 3SC chalked up 46. So there were just 17 points between top team and bottom team, a points differential of just 26 percent.

These numbers will mean little without proper comparison. So to put this into perspective, we have have selected 8 other leagues to subject to the same analysis.

There are two from Africa (Ghana and South Africa), three from Europe (Germany, England and Holland), one each from South America (Colombia), Asia (Yemen) and Central America (Trinidad and Tobago).

In Germany, for instance, Bayern Munich emerged champions, and their 15 wins from 19 road games represented an 88 percent away win percentage.

Bottom club Greuther Furth were the bottom team. They did not win a single home game, for a 0 percent. Second from bottom. Fortuna Fusseldorf had a 29 percent home win record.

Bayern ended the season on 91 points to Greuther Furth's 21, bringing the points differential between both to 77 percent.

These figures are roughly consistent for almost every League in the world. Except Nigeria.

Here is a summary of those results:

Champions: Bayern
Away win percentage: 88%

Bottom club: Greuther Furth
Home win percentage: 0%

Final points differential between top (91) and bottom (21) 77% (91-21)

Champions: Man Utd
Away win percentage: 63%

Bottom club: QPR
Home win percentage: 10%

Points differential: 72% (89-25)

Champions: Ajax
Away win percentage: 73%

Bottom club: Willem II
Home win percentage: 29%

Points differential: 70% (76-23)

Top team: Deportes Tolima
Away win percentage: 67%

Bottom club: Cucuta
Home win percentage: 33%

Points differential: 69%

Champions Al Yarmuk
Away win percentage 38%

Bottom club Taliat Taiz
Home win percentage 15%

Points differential 73% (49-13)

Trinidad & Tobago
Champions: Defence Force
Away win percentage 62%

Bottom club: T &TEC
Home win percentage: 8%

Points differential: 82% (46-8)

Champions: Asante Kotoko
Away win percentage: 47%

Bottom club: Real Tamale
Home win percentage: 0%

Points differential 96% (56-2)

South Africa
Champions: Kaizer Chiefs
Away win percentage: 47%

Bottom club: Black Leopards
Home win percentage: 20%

Points differential: 60%

So on average, the away win percentage of top teams across four continents is 61 percent while the home win percentage for the bottom teams is 15 percent.

For Nigeria, it is a measly 10 percent win percentage for the top team and a massive 68 percent home win percentage for the bottom team.

A clear difference in quality is also evident across all of the other leagues, with the points differential between top and bottom holding at a steady average of 75 percent.

In Nigeria, the difference between the top team team's final points and that of the bottom team is a mere 26 percent.

The figures are also consistent over three seasons for Nigeria as shown below from the 2010/2011 and 2011/2012 seasons.

NIGERIA 2012/2013
Champions Kano Pillars
Away win percentage 10%

Bottom club 3SC
Home win percentage 68%

Point differential 26% (63-46)

NIGERIA 2011/2012
Champions Kano Pillars
Away win percentage 5.5%

Bottom club Rising Stars
Home win percentage 55.5%

Points differential 36% (61-39)

NIGERIA 2010/2011
Champions Dolphins
Away win percentage 27.7%

Bottom club JUTH FC
Home win percentage 42%

Points differential 56% (73-32)

Something is seriously broken in the Nigerian League football system, and the reasons are not farfetched. Referees have been accused of corruption, with the most recent allegation coming from Gbenga Elegbeleye, Director General of the National Sports Commission in September. "Our referees are not getting picked for major tournaments because of corruption," Elegbeleye, a former member of parliament told the media.

His comment drew scathing rebuttal from referees across the country, including this from Robert Akpenpuun, former Public Relations Officer of the Abuja chapter of the Nigeria Referees Association, which ended up making the same point.

"The “must win at home” syndrome of Nigerian teams is responsible for the allegation," Akpenpuun told The Nation, explaining that the arrangement by league organisers of football matches does not provide the referees opportunity to be fair.

“The home team will pick you [referee] up from the stadium, take you [the referee] to your hotel room and provide feeding. How do you think the referees will be objective in their officiating?”

Corruption is encouraged even more by intimidation of match officials and visiting teams by violent elements of home support.

Referees have a choice of either accepting gratification to favour home teams, or suffer physical assault if the result goes the wrong way.

Visiting teams hardly help their case, either. Either owing to cash trouble, or just officials trying to scrimp in order to divert money to private pockets, teams travel in (usually) poorly maintained buses over long distances, on roads pockmarked with potholes.

As a result, robberies and vehicular breakdowns are so common that they are even enshrined in the League rules:

Art 4.2(4) If a club vehicle breaks down on its way to a match, the club must send an official to the venue of the match to report before the start of the match. The match shall then be played the next day. If the club still fails to show up the club shall be fined Two Million Naira only {N2, 000, 000.00} and forfeit 3 points 3 goals to the opponent.

The term 'Hotel de Bus' is also used by players to refer to teams sleeping in the team bus overnight rather than transit at a hotel when they travel long distances.

Both players and officials end up sharing the cash saved from the extra night's hotel bill.

League officials say they are working hard to fix the problems. "We've already had more away wins this season than in the past," Nduka Irabor, chairman of the League Management Company says.

"Our football system is currently undergoing a rebuilding process, but I’m hoping that things will get better in future.

“We are working closely with the referees association in order to improve their pay package to ensure that they will not be influenced by various clubs administrators in terms of inducing the outcome of games in favour of home teams,” Irabor told

“We have also had talks with the Nigeria police, the civil defence and other relevant authorities with regards to providing adequate security at league venues,” Nduka said.

It's a start.

Perhaps then, the numbers will align with the rest of the world, and we can laugh, rather than be laughed at.

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