foosball table with black and white players

Arran Airs

A friend of mine, who we’ll simply call “Loser Josh”, became enamored with association football a few years back. His interest has waned some, as his team of choice, Everton, is a spectacularly mundane “mid-table” candidate.

Year-in, year-out.

He has learned a lot about the game since and now has Arsenal as his second team, however, Loser Josh’s initial confusion about the terms tables and ladders was comical.

He has a point.

Tables and Ladders

Association Football commentators will regularly mention tables and ladders in their coverage and you could be forgiven for thinking they were discussing the process of retrieving spaghetti from the ceiling, despatched there the previous night by a 4-year-old in a frightful fit.

Or maybe the old chutes and ladders game, if you prefer.

Put simply, “the table” is the standings. “Ladder” also refers to the standings as well. You will hear the words used interchangeably and yes, they mean the same thing.

So, you will hear terms such as “mid-table” – especially if you’re an Everton fan – referring to being middle (or thereabouts) on the standings. “Top of the table” literally means a team has the best record in the league. If your table is on the “bottom rung” (of the ladder), they’re literally propping up the league with their terrible results. And to “have a look at the ladder” means to check the standings.

Tables (or ladders) are decieving

So now we’ve sorted that out, we move on to a curious quirk of having a table with a simple points tally infoming who’s on top, not quite showing the full story of the competition. Most tables will display matches won, goals for-and-against and, importantly for this story, matches played. The Matches Played column can hide the actual form team.

To illustrate this, let’s look at the nascent Phoenix Rising’s standings on the the table…


USL standings


In the image above, you can see that Orange County is on top of the ladder, with the glorious Phoenix Rising second. But you’ll note in the graphic above in the Matches Played, column that Orange County has played one more game. This means that Phoenix has “a game in hand”. That game in hand above could decide the USL division champion.

How do games in hand happen?

All teams are not just playing in the EPL, they will also be trying their hand at the EFL Cup and the FA Cup. The top 6-ish teams in the Premier League will also be playing in the Champions League or Europa League.

These additional competitions can cause scheduling conflicts, which will mean the corresponding Premier League match will be postponed to another date (usually a Tuesday night).

Weather can cause disruption to the schedule too. Each autumn (fall) England is besieged by a flurry of falling leaves. This scourge of the schedule can, mysteriously, halt underground trains. More of a worry to the schedule is the dusting of snow that occurs in the depths of winter that makes the North of England look like Buffalo, New York in spring. These *extreme* weather events may cause postponements to matches, leading to the game (or games) in hand situation.

No amount of games in hand will save Everton, but it will brighten up those otherwise dull-grey early summer English days towards the end of the EPL season, as teams jostle for position at the top of the table, avoid the drop at the bottom of the ladder or opt for mid-table obscurity.

So keep an eye on that table … or ladder. Or whatever you want to call it, Josh.

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