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Why is the FA Cup draw so unfair?
By Jonathan Owers

So, this year it's Bolton.

Let's be honest. Watford haven't exactly have the best record in the FA Cup over the last ten years - only twice have they made it past the Third Found. Okay, so in one of those years, the run ended at Villa Park having got to the semi-finals, but still two wins out of ten Third Round games is pretty rubbish.

What is the reason for this? Is it that cup games just aren't Watford's thing? Maybe - but then two semi-final appearances in cup competitions in the last four seasons suggest that isn't the case. But then, the league cup games are played midweek, and the atmosphere always seems a little better under lights, so maybe it is a combination of cup games and playing them on a Saturday afternoon? Well, of the eight losses, four of them have been in a replay - played midweek. So it's probably not that either.

I have a theory as to the problem. The draw is unfair. Yes, that's right, Watford are being discriminated against by whichever ex-footballers they drag out to do the draw. You may ask what it is that draws me to this conclusion? Well, just take a look at the facts:

This year is the eighth of the last eleven seasons where Watford have drawn a Premiership team, and in two of the other three years, the teams were in the top ten of Division One (Championship/Division Two - take your pick). All very well, but is it actually unfair? Maybe everyone else has had the same sort of draw? Lets see...

Watford's Draw for the Third Round of the cup for the last eleven seasons:

SeasonOpponentsH/AOpp DivOpp PosResult
1995/1996WimbledonHPrem14Lost - replay
19971998Sheff Wed*HPrem13Lost - replay
2003/2004ChelseaHPrem3Lost - replay
2004/2005FulhamHPrem15Lost - replay

* Also played in first two rounds

Note that the positions given in the table (with the exception of this year) are for the opponents' position at the time of the match.

Using the data above and, obviously, taking absolute positions in the league (ie first place in the Premiership = 1, last place in Div 4 = 92), we can calculate the average position as being 20 - so, that is the equivalent of playing Sunderland every year - however, if we take out the year that we played Macclesfield, the average position becomes 13.3 (or Middlesbrough). Doesn't sound fair so far (although at the moment, Sunderland maybe wouldn't be so bad...)

Next thing to work out, and slightly more tricky to calculate, is the "expected average" - ie, the average position of all teams competing. To work this out I have taken the current positions of all the teams in this year's draw. I am assuming here that this year is fairly average. Obviously, since the top two divisions get byes into the Third Round, the top 44 teams in the country will always be there. The other twenty teams can come from anywhere. Doing a small amount of research, and a couple of calculations, I end up with an expected average opponent's position of 38.84. That means we should be playing Hull!

What I hadn't really noticed until now was the number of home games Watford have had! Nine of eleven Third Round ties have been drawn at home. Hmmm, maybe that makes up for the tough games? I'm not sure - that's something completely separate to look at. But, since that appears to have gone in Watford's favour, I may just choose to ignore it (I believe that is standard pub argument procedure).

So, just looking at positions then, the fact that in eleven seasons, Watford have drawn only a single team placed lower than the average position of all teams in the third round of the cup suggests that my suspicions are in fact true - the draw is unfair. I wonder which team has been stealing all the lower league teams? Is there a team who haven't played against a Premiership team in the Third Round for eleven seasons?

The law of averages state that over the long run, it will even out, and in order to even itself out, there should be plenty of away ties at lower league teams. I'm looking forward to six trips to Swindon - that would just about bring the averages back to normal!