FootballPremier League

Leap into the unknown: February 29 and other significant dates in Premier League history

February 28, 2020

THIS Saturday sees five games in the Premier League. Big deal, you’re thinking, it’s a Saturday in late winter, of course it’s the Premier League. Wait a minute though, look at the date: February 29, aka the hidden track of the Gregorian calendar.

It’s such an artisan day that only two Premier League games have ever been played on it, both coming in 2004, and both ending as draws (Portsmouth 1-1 Newcastle, featuring another rarity, a goal by a loan player, Lomana LuaLua, against his parent club, and Leeds 2-2 Liverpool, which remains the Yorkshire side’s last league point against a Big Four team). All of which means that assuming we don’t get five draws on Saturday, we’ll see the first top-flight wins on February 29th since 1992. A great leap forwards? It’s not for me to say [yes].

The big question, though, is: what if you are unfortunate enough to have been born on February 29? The odds on it happening are about 0.07%, so around 3.5 times more likely than it was that Leicester would win the Premier League in 2016, and it is the case for four footballers in the Premier League’s history: Darren Ambrose, Mike Pollitt, Niklas Gudmundsson and Scott Golbourne. The heavy lifting was done by Ambrose, who contributed 68% of the appearances, five of the six assists and all 11 of the goals. That’s two more goals than Andriy Shevchenko ever scored in the Premier League, and the Ukrainaian has what can only be described as a standard/classic birthday.

In fact, Shevchenko’s birth date of September 29 would be classed as a big advantage in countries where the school year runs from September through to the following summer. Studies have shown children born in September have an advantage over those born in July or August, and yet, in its inimitable way, the Premier League has shunned the science and, in a week when the league has announced the introduction of a Hall Of Fame, have an all-time top scorer who was born in August. And Alan Shearer isn’t the only summer child to rank highly in the league’s scoring charts.

Wayne Rooney and Andy Cole were both born in October, so developmental science can claim that one, but behind them come Sergio Aguero (June, although that’s winter in Argentina so maybe not), Frank Lampard (June, definitely summer in Romford, theoretically at least) and Thierry Henry (August. Paris. Hot.). Robin van Persie (August) and Harry Kane (July) are also well up in the list. It goes further: none of the 28 men to score 100+ goals in the Premier League were born in September; its highest scorers are Gary Speed, Olivier Giroud and Daniel Sturridge, all with 80 or fewer.

Let’s not abandon logic completely, though. You can’t make sweeping statements about days and months by cherry picking individuals here and there. The only way to prove that September is an unprofitable month for Premier League footballers to be born in is by doing a complete sweep of every goal and every player in the division’s history, so that’s what has been done. The results show that the birth months with the best goals per game rates are July and June with 0.112 and 0.111 goals per appearance respectively.

It should be pointed out that those two months are the only ones with fewer than 20,000 games in the Premier League, which could be an alarm bell, but then August has more PL appearances than September so maybe not. And September, science’s favourite month, just happens to have the lowest goals per appearance rate at just 0.078. An excellent month for harvest festival and equinox and maths fans; for top-level goalscorers? Not so much.

The truth is that very few of us are or were good enough to play football at the highest level. We are more likely to run a branch of Clinton Cards in a town or city containing a Premier League football club, and if that was the case, it would be useful to know when you’d need to order in more birthday cards and when you didn’t. In football terms, the most popular day to be born comes next Friday on March 6, a date that has seen the birth of 24 Premier League players, including Tim Howard and Simon Mignolet.

If you start going out with someone born on the 6th of March they may not be a keeper, but they could very well be a ‘keeper. For a long time March 22 was the date with the fewest Premier League births, with just the lonely figure of Philippe Clement (the former Coventry player and current manager of Club Brugge) but three 1990s kids have joined him now: Luke Freeman, Isaac Hayden and Harry Wilson.

That means that January 17 and June 5 are now the infertile days. January 17 has Alvaro Arbeloa, Mario Espartero and Derrick Williams, while June 5 has the slightly. More glamorous trio of Junior Hoilett, Marc Rieper and Kieran Tierney, which means that January 17 is hereby declared the most unfruitful day in Premier League history.