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Nov 8, 2012

Oldest Prem clubs; biggest stadiums

Norman Hubbard is ESPN FC's resident anorak. If you have any questions on football facts, statistics or trivia, please send them to asknorman@hotmail.com and he'll try to answer as many as possible.

If the current Premier League table was ranked according from top to bottom according to the year the clubs are founded, who would top the table? Alvin from Singapore asked.

It is one way of redrawing the league table and it produces a very different top two: Stoke, established in 1863 and founder members of the Football League in 1888, and Reading, the oldest club in the south of England, while Chelsea are in the relegation zone and Arsenal, Manchester City and Liverpool are in the wrong half of the table. As it shows, 16 of the 20 clubs in the 21st Century Premier League were formed in the 19th century. It also shows the improbability of Wigan's story: every other current top-flight club had been founded before they were and all were in the league for at least 58 years before Wigan joined.

When clubs were formed in the same year, by the way, I have used the year when they entered the Football League to separate them. By the way, some clubs were founded under different names - Newton Heath rather than Manchester United, Dial Square rather than Arsenal and so on - so I have used the date when the initial club was founded.

I was thinking about clubs that have a huge fanbase but are playing in lower divisions and I noticed that many of them have very large stadia that might exceed those of top-flight clubs. My question is which club has the largest ratio of stadium size to division level? I imagine that Rangers will be a strong contender, but who else? Mark Maghorious in Toronto, Canada asked.

Rangers are, along with Celtic, Scotland's best-supported club but are now in the Scottish Division 3 (the fourth tier) where their ground capacity of 51,082 stands out. However, Ibrox is not the biggest ground in that division: Hampden Park, better known for hosting Scotland than Queen's Park, can accommodate 52,063 fans.

But the club outside the top flight with the biggest ground is Hertha Berlin. They were relegated from the Bundesliga last year and play in the Olympic Stadium (capacity 74,064), which hosted the 2006 World Cup final and, as the name suggests, the 1936 Olympics.

In second place, and showing the size of many German stadia, are 1860 Munich, who will face Hertha this season and play at the Allianz Arena, which has room for 71,137 people. As it is shared by Bayern Munich, however, it does stage Bundesliga football.

The third biggest and the largest ground to stage fourth-tier football is Sao Luis' Castelao, home of Sampaio Correa who play in Brazil's Serie D. It has a capacity of 70,000.

A few other large grounds to have staged lower-division football in previous years, by the way, include the San Siro, which had a capacity of 90,000 when AC Milan spent two seasons in Serie B; the Stadio delle Alpi (capacity 69,000), where both Juventus and Torino played in Serie B; the San Paolo (capacity 60,240) which had an average gate of 51,000 when Napoli were in Serie C; Marseille, whose Stade Velodrome is of a similar size and who were relegated for financial irregularities in the 1980s; Bari, currently in Serie B and with a ground that can hold 58,270; the Vicente Calderon Stadium (55,005) where Atletico Madrid spent two seasons in Spain's Segunda Division a decade ago; and most recently, River Plate's Estadio Monumental Antonio Vespucci Liberti (61,321) which hosted second-division football in Argentina in 2011-12.

In England's recent history, the biggest ground used outside the Premier League was Newcastle's St James' Park (52,387) in the 2009-10 season. Go back further and Old Trafford was capable of hosting more than 60,000 people during the 1974-75 season, when Manchester United were in Division 2.

The biggest in the Championship now is Sheffield Wednesday's Hillsborough (40,000) which, like Leeds' Elland Road (37,900) has been a League One venue in recent years.

Am I correct was a Glasgow Celtic goalkeeper accidentally killed by Rangers centre forward on the field when they were playing Glasgow Rangers. I think it happened in the 1930s, Graham Manson asked.

Sadly, you are right. John Thomson was the goalkeeper in question, a 22-year-old who had been capped four times by Scotland before the Old Firm meeting at Ibrox on September 5, 1931. He collided with the Rangers forward Sam English, suffering a fractured skull and a ruptured artery and died later that day. English - who, despite his name, was Irish - was blameless, but nevertheless suffered as a result and opted to retire when just 28.

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