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The top four flights of the English football league system consist of the Premier League and three lower divisions. Chelsea is reading a newspaper from July of a year from 1993 to 2019.

Chelsea: "I will give you the position of a team in each league and you tell me the year the newspaper was printed."
Derby: "Does the table show the results at the end of the previous season, or the start of the next one?"

Chelsea: "I won't tell you that, but the bottom team in each league was respectively W, X, Y, and Z."
Derby: "I can't say for sure."

Chelsea: "I am in the Premier League top six."
Derby: "Ah, I know now."

What season was it, and what year was the newspaper printed?

Bonus questions on this season:

What's special about the bottom team overall. Why does this not apply to the top team overall?

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  • $\begingroup$ Is that W, X, Y and Z respectively (i.e. in that order), or just in some unspecified order? $\endgroup$ – Stiv Apr 11 at 7:11
  • $\begingroup$ @Stiv, respectively, W = last in PL, etc. $\endgroup$ – Tom Apr 11 at 7:14
  • $\begingroup$ @Tom -- Hi, Tom. I did a little reading, but wasn't able to find an answer to the bonus question. I did find one thing special about the bottom team overall, namely that rot13(gung grnz, Lbex Pvgl, vf ynfg nycunorgvpnyyl bs nyy gur grnzf va gur sbhe syvtugf, ohg vg frrzf gung guvf fcrpvny guvat QBRF nccyl gb gur gbc grnz birenyy, nf jryy, orpnhfr gung grnz, Nefrany, ner svefg nycunorgvpnyyl bs nyy grnzf va gur sbhe syvtugf.) $\endgroup$ – Lanny Strack Apr 13 at 8:18
  • $\begingroup$ @Lanny - that's right for bottom overall. For the top overall, again the team you say would probably be shown in the paper, but officially there's a team in the tables before them. (It's not the poppies.) $\endgroup$ – Tom Apr 13 at 8:49
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    $\begingroup$ Would this be at all related to my own team by any chance? $\endgroup$ – Stiv Apr 13 at 11:09
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The newspaper is from:

2004

Explanation:

When Derby was told the names of the bottommost teams in each of top four flights (per the listing in the newspaper), he could not clearly resolve the year without knowing if the listing was for the end of the season just completed, or for the upcoming season. A listing for an upcoming season has the teams listed in alphabetical order. So it is only possible for Derby to be unsure in the case where the names of the last-place teams at the end of the season also happen to be near the end of the alphabet.

Looking through the season results over the years in question, we can see that only in the 2003-2004 season did the four last-place teams have names that were also last alphabetically in their divisions. These teams are: Wolverhampton (Premier), Wimbledon (First Division), Wycombe (Second Division), and York City (Third Division).

The newspaper, thus, could have been from July 2003, before the start of the season, or from July 2004, after the end of the season. However, in the July 2003 pre-season listing, Chelsea would be listed 7th, as they were the 7th team alphabetically in the Premier League at that time. But Chelsea tells Derby that he is top-six, so Derby can conclude that the paper was from 2004, and showed the end-of-season listings, in which Chelsea finished in 2nd place.

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    $\begingroup$ But then Chelsea were listed in the alphabetical top 6 at the start of the nineties, which is the table you're talking about here... $\endgroup$ – Stiv Apr 11 at 7:24
  • $\begingroup$ How can you tell it wasn't rot13(mreb guerr)? $\endgroup$ – Tom Apr 11 at 7:33
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    $\begingroup$ @Tom - I am still trying to reconcile your question and Stiv's. rot13 (Fb sne, vg frrzf gung vs V ehyr bhg gur cncre nf orvat sebz 2003 onfrq ba gur snpg gung Puryfrn jbhyq or yvfgrq 7gu va gur vavgvny yrnthr gnoyr (nycunorgvpnyyl), gura Fgvi'f cbvag ubyqf, gung gur cncre pbhyq fubj gur vavgvny gnoyr sebz 1993-1994, jurer Puryfrn jnf 4gu nycunorgvpnyyl.) I haven't resolved this yet. Still working on it. $\endgroup$ – Lanny Strack Apr 11 at 8:08
  • $\begingroup$ @Tom - I will revise my answer accordingly. $\endgroup$ – Lanny Strack Apr 11 at 8:13
  • $\begingroup$ @LannyStrack, if Derby had been told those teams, in that order, he would have known the answer straight-away without extra Chelsea info, I think my previous comment is wrong! $\endgroup$ – Tom Apr 11 at 8:17
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Answer to the bonus question

@LannyStrack has already found that the season in question is:

2003-04

What is especially peculiar about this season is that:

when York City finished bottom of the fourth tier (at the time known as the 'Third Division') they were actually alphabetically the last team out of all 92 Football League clubs. In other words, out of all 92 teams competing in the four leagues that year not only were they last alphabetically but also last by position.

There was very nearly a quirk right at the opposite end of the football pyramid too, as the Premier League was won by Arsenal that season. To many people this might seem like (simultaneously with York City's "achievement") the team who were alphabetically first were also first by position.

However, enter into the fray the team I have supported since childhood: AFC Bournemouth. Because although the mighty Cherries are colloquially just known as 'Bournemouth' to most people, their official name is indeed AFC Bournemouth, which means that out of the 92 teams in the Football League pyramid that season, they were technically first alphabetically, and not Arsenal, scuppering the almost-statistic of having the alphabetically extreme teams at the extremes of the Football League.

Up the Cherries!

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    $\begingroup$ Unless you consider their full, official name: Athletic Football Club Bournemouth, in which case they once again appear after Arsenal! (I gave you a +1, btw.) $\endgroup$ – Lanny Strack Apr 13 at 12:37
  • $\begingroup$ Please @LannyStrack - have some heart, let Bournemouth be top of something for once!! ;-) $\endgroup$ – Stiv Apr 13 at 12:42
  • $\begingroup$ @Stiv, I think you're officially right, but said before it was Arsenal. I think the last four teams' positions is a notable statistic. $\endgroup$ – Tom Apr 13 at 20:12
  • $\begingroup$ @Tom Does this mean this is not the answer to "What's special about the bottom team overall. Why does this not apply to the top team overall?" $\endgroup$ – Stiv Apr 13 at 22:06
  • $\begingroup$ It's correct. I used to think the gunners were the top in both overall, but now, AFC. $\endgroup$ – Tom Apr 13 at 22:26

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