One of the most favourable points of last season, in a campaign in which saw every team have the potential to be beaten by any other, was the ensuing relegation battle. Not since 2005 have we seen the Premiership have such an eventful final few minutes where so many had the potential to be relegated. In the end, Birmingham and Blackpool joined the perennially miserable Avram Grant at West Ham in facing the drop to the Championship, a fact so unforgiving that for some, life as we know it just wasn’t worth living anymore.
Ok, so the last point is given with just a hint of exaggerated sarcasm but should the reality really be that dismal? Relegation is never a nice thing, in the macro-economic world that is modern football, relegation can potentially spell disaster, leaving a club marooned without the safety bubble of Premier League TV money coupled with Premier League gate receipts. But relegation can also, in more ways than one, help revitalise a club. If it takes a spell outside of the top division to help the club realise that the particular direction the club is taking is universally wrong then it can turn out to be a productive pursuit. Not that the fans see it that way.
The Championship as a league is, quite amazingly for a national second division, the 4th most watched league in Europe. Now let’s put that into a little perspective. Here we have a league that not only attracts 300 million pounds worth of television revenue from Sky Sports alone, but has a bigger live audience than that of the top national league’s of France, Holland, Portugal and most amazingly, Italy. Relegation then, it would seem, is not the disaster that it once was.
Even in the worst case scenario that is relegation, the financial implications can be restrained by the impact of the various parachute payments, which are being widely discussed as I speak. Whether the idea of a large parachute payment is fair or not is open to debate but what is certain is how favourably this stacks up against other leagues around Europe.
The fact that our second league is so competitive tells you everything you need to know about our love affair with the game in this country. The Championship is, in some respects, a more exciting and generally more interesting league to follow. For sure, all Championship clubs pine to reach the salubrious promised land of the Premiership but for all the pomp and pageantry of the Premiership, the Championship and Lower League football in general is where, arguably, you can find the genuine article.
Club’s such as the recently relegated Birmingham and West Ham plus Leeds and Forest, amongst others, are teams with big reputations with big support which will certainly add to the interest in the league this coming season. The Premier League, at times, can be predictably bland as teams strive for mediocrity or that last push for eleventh over twelfth. The Championship, arguably, carries with it a greater sense of the unknown, an adventure unlike the clambering to sustain Premier League status that even infiltrates the eccentricities of Ian Holloway.
Depending on the potential of various transfer comings and goings this summer, especially within West Ham and Birmingham, next season could prove to be one of the best yet. Both Sam Allardyce and Steve McClaren will be back in business with their new clubs West Ham and Forest and both men will be hoping that the backbone of already talented squads will remain. For West Ham, the likes of James Tomkins and Mark Noble should stay, forming a quartet with the strength and experience of recent newcomers, Abdoulaye Faye and Kevin Nolan. For McClaren, having already mentioned in earlier articles, keeping the likes of Camp, Chambers, Anderson and McGugan will require a similar amount of perseverance to dealing with the English press as England manager.
With the financial backing of their owners Leicester should, with wise investment, prove that the form they showed in the second half of the season wasn’t a blip. Birmingham, though managerless at the moment, seem to have owners who seem intent on providing enough funds to propel Birmingham back into the Premier League. Out of the twenty-four teams in the division around half could, without a hint of false hope, legitimately claim to be challenging for top honours before the league has kicked off.
In the end, the Premier League for most managers in the Premier League is the ultimate promise land but whilst they are here they shouldn’t feel too disheartened, for this is a league that has everything, including Portsmouth versus Southampton…
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