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West Brom: condemned to dream of mid-table security?

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Eight years on, that example is consistently cited as proof that the elite can be breached.  In reality, the current status quo and impending financial fair play restrictions would suggest that David Moyes’ men will still be spoken of as a benchmark long into the future.

A glance at events in the two seasons prior to the advent of the Premier League tells us how much has changed.  After a momentous 1990 F.A. Cup campaign, which so nearly ended with the famous trophy in their hands, Crystal Palace returned full of vigour under their energetic manager Steve Coppell and knocked some substantial noses out of joint on their way to a top-three finish.  (That the South Londoners were beaten in a Wembley replay by Manchester United winning their first silverware under Sir Alex Ferguson – then plain Alex and three-and-a-half years into his job – underlines the enormity the English game’s ensuing transformation).

That exceptional Palace unit, which included the famed Ian Wright and Mark Bright striking duo, as well as the less celebrated but equally integral Nigel Martyn, Eric Young, Andy Thorn, Andy Gray, and Geoff Thomas, were kept off top spot only by Arsenal and Liverpool.  Manchester City, Manchester United, Everton, Tottenham Hotspur, and Chelsea were all left trailing in the Eagles’ wake.

Inevitably, the stars of the show were eventually lured to grander stages but this captivating unit were testament to an authentically competitive era.

12 months later, it was Leeds United’s turn to take the spotlight.  The now second-tier outfit were unbeaten at their fortress-like home, Elland Road, and were crowned Champions of England.

When Brian McDermott took charge of his first game as Whites’ boss a fortnight ago, his opponents in a feisty Yorkshire derby were Sheffield Wednesday.  In their glory term of 91/92, Leeds produced one of their classiest and most memorable displays in a 6-1 triumph at Hillsborough.  That routing was especially notable, coming as it did against an Owls outfit which enjoyed a stellar campaign of its own – finishing in 3rd place just a year on from lifting the League Cup and winning promotion out of Division Two.

Since Howard Wilkinson became the last English manager to win a title in his homeland, England’s football landscape hastily evolved and then stagnated. Manchester United’s utter dominance has been briefly pricked by the traditional might of Arsenal, and the cash propelled challenges of Chelsea and Manchester City.  Only Blackburn Rovers in 1995 – in large due to the enormous wealth of their owner Jack Walker – have muscled in on what has become an established few fighting for the top honours.

The enormity of England’s Premier League, and the interest and consequent riches it attracts, has undoubtedly produced an on-field spectacle that is unrivalled at any time in this country’s footballing history.

With that has come collateral damage.  A lack of sufficient talent emerging to represent the national team is one unfortunate side-effect.  Another, with potentially even more pernicious repercussions  is that for any streak of wondrous form, imperious season openings, or bright and canny management, West Brom, Swansea City, West Ham United, and many on par with these forward-thinking clubs are condemned to dreaming of mid-table security.

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  • Ian James says:

    Well, what’s the answer then? Isn’t it worth arguing that perhaps with the emergence of clubs like West Brom and Swansea – who design a framework of sensible stewardship over their own clubs, and produce worthwhile footballing sides of their own – there’ll be a gradual change of character in the Premier League where clubs with no big amounts of cash, but with a shrewd and intelligent approach that brings respectability and a reasonable high placing in the division, will be the norm, rather than money-wasting chancers?

    The divide between the richer, bigger clubs in the top flight and ‘the rest’ has been with us for some time, however the concept of the latter becoming burgeoning, self-generating entities that don’t need a money-man and can become distinctive presences of their own isn’t one that should be looked on warily. What if West Brom aren’t ‘doomed’ to look to PL mid-table safety from now on, but are actually in a building process of consolidation, establishment and development that’ll take a few more seasons and a large measure of good decisions to achieve? It’s a bit too soon, I think, to call the futures of certain clubs without letting them go on their way, and time will tell whether the afore-mentioned clubs are either accepting mid-table life or are planning a PL existence where they’re gradually and quietly building a platform for better and bigger things.

    Let them get on with it.

    • Paul McNamara says:

      I hope you’re proved right Ian. I am a firm advocate of genuine competition. My concern is that clubs such as West Brom and Swansea, and even traditionally more powerful outfits like Everton and Newcastle United, are only going to find it harder to sustain any genuine challenge towards the top end of the Premier League with the huge financial disparity between them and the elite set to increase.

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