Two slip down from the top of the football pyramid, one to go. Both Huddersfield Town and Fulham can now officially begin to plan for life back in the Championship after completing two of the earliest relegations in Premier League history.
By Dave Bowler
This is the first time ever that two sides have been dropped by April 2nd and only the second time two clubs have been relegated with five or more games to go, Ipswich and Leicester doing likewise in 1994/95.
That both should be so laughably, criminally awful, particularly in the case of Fulham who blew somewhere in the region of £100million on transfers to prepare them for the Premier League, only to endure the worst losing run since 1961/62 when they lost 11 on the trot – this current run is nine – is something that should give cause for alarm, for it is proof positive that the gap between divisions is getting too big to bridge, certainly in any long-term sense.
For while Cardiff will keep the mathematicians going for a few weeks yet, the likelihood is that the numbers will ultimately crunch them, and down they’ll go too. That will mean three of the last six teams to go up are on the way down again, with two of the others, Brighton and Newcastle, not too far above the trapdoor and only Wolves thriving, largely through spending incomprehensible amounts of money and having a “super agent” to “help” them in the transfer market.
You might say that it’s always been thus, that the newly promoted are often the soon to be relegated and that is indeed the case. Promotion for some is the pinnacle, their club too small and attracting too little investment to survive up a level for long.
That’s the case between all the leagues, for most clubs have a natural habitat where they mostly graze, the occasional triumph or disaster taking them away from the comfort zone for a year or two before they return.
Huddersfield And Fulham
But the way in which Huddersfield and Fulham have been so outrageously dismantled all season speaks to the fact that the £120million plus that each side gets in TV cash from the Premier League each year is growing the gap too much. Receive that for two or three years and you really should put yourself far above the madding crowd beneath. And if you don’t, your board wants sacking, never mind the manager.
Sadly, it doesn’t take much imagination to see putative promotion winners Norwich, Sheffield United or Leeds for instance having similarly nightmarish experiences of the top flight in the next year or two, before dropping back from whence they came, keeping the cycle on seemingly permanent repeat.
Meanwhile, in the Championship itself, finances are so tight that breaking the bank to try and salvage something through winning the jackpot of a year’s worth of being beaten to a pulp in the Premier League seems almost sensible, that’s how insane football finances have become.
But plenty have tried it, only to meet the consequences. Birmingham City have been docked nine points for being in breach of the profitability and sustainability regulations. Aston Villa are under surveillance for similar transgressions though, like Wolves before them, they might avoid punishment by the simple expedient of getting promoted before the investigations end, thereby removing themselves from EFL jurisdiction.
And then we have Bolton, most of whose troubles stem from actually being in the Premier League and spending next season’s money a year in advance simply to stay there, only to find that once they did take the drop, they didn’t have to run to stand still, they needed a Ferrari to do it. And they couldn’t afford one because they’d spent all the money. Irony’s a beautiful thing. Now, one of the great English clubs, a founder member of the Football League, stands on the brink of catastrophe.
If anything underlines that the concept of trickle down economics is garbage, it is football in England, especially since the transfer market was emasculated by the twin scalpels of the Bosman ruling and the arrival of the transfer windows.
Both have slashed transfer fees for lower division footballers, a market which has been further decimated by the fact that Premier League sides have so much money that they don’t need to spot and nurture talent any longer, they just go and get already developed players from the rest of Europe by paying the big money necessary. Consequently, there’s not much of that TV money doing any trickling anywhere near Rochdale or Barnsley these days.
The English pyramid is, quite simply, in crisis, a crisis masked by the riches and glamour of the top end of the Premier League. But when the entire EFL has broadcast income of £120million, the same total that each top flight team will receive all for itself, how could the system be anything but broken?