Life without relegation is just self-serving

As with every Monday, it is the beginning of a fresh week and in the World of football, the cycle restarts itself after the usual madness of the weekend and we have a new set of controversies to focus on and talk about, such is the volatile nature of the game. The sub-plots never stop, they merely just evolve and inter-change and this week is no different. From last week’s polemical words of Ian Ayre, we have now moved onto to direct our dissatisfaction with the foreign owners who have made clear their intentions to the LMA that the idea of promotion to, and relegation from, the Premier League should be extinguished. 

It’s a ludicrous proposition of course and one would expect the domestic football authorities to dismiss the idea with the same pace as it was cooked up without any real sense or foresight. If it did grow to fruition, we would get a closed shop, money maker’s league without any sense of viable meritocracy. The poorer teams will be rewarded for inadequacy while the teams threatening for promotion from the Championship will be left fruitless, losing their most gifted players to the giants sitting in the League above them. In this case, every club below the top tier will effectively become a selling club without any chance of breaking the exclusive ceiling at the top.

It can be seen that the plans, which according to Richard Bevan of the LMA could well go ahead if five more clubs fell under foreign ownership giving a majority vote in favour of scrapping relegation, are absurd even before the issue of a potential end in competition is explored. The excitement of the relegation battle would be completely obliterated and with only a handful of clubs realistically capable of fighting for the Champions League places, it would lead to the twenty sides competing not in the name of pride or success, but in the name of position based prize- money, which is just how these overseas based owners want it. The only incentive for finishing 17th instead of 20th would be the increased size of pocket at the end of the season, rather than the emotional rollercoaster that comes with a relegation battle. A side of Wigan’s stature would be happy enough with losing every week, safe in the knowledge they will still host Manchester United and Chelsea the following season. It is no coincidence that the only chairman to publicly announce his  support of the no relegation proposal, ironically an Englishman, is Bolton’s Phil Gartside whose team languished in 20th place before this weekend’s win at Wigan. 

It is a sad reality that this cancer of cash obsessed ownership has spread violently across the top of our domestic game, the Venky’s group of Blackburn being the latest and ninth case of a top-flight takeover. It is a point illustrated by them and their inept handling of managerial affairs, together with the likes of the Gillett/ Hicks axis that poisoned Liverpool, that they are of detriment to the game by not understanding the traditions and values of the sport; leading to disillusioned fantasies that greed can easily be obtained in contempt of the regular supporter, the latest far-out proposal being revealed by Mr. Bevan on Monday morning. The idea of course, is ingrained firmly in the notion of self-preservation. For example, Blackburn who have the threat of relegation currently hanging over them like a dark smog cloud would not have any motivation to enter the transfer market in desperate search for players to improve a poor squad, for that would still be enough to keep them in the Premier League. Without any motivation to run a club properly, they would sit back safe in the knowledge they will remain in the company of England’s elite whilst bank accounts persist to swell. 

Such plans have been outlined in the full knowledge that once the chairmanship starts to get things wrong, like in the case of Blackburn now and Birmingham City a year before, it becomes a long fall through the trap-door. The sharpest reminder of this came this weekend as Bradford slipped down to 90th place in the football league with defeat to relegation rivals Hereford in League Two, ten years after being relegated from the Premier League. In this decade of decline, the club have entered into two administrations after amassing debts of £13 million as a result of the ITV digital collapse. Seven managers have taken the reigns within this period, each one unable to fight the fire that comes with financial meltdown. A similar fate has befallen Swindon Town, one of the founding members of the Premier League, they never recovered from successive relegations in 1994 and 1995, the second an administration-induced drop into Division Two. Issues of unpaid tax-bills and winding-up orders have followed them throughout the recent past, eventually landing them together with Bradford in League Two. Furthermore, another club who co-founded the Premier League’s new age, Oldham Athletic who were relegated in 1994, were busy attracting a sub 2,500 crowd for last Monday night’s League One game with MK Dons at Boundary Park. Birmingham City, with owner Carson Yeung in trouble for money-laundering in his native China, are rumoured to have picked up debts of around £30 million before last season’s demotion to the Championship. Yeung had risked his finances in a very dangerous game to leave Chris Hughton now fighting to keep the ship stable amongst the rumours of a summer fire-sale and the risk of impending meltdown of the type that engulfed Portsmouth in 2010. With a top league exempt from relegation, there would be no repeat of this regardless of how badly clubs are run as the money would still be rolling in due to consistent participation in the top league. 

The Premier League would form to be a breeding ground for reckless ownership and there will be a reward for it instead of the punishments that were handed to Leeds United and Wimbledon for their dramatic drops through the divisions, the former falling to near-ruin after lavish spending in the search for success, while the latter being victim to relocation in a search for profit. Under these new proposals any chance of repetition would be extinguished, permitting free reign for owners to cast the caution that comes with impending relegation to the wind and  do what they wish with their now toy as the helpless supporter looks on. It is a shame that the members of the Premier League are intent on exploring avenues from which to line their own pockets but the hope remains that with each ill-thought scheme, they are met with such condemnation as this one has been. The appeal of football is based on the healthy diet of competition and integral to that notion is the idea of winning and losing; that trophies and promotion await for the winners while demotion looms for the losers. Football should keep it that way or risk its own relegation into a nothing sport that solely functions for the currency. 

Adam Gray @MonkeyLunch21

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