Supporters of Aston Villa, Newcastle, Sunderland and Norwich are reading from the silver linings playbook right now looking for any shred of comfort from their impending doom. Tom Walsh sees only misery ahead.
It’s that of time year again. It’s that time of year when, if your club finds itself staring down the hollow barrel of relegation, supporters start to think “it might be alright going down”. Stop it, stop it now. It won’t be fine, it’ll be rubbish.
Despite what Joleon Lescott says relegation is not a “weight off the shoulders” it’s a slow death which goes on all summer and ends up in a hangover at the start of the following season. Staff are made redundant, attendances fall, stands are closed and some people just don’t have the passion to go again.
Every supporter hopes of being one of those sides that are galvanized following relegation, to become the next Leicester City, Southampton or Swansea but in reality that simply doesn’t happen as often as it should. The Championship, and League One, is littered with former Premier League teams that were not able to acclimatise to life in the lower leagues and former giants become also rans.
Supporters of Aston Villa, Norwich City, Newcastle United and Sunderland will start trying to soften the blow of impending relegation with a number of silver linings. “The away matches will be better”, “tickets are much cheaper”, “no more re-arranged fixtures at the last minute”, “at least we’ll win a few more games”.
Sadly, this just isn’t the case. There is no silver lining to relegation, there is only a big, fat, grey cloud.
While granted the likes of Newcastle, Sunderland and Villa fans will be reacquainted with grounds such as Huddersfield, Leeds, Blackburn, Nottingham Forest and Birmingham City they don’t come cheap. The Premier League’s announcement to cap all away tickets to £30 has been commendable but there has been no sign that the Football League will follow suit and it is a league where teams rely on matchday revenue a little bit more.
Let’s say both the north-east sides and Villa are considered ‘category A’ fixtures, which is likely, they will be paying £30+ to watch their teams away from home on a regular basis. The 2015/16 season saw the likes of Sheffield Wednesday (£45), Leeds United (£42), Ipswich Town (£39.50), Brighton (£38) charge away fans close to or over £40 to watch a second tier match. Feel that warm relegation glow.
Premier League supporters regularly bemoan the late scheduling of matches to suit the needs of television broadcasters. Newcastle having to travel to Bournemouth for a 12.45pm kick-off, Everton at Southampton on a Monday night or Swansea vs Aston Villa being televised for any reason, is a real bug bear for away supporters. Yet it is no better dropping down a division.
Just ask any Leeds supporter. Their side has been on Sky no less than 13 times this season playing on every night of the week throughout the course of the season. Surely Sky give adequate notice ahead of these changes though? I hear you ask. Of course they don’t. Middlesbrough’s trip to Charlton was switched for television at just 17 days notice while the Teessiders visit to Elland Road was pushed back to a Monday night kick off with less than the typical 28 days notice.
And then there is the, somewhat arrogant, assumption that every relegated Premier League will simply storm back up at the first attempt. While Sunderland and Newcastle have done it in the past (2007 and 2010 respectively), and Burnley are on the brink of bouncing back after just one season away, getting promoted off the back of a relegation is no picnic.
Since 2008 just four relegated Premier League teams have managed to bounce back at the first attempt and you only have to look at the Championship to see how many former top flight are languishing in the second tier. Then there is also the threat of being sunk to League One, both Bolton Wanderers and Charlton Athletic will be playing third tier football next year despite playing each other in the Premier League as recently as 2007. Admittedly they have significant off-field problems.
So go ahead and pretend your relegation-threatened club will regroup and come back stronger next year, pretend that you’ll finally be able to rid it of the “deadwood high-earners”, pretend that £32 isn’t too bad for Nottingham Forest away and, of course, pretend you’re enjoying the delights of a wet Thursday night away at Burton Albion which for some reason is on TV and you’re already 2-0 down.
There is no silver lining to relegation. It’s rubbish, proper rubbish.