There are some things in football that seem immovable, irreplaceable and constant. The teams that make up the top flight of this nation’s favourite game also appear unshakable in their conviction and status.
However over the past few years many of the country’s largest, best supported and decorated sides have fallen from grace to the lower leagues. This season appears to be no exception.
Leeds United, Southampton, Charlton, Nottingham Forest and many other previously top flight clubs have witnessed a demise which for some shows no sign of abating. This year’s relegation battle sees the 6 time FA Cup winners Newcastle fighting to retain their place in the Premiership. Current FA Cup holders Portsmouth are still in the mix with Middlesbrough, Stoke, West Brom and a hand full of other sides all battling it out. The truth is they fear the free fall that all know can come.
The parachute payments handed out to relegated clubs may not be enough to stem the tide. The £11m rewarded to demoted teams may have sufficed several years ago but in today’s world of inflated transfer fees and greedy agents, clubs struggle. Many stadiums are left empty, the songs still echo around the rafters but the footfall fades and the fans with them as many supporters disappear into the legions of those that whisper: “we used to be in the Premiership”.
Clubs disappear now without so much as fund raising friendly; Luton left the football league yesterday having spent the last 89 years as a stalwart member. Nothing is permanent in this game and truly no club is safe. With the businessmen now turning football into an industry as opposed to a spectacle it is impossible to tell what lies ahead.
Dreams can be made as well as broken. Doncaster Rovers were relegated to the Conference, however after consecutive promotions they have returned to the Championship. Many fans have elected to start their own clubs, both Southampton and Man Utd supporters have begun their own clubs in the lower leagues to ensure the name of their side never dies.
What can be done? Very little. This is the nature of football. Newcastle United have graced the Premiership for years, they have won trophies (albeit none for a while, but they were title challengers at the turn of the century and in Europe a few years ago) and blessed their adoring fans with displays and players that have been envied across the nation. A look at their team sheet would make them appear too good to go down. That is what people said about Leeds (and West Ham when they went down). Surely a side with the like of Michael Owen, Damien Duff, Mark Viduka and now led by the prodigal son Alan Shearer, has too much ability to fall away?
Time will tell, but the real question is that if they do go down, how far will they fall?