By Tony Attwood
There is an interesting comment going around on certain bloggettas to the effect that it would be good if Arsenal were relegated this year, so that Mr Wenger would get the sack. These comments are written by people who, it seems, class themselves as Arsenal supporters.
In the reality inhabited by these people therefore it is possible simultaneously to be an Arsenal supporter and to want Arsenal relegated; a challenging combination.
I find this interesting for me, because I recall in the past on one of the many journeys along the M1 after an Arsenal match, having a discussion with my fellow supporters with whom I regularly travelled, as to whether we wanted Tottenham to be relegated or to give them the misery of escaping relegation each year by just one goal.
It’s all fanciful of course – what we want is neither here nor there and has no impact on reality (at least as far as I know) – but on the other hand such discussions are usually infinitely superior in entertainment value to anything on the radio at such time, so we tend to indulge ourselves.
The general feeling, I recall was that it was better to have Tottenham in the top division but doing badly than have them in the lower league and possibly winning promotion. For a team doing well in any division can get a lot of support.
Indeed I was surprised recently when doing the research in terms of the 1932/3 season for the Arsenal in the 30s series on the Arsenal History Society site to find that Tottenham, who did indeed win promotion to the first division that year, had the second highest crowd average in the country across any division.
The only club they were behind on attendance levels was… Arsenal who won the 1st division that season. In case you are interested in such trivia the list of average attendances across the season is given at the end of the article on Arsenal in April and May 1933.
But back to the notion of wanting the team you purport to support, to be relegated. The implication of that notion is that Mr Wenger would leave the club, and then, because all the perceived ills of the club (which we might recall has won the FA Cup in two of the last three years and was runners’ up last season in the League) would be resolved, and Arsenal would bounce back to the top of the Premier League.
If you know your football history, you will know that Arsenal have been in the top division since being elected to the League upon its expansion in March 1919 (and if as a side issue you have any concerns about the validity of that election this article sets out all the details).
No other club has ever remained in the top division for such a stretch of time without being relegated. Here’s the top ten long termers
|Pos||Club||Last joined top division|
So a relegation would destroy a very significant part of Arsenal’s heritage – but that is not all. For there is of course no guarantee that a relegation would actually result in an immediate promotion back to the top division under a new manager.
To prove this take a look at the Premier League table at the end of 2005/6 – just 10 years ago.
|6||Blackburn Rovers (2)||38||19||6||13||51||42||+9||63|
|7||Newcastle United (2)||38||17||7||14||47||42||+5||58|
|8||Bolton Wanderers (3)||38||15||11||12||49||41||+8||56|
|9||West Ham United||38||16||7||15||52||55||−3||55|
|10||Wigan Athletic (2)||38||15||6||17||45||52||−7||51|
|13||Charlton Athletic (3)||38||13||8||17||41||55||−14||47|
|16||Aston Villa (2)||38||10||12||16||42||55||−13||42|
|18||Birmingham City (2)||38||8||10||20||28||50||−22||34|
|19||West Bromwich Albion||38||7||9||22||31||58||−27||30|
In brackets is shown the level the clubs are playing in this season.
Nine out of the 20 clubs in the Premier League 10 years ago are no longer there. Charlton we may recall had a group of fans who wanted to get their manager Alan Curbishley out of the club so that Charlton could move on to the “next level” after he had got them to as high as 7th in the Premier League table.
He left the club in May 2006 after 15 years at Charlton. Since then they have had six years in the Championship and three in League One. The one year in the Premier League was the year after Curbishley left. In the era from May 2006 they have had 12 managers. In case that looks like a misprint I’ll repeat it – 12 managers in 10 years, none of whom has got Charlton back to the top division.
Of course it can be said that Arsenal with its long, proud history in the top league is not Charlton. That is true, but my point is that when things disintegrate there really is no telling where they are going to end up.
Take Portsmouth. They won the cup in 2008, and were in the Premier League until 2010, but they were then owned by people whom one might call slightly dubious (a term I use in the hope that that is mild enough not to have the boys sent round to do me over) and languish now in the fourth tier.
Of course Arsenal is a huge club, in the world’s top ten, but that is still no guarantee that some whacky notion that Arsenal could be relegated and bounce back up and then become champions could happen anywhere than in the minds of men who spend too much time on the internet. Yes they might go down and come straight up – but then would they be better in terms of league position than the last three years with its two cup wins and a runner’s up spot, plus the continuing revenue from the Champions League? It is possible but I doubt it.
For revenue is an important word here. Without the Champions League revenue and the prize money that I highlighted in a recent article on finance, Arsenal would quickly lose its top players, for as we have seen, player loyalty is not necessarily to be found in most players these days. RVP, Fabregas… the list would grow and grow.
In 1973/4 Man U went down to the second division, and won that in 1974/5 to come straight back up but it was 18 years before they won the top league again. Tottenham went down in 1976/77 and came straight back up, but it didn’t lead to a re-birth of the club at the top of the top league.
And let us not forget that Arsenal in both 1974/5 and 1975/6 flirted with relegation. That was under Bertie Mee, and at the time I was thinking that the board really should act to persuade him to move on. He had had a brilliant run in the early part of the decade, but he seemed incapable of building a new squad.
I didn’t write a blog then, largely because we didn’t have the internet, but if I had would I have called for his departure? Probably yes – because although I support the club and the manager and the team – I also have (or so I like to think) a certain realism within me – and I thought that after a period of decline, missing relegation in the end by just four points was too close for comfort. But to reiterate, this is relegation we are talking about, not two FA Cup wins and a runners-up slot.
Or think perhaps of Liverpool, champions in 1990, cup winners in 2006, now up for sale to the Chinese. For a 19 year period from 1973 on they were either first or second in the first division every season except one. Since 1991/2 they have been second three times – three runners’ up in 25 years. Their last seven years run has been 7th, 6th, 8th, 7th, 2nd, 6th, 8th.
For those who want change, I would always say, yes sometimes change is helpful. But not always. Not inevitably.
We’ve had a spate of comments of late claiming that I demand evidence from others but don’t provide it myself. These commentaries have been answered, but to keep doing it is getting tedious, so I think we should move away from that one. But if you are still interested the article I doubt if anyone has ever had their mind changed by arguments on this site will probably answer most questions.
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