Abolishing promotion deserves relegation



Richard Bevan of England's League Managers Association inadvertently raised the frightening prospect of a breakaway from the Premier League when he mentioned some club owners wanted to do away with promotion to and relegation from the Premier League.

Newcastle fans
Newcastle fans

While he did not mention the 'b' word, a rebel division surely remains a potential threat if a majority of the mega-rich (foreign) owners decide they can worry no longer about their investments and thus remove the risk of a season or more outside the top flight.

Bevan cited "American owners...and some of the Asian owners" for raising the unthinkable idea of the top league being cut off from the rest for good. The prospect of no promotion would kill the dreams of millions of supporters, particularly hurting fans of sleeping giants like Cardiff City, Leeds United and Sheffield Wednesday.

While the arriviste 'die-hards' of England's big clubs in the emerging markets for the 'EPL' of Asia and North America would probably see no problem, every fan in England appears violently opposed to any deracination of the top division. But we would be fools to ignore the risk.

"If we have four or five more new (owners)," said Bevan ominously, "that could happen."

So who are these quislings in the Premier League?

The American owners harbouring mutinous thoughts remain unnamed but it would be remarkable if they included Arsenal's Stan Kroenke, the Fenway Sports Group at Liverpool and the Glazers at Manchester United, none of whose teams are ever in real risk of relegation.

The Yanks without thanks for tradition could include Randy Lerner at Aston Villa, often touted as a model owner, and quite probably Ellis Short at Sunderland. The "Asians" probably mean Venky's at Blackburn, and possibly Lakshmi Mittal and Tony Fernandes at QPR.

That said though, it is often forgotten that Gary Cook, formerly Chief Executive at Manchester City, and Bolton's Phil Gartside have suggested doing away with the drop zone in the past.

If those calling for a pulling-up of the ladder do represent top-four teams that indeed would reveal an exceptional paranoia or unforgivable ignorance of England's football culture and traditions.

In a sense it would make little difference as the status quo is utterly dominated by big-spending teams for whom the other end of the table makes little difference, but the idea of lopping off the top of the pyramid is anathema to true football supporters.

While the public at large is wedded to the tradition of promotion and relegation and would kick such an idea across the rooftops given half a chance, the fact the unsayable has even been said, barely days after Liverpool FC openly called for a greater share of television money, is confirmation that the big clubs still have itchy feet.

Last season France Football revealed the big European teams were indeed hatching plans for a potential split, which presumably would entail some sort of hegemony without fear of demotion. And it should not be forgotten rebellion is in the clubs' blood: The FA's key involvement in the birth of the Premier League was precisely to stop existing breakaway plans in their tracks.

While the Premier League is not a purely two-horse race like Spain, the entre

nched dominance of a few monied clubs has left the top division looking increasingly devalued as an open competition in recent years. Unlike in previous decades, it has become easy to predict who will finish in the top three or four every season.

In the Guardian this week, Jonathan Wilson revisits that oft-made criticism of the Premier League that the title race is not open enough; indeed the days when a Norwich, Southampton or Watford could finish second or Nottingham Forest win the title in their first season since promotion are long-gone. And the lack of a salary/spending cap ensures only a select few can challenge for the title now. The two issues are not necessarily connected: A top division where the money was spread evenly would ensure a competitive title race just with no demotion or new teams arriving. This is the NFL/NHL/NBA model which with American owners are familiar.

The question surely is about the value of the pyramid and whether the age-old 'meritocracy' should be preserved.

As it stands, without a billionaire backer, the best a club can hope for is to avoid relegation, win one of the Cups and sneak into the Europa League.

If the Premier League were cut adrift and promotion & relegation, two sources of endless excitement, abolished, the sale of English football's soul would be complete.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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