Hello there, I’m 51dimes, a member here at Coming Home Newcastle. I’ve volunteered to do a "Premier League Primer" during this off-season. I did suggest it after all, and I’m happy to do so. For some on this blog, I’m sure that these posts will be a rehash of stuff you know. For others though that are new the to the Premiership and English football I hope these help a bit. Considering my own knowledge of European football is limited at best, this will be a learning experience for me as well. Its like a series of essays. Good thing I’m headed back to school, this will get me in shape.
Today’s topic is the probably one that most are familiar with, and that is the concept of promotion and relegation. Its something Newcastle fans know all too well about. Its also something that American sports fans have no real concept of.
In most football leagues in the world, there is promotion and relegation. In all countries (even in the U.S.) there is a "soccer pyramid". Its just that in the U.S., teams don’t move freely between the levels of the pyramid. Elsewhere though, teams can and do play for the right to be promoted and likewise struggle to survive at the level they are.
The concept is fairly simple. In most leagues (top flight, such as the Premiership, are excluded for obvious reasons) the top teams are promoted to the league above them. Newcastle experienced this last year when they won the Championship (level two on the English football pyramid). That means, of course, they know the flipside of the equation: the bottom teams in each league are relegated to the Championship. The previous season, Newcastle finished just a point behind Hull City and found themselves dropped.
Different leagues do relegation differently, but we’ll stick with the Premiership and Championship for simplicity’s sake. The bottom three teams from the Premiership go down to the Championship. They are replaced by the top two teams from the Championship and the winner of the Championship Playoff (in which the teams that finish 3rd-6th compete for the right to join the Premiership. (The bottom three in the Championship are relegated to League One and replaced by the top three from League One via promotion. In fact, Premiership newcomers Norwich City have won promotion two years in a row…which might spell trouble for them. More on that in a moment.)
This makes some exciting football the last weekend of the season. With teams fighting for safety and literally every goal counting (goal differential is a tie-breaker) the bottom teams on the table have just as much (and possibly more) to fight for than those at the top. One of the most memorable recent survivals was Fulham in 2008, who won their last three matches to finish with 36 points, only staying in the premiership because of goal differential. Check it out.
So, you have an idea of this promotion/relegation thing. What does it take to stay in the Premiership? On average, about 36 points will do the trick (that’s the average of the point required for safety from the 19 seasons of the Premier League). Though, there are times where more is needed. Seven times, 40 or more points have been required to reach 17th Place. The first year of the Premiership, 49 points kept Oldham Athletic safe on goal differential. To contrast that, in this year’s competition, Fulham earned 49 points and they finished 8th.
So, lets say you’re the fan of a Championship (remember, flight 2) side. You’ve just been promoted (some of us know that well….and stop laughing Sunderland fans, you’ve been in the drop zone plenty, like in 2006 when you got 15 points.) Hooray, right? Well, not so fast. Its exciting and all, but your side has a tough hill to climb. See, the Premiership isn’t so good at sharing its revenue with lower leagues (as it had in the past) and so Championship sides are at a spending disadvantage. They don’t get any of the money from the Premiership’s massive TV contract. How important is it? When Newcastle was sent down, there were reports that 150 people lost their jobs. That’s a chunk of change, so to speak. This difference in finances has created a "gulf" of sorts that makes it hard for teams to compete at the highest level. In the 19 seasons of the Premiership at least one newly promoted side has been relegated the following season save for one: 2002, when Fulham, Blackburn Rovers, and Bolton Wanderers stayed up. There’s also a "second season syndrome" where newly promoted sides do well in their first year up, only to find them selves relegated after a poor sophomore campaign. Take for example Birmingham City, who finished 9th in the Premiership a year ago, only to finish 18th this season and back in the championship.
Its true no side is safe. In the Premiership’s first season Norwich City, Queens Park Rangers, and Sheffield Wednesday had top half finishes. Norwich eventually played in League One. This past season Sheffield Wednesday finished 15th in League One. 20 years and far, far away from the glory of top flight. Queens Park also found their way into League One for a while, but they’re back to top flight this year. The most drastic example is Leeds United, who went from finishing 5th in the Premiership in 2002, to being relegated to the Championship in 2004, to being relegated to League One in 2007. This was due to finances, and that’s something we’ll get into for another day.
I hope this primer helped you learn a little bit about the promotion/relegation system and how it can impact teams. Feedback is always welcome, and if you have ideas for a Premiership Primer, let me know as well.