It seems like a no-brainer. Of course staying in the Premier League is important. Everyone wants to have good seasons, and short of that, they want to avoid being the worst in the league. Nobody wants to spend time in the Championship. Stadiums like Turf Moor and John Smith's Stadium are a far cry from Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge. If you look through the Championship table, you'll spot the names of former Premiership sides, now languishing in second tier. Charlton Athletic, Bolton, and even the once mighty Leeds United are there. In this league, there is little hope of making it to Europe. The best they can do is earn a spot n the Premiership and play the most famous clubs in the world. For Derby County, their one season in the Premier League was largely forgettable. But, still, Manchester United, Chelsea, Tottenham, and Liverpool all came to Pride Park. Perhaps, someday, the Rams will be back among the elite, if only for a fleeting season.
One club though stands out to me in the Championship. With each passing round, it becomes more and more likely that they will once again stay in second tier for one more year. I speak of Middlesborough. The Smoggies sit on 54 points, five points off of sixth place, which would qualify them for the promotion playoffs. There are no guarantees in those playoffs, but even still Boro would have to surpass two teams to get there. Time is running short.
While we love to laugh at Sunderland and are relatively dismissive of the Mackems, Middlesborough is also Newcastle's rival. More than likely, Boro dislike Newcastle more than we even think of Boro, But still, rivalry is rivalry. The flames of this dormant hatred flickered when Newcastle sent Sammy Ameobi down to Boro on loan. It was seen as a win-win, but some supporters grumbled that it just wasn't what their club did. You don't help out a rival.
And yet, if Ameobi were able to help out Boro, it would give them some sorely needed help. Not just on the pitch, but the club's finances as well. According to the BBC, Middlesborough lost 10 million pounds this past year. Wages are being cut, the club has less players, and spending time in the Championship isn't helping matters.
Boro had become a Premier League regular. When they were relegated in 2009, along with Newcastle, they had been in the Premier League for 11 years. However, while Newcastle quickly bounced back to top flight, Middlesborough still have not recovered.
Part of this is because the Smoggies don't get in on the Premier League television deal, which gives clubs on average 40 million pounds annually. While the Premier League does dole out some money to relegated clubs in an effort to cushion their fall (called parachute payments), it doesn't always work. Indeed, there are some teams that continue their slide past the Championship. For example, Sheffield United played a season in the Premier League in 2006. They are now in third tier, currently fourth in League One. Given Boro's finances, might they see a similar slide?
Middlesborough offer Newcastle, and the rest of the Premier League, an important reminder of why it is so important to avoid relegation. Or, should that happen, why its important to bounce back quickly. Newcastle may have provided a model of sorts for how to not just come back to top flight, but succeed there. Time will tell when the Tyne-Tees derby will be contested again.