It’s a time of year when, for football fans up and down the land, hope springs eternal. The doldrums of the summer are gone and thoughts of this year being our year, have returned to the minds of supporters from Newcastle to Plymouth, and all points in between.
But for followers of some teams the feeling should be, if it isn’t already, anxiety. For QPR, Reading and Wigan, the clock is ticking, and with each second that passes history turns against them. The fact is that not getting promoted back to the Premier League at the first time of asking can be costly, both financially and for the chances of seeing top class football in your city sooner rather than later. Just ask Leeds United.
The beginning of 2013-2014 season marks the Whites’ tenth straight season outside of England’s top division since their relegation in 2004. For a club that was once the dominant force in English football the word dormant is perhaps now more appropriate.
Their story is not a unique one. The Championship is littered with sides who were perennial Premier League mainstays. Eighteen of the twenty-four teams have logged time in England’s top club competition, sixteen of those having spent multiple seasons in the promised land. Wolves dropped through the top flight trap door and kept falling, all the way to League One. Since the 1990 season, only six clubs have won the top league in England. Two of those currently call the second tier of English football home.
All of which points to the stark reality that the Championship is harder than ever to succeed in. At least ten teams harbour realistic hopes of automatic promotion, with many more eyeing the playoff places. For the newcomers to the league coming down it is vital to strike while the iron is hot, because as tough a task as it is, it will only get tougher.
Premier League financial assistance, ‘parachute payments’, were introduced in order to help relegated clubs cope with the loss of revenue that a relegation from the world’s most commercially successful league brings. They allow those clubs to keep living the lifestyle to which they are accustomed. But, like the recently unemployed who might spend some time living off their savings, unless they find their way back to the financial levels they were at before, within a short period of time realities have to be faced and luxuries can no longer be afforded. For Premier League dropouts, those luxuries usually consist of quality football players.
Crucially for all three clubs, they have managed to retain a fair amount of quality in their squads. Although the likes of Aroune Koné, Christopher Samba and Antolín Alcaraz have decided that the Championship is not for them, the likes of Pavel Pogrebnyak, Adel Taarabt and Shaun Maloney will be present when the recently fallen take the field this weekend.
This is a continuation of the recent trend of relegated players willing to stick with their clubs for at least one season in the hope that an instant ‘bounce-back’ is possible. Whatever the reason, the continuity and maintenance of quality seemingly boded well for the recent Premier League orphans.
The first task facing the three is to hold onto those players between now and the end of the winter transfer window. Players who think they can play in the Premier League might be nudging their agents if this trio is hanging around mid-table come August 31st,which is one reason a fast start is essential.
All three's opening fixtures look eminently winnable, with Wigan taking the short trip to Barnsley, QPR hosting Sheffield Wednesday and Reading accommodating Ipswich. However, there should be caution in their approach. Last season proved that every game a top team expected to win could turn into a defeat – ask champions Cardiff about their games against relegated Peterborough. They will be hoping to avoid the fate of last year's Premier League relegated. Bolton, Blackburn and Wolves gained just a single point between them on opening day, and for Bolton the campaign was unsatisfactory, while for Blackburn and Wolves, it was disastrous.
You might say a single game means little over the course of a whole season. But then again for Rangers, the Royals and the Latics, every game this year is vital. While the clock is ticks, the bank balance is falls. Every second counts. Forty-six games to go.
From his home in London, Glyn Bowen writes about sports for TJRSports.com
Follow him on Twitter @gbsixty