Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Punching Above Its Weight?

The sacking of Paul Jewell by Ipswich Town today has made me think, again, of what expectations football chairman and supporters have for their clubs. Ipswich have really punched above their weight in the past. A club has won the First Division, F.A Cup and U.E.F.A Cup during my lifetime and yet plays in a town ranked 39th in terms of population for towns and cities which have football league clubs (London, Manchester, Liverpool, Nottingham and Bristol count only once for this purpose), it is below those mighty footballing hotbeds of Swansea, Walsall, Oxford, Bournemouth, Southend, Swindon, Milton Keynes and Northampton who between them have won slightly less than bugger all.

What should be the expectations of a club whose home attendances average less than 18,500? A decent cup run, making the promotion play-offs? Promotion play-offs would have to be a minimum requirement but the playing field (excuse the cliche) isn't level anymore is it. Clubs who are promoted via the footballing equivalent of Willie Wonka's golden ticket face the eternal question, invest in better players using the television money or risk being relegated. Some clubs, such as Blackpool, are so obviously playing in a league above their natural level that you had to wonder how soon after Christmas it would be that they were relegated.

If you look at the current NPower Championship table there are only Brighton, Cardiff, Huddersfield, Bristol City, Millwall and Peterborough who haven't been Premier League clubs - that means 16 out of 24 clubs have had at least one season of exposure on Sky and the resulting television money and have therefore played the parachute payment roulette. The days when a club like Nottingham Forest could emerge from the provincial maelstrom, climb up the league, win the title and then conquer Europe (twice) will not be seen again whilst television is propping up the game and therein lies the problem with clubs like Ipswich, they can't compete in the bottom half of the Championship despite being a traditionally well run and financially sound club and yet their local rivals Norwich City can be relegated to the third tier, gain back to back promotions, survive and then build on that comparative success.

It's the same story across most of Europe, certainly in Spain the television money is split in a way that means any long term challenges to the duopoly of Barcelona and Real Madrid is unlikely to happen. In Germany the television money is split along more democratic lines and German football is the most watched of all Europe's leagues with consistently the highest average attendances - seven of the best eleven supported clubs in Europe play in Germany. Small clubs do sometimes make it into the 'big league' but generally the likes of Malaga, Montpelier, Hoffenheim, Chelsea and Manchester City have done it via the cheque book of a wealthy benefactor rather than through orgranic growth, although in the case of the two English clubs the long term plan is based on self financing.


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