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English football's slippery slope

English football's slippery slope
Southampton, Charlton Athletic and Norwich City are the latest clubs to slide from the Premier League to League One

By Jonathan Rawcliffe

It is less than one month since Burnley's victory in the Championship play-off final brought the curtain down on another memorable year in the Football League.

But as the Clarets look forward to mixing with English football's aristocracy, the release of next season's fixtures confirms that Charlton Athletic, Southampton and Norwich City are facing an altogether bleaker reality.

Three clubs who were members of the Premier League only four years ago will take on Wycombe, Millwall, and Colchester respectively in League One on 8 August, after being relegated from the Championship.

Southampton dropped into the second tier in 2005 after 27 years in the top flight. Norwich came down with them after a solitary season of struggle.

Every team and every fan looks for the bigger clubs when the fixtures come out

Leicester striker Paul Dickov

Charlton, long regarded by many as the model of how a modern club should be run, were relegated from the Premier League in 2007.

Their stories are familiar ones. The three worst sides in last season's Championship are the latest in a growing number of clubs to sink from the top flight to the level formerly known as Division Three.

Since the Premier League's inaugural season in 1992/93, 14 clubs have experienced the slide from the top division to what is now League One.

Of these teams, only Manchester City have succeeded in regaining their place among English football's elite.

League Relegation Graph - 1 League Relegation Graph - 2 League Relegation Graph - 3

City were relegated to League One in 1998, but under Joe Royle the club went back up the following year with a dramatic play-off final victory over Gillingham at Wembley, and followed that by winning promotion to the Premier League 12 months later.

"Confidence takes a massive knock when you get relegated," former Manchester City and Scotland striker Paul Dickov, who was part of those chaotic days at Maine Road, told BBC Sport.

"If you have a good start to the season, it's amazing how quickly footballers can get their confidence back - but also how quickly they can lose it.

"At Manchester City there wasn't a lot of stability. We had too many managers in a short space of time.

"There were a lot of players who had been brought in by previous managers and who weren't getting any football, so the atmosphere wasn't very nice.

"When Joe Royle came in there were 56 pros on the books, which was just ridiculous. Joe steadied the ship, and we achieved back-to-back promotions."

After playing for City, Dickov joined Leicester where he experienced two relegations from the Premier League as well as a period when the club were in financial trouble.

"Of course you feel ashamed, because you're there to give your best for the people who come and support you every week.

"I've been lucky enough to be at clubs where the dressing room spirit is strong, but in terms of players' self-belief out on the pitch, it can definitely affect you.

"During my first spell at Leicester the club went into administration and people behind the scenes lost their jobs. It was a horrible time, not nice at all, but if anything it made us want to pull together and be stronger as a group."

Paul Dickov
Paul Dickov helped Manchester City and Leicester gain promotion

Simon Chadwick, Professor of Sport Business Strategy at Coventry University, believes the psychological and financial damage of relegation can be significant.

"Relegation affects the psychology and culture of a club, and anybody's psychology is fragile when they are failing," Chadwick told BBC Sport.

"The onus is on the club to try and adjust the psychology of failure to one of winning. That is a complex thing to do - it's a major challenge."

"It's very easy to say a club should bounce back - if you don't carefully and skilfully manage a club when it goes down, you can get into a vicious circle.

"Costs are high, revenues are hit, you start dipping into your parachute payments and very suddenly you get caught in a spiral that takes you down and down."

Clubs relegated from the top flight are entitled to parachute payments of about £11.5m per season for the two years after they go down.

Half of this money goes to teams at the beginning of the season and the rest is spread in several payments throughout each campaign.

The payments are designed to help clubs either seal a swift return to the Premier League, or at the very least be competitive in the Championship.

"Relegated clubs have to try to control their costs, and use their parachute payments in a sustainable way, so that they generate future revenue streams," said Chadwick.

"What a lot of clubs have a tendency to do is to try and maintain their squads and their cost base, possibly signing even more players with a view to getting promoted.

"If you don't bounce back at the first attempt, the parachute payments become almost like a poisoned chalice rather than a mechanism to help cushion the blow of getting relegated.

"It's a lose-lose situation all round if you go down. Either you are burdened with the costs of paying Premier League salaries in the Championship, or alternatively you are not burdened with those costs but your best players move on."

High costs, a crisis of confidence, dwindling revenues, and the departure of decent players - it adds up to a perfect storm capable of destabilising any club, and goes some way to explaining how teams can go into freefall.


Once in freefall it is hard to put the brakes on as the likes of Nottingham Forest and Leeds United have already discovered, despite their long history of top-flight and European football, large stadiums and legions of supporters.

"Every team and every fan will look for the bigger clubs when the fixtures come out," said Dickov.

"They come to enjoy a game at a big stadium with a big team and they want to make their mark. Then, when you go away from home, it's a packed house every week.

"Players raise their game against you, so it does make it harder. I think that's why some teams struggle when they get relegated because it is everybody else's cup final when they play against you.

"Footballers in the lower divisions work their socks off because they aspire to be where you have been - if you don't match the work rate, attitude and aggression, that's when you struggle."

Last season Dickov helped Nigel Pearson's Leicester side to the League One title and the striker knows what it takes to haul a big name out of a lower division.

"It will be hard for Southampton, Charlton and Norwich, but I fully expect all three of them to do well next year.

"It's a strong league, physically. We knew teams were going to start fast against us - we just wanted to start faster. It knocked the stuffing out of them a bit, because I think they expected a team who didn't like the physical side of the game."

Dickov sees parallels between the way Royle turned Manchester City's fortunes around in 1999 and the job Pearson has done since the Foxes were relegated from the Championship a year ago.

"Nigel settled everyone down," said Dickov. "You just got the feeling the club was on the right track again. In the seasons leading up to the relegation Leicester had three or four different managers - as players, if you are constantly changing managers, you can't perform to your maximum.

The Valley
Charlton's Valley stadium will host League One football in 2009/10

"We had a good start and it was like a snowball effect. We were top of the League for most of the year, confidence was flowing and you feel like you cannot get beaten.

"At Manchester City, it was the momentum from the first promotion that carried us back up to the Premier League. We all pulled together, we wanted to get the club back up, and we had the belief and hunger to do it.

"There's a very similar feeling at Leicester at the moment. With the addition of a couple of players, there's no reason why we can't hold our own. I believe we can certainly push for the play-offs in the Championship."

If Leicester do succeed in regaining their Premier League status, they will buck the trend which has seen so many clubs struggle to recreate their glory days once they have dropped out of English football's top two divisions.

Regardless of history and tradition, no club is automatically entitled to a place in the Premier League or the Championship, and Chadwick believes the decline of some so-called big names is being balanced out by the emergence of 'smaller', more progressive clubs.

"There is a cultural change taking place," said Chadwick. "We're seeing clubs that historically have not been high achievers attract investment.

"One of the reasons some relegated clubs are not bouncing back is because other clubs that are moving up, or have aspirations to move up, are becoming wiser and more astute.

Whilst the three relegated clubs in the Championship were former members of the Premier League, so too were the top four clubs

Football League statement

"Across the Football League a number of clubs are thinking about the way they do business and manage themselves. "

A Football League spokesman told BBC Sport that the plight of Charlton, Southampton and Norwich was not necessarily symptomatic of wider financial or structural issues.

"The Football League has just had an incredibly competitive season in all three divisions and whilst the three relegated clubs in the Championship were former members of the Premier League, so too were the top four clubs," said a Football League statement.

"It would be wrong therefore to draw too many conclusions from individual seasons, as the ups and downs of clubs are part and parcel of the normal cycle of a healthy league."

But Chadwick warns that Newcastle could find life tough outside the Premier League after their relegation on the final day of the season.

The Magpies will begin the new campaign with a trip to West Brom, who themselves will be looking for immediate promotion from the Championship.

According to accountants Deloitte, Newcastle's wage bill totalled £74.6m at the end of the 2006/07 season, while the club's debt at the end of the 2007/08 season stood at £245m.

Since St James's Park was expanded to a capacity of 52,387 in 2000, Newcastle have always been able to count on average attendances of over 50,000 for home matches, but over the course of last season crowds dipped to 48,750.

"I think Newcastle are in serious trouble," Chadwick told BBC Sport.

"When relegation takes place, revenues fall, and what is particularly significant for Newcastle this season is that their average crowd size has fallen.

"Clearly the club has a substantial cost base, with very high profile players brought in on big fees and presumably being paid big salaries.

Tears on the Tyne as Newcastle are relegated

"So there's a big concern - you've got high costs, potentially falling revenues, debt is clearly an issue, and you've got an owner who isn't particularly well liked.

"The only salvation could be if we see what happened at Manchester City happen at Newcastle - when City were relegated, average attendances went up.

"Unless there's this perverse effect where the local community gets behind their team in relegation and attends games, then I think Newcastle are at the top of a very long slippery slope if they are not careful."

Charlton, Southampton and Norwich fans know that feeling only too well.

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see also
Norwich drop down to League One
03 May 09 |  Championship
Promotion a big ask - Butterworth
10 May 09 |  Norwich
Canaries' fans keeping the faith
04 Mar 09 |  Norwich
Fulham 6-0 Norwich
15 May 05 |  Premier League
Southampton unable to pay wages
28 May 09 |  Southampton
The rise and fall of the Saints
24 Apr 09 |  Football
Southampton 1-2 Man Utd
15 May 05 |  Premier League
Curbishley rues Charlton choices
16 Apr 09 |  Charlton
Hudson blames disjointed Addicks
21 Apr 09 |  Charlton
Charlton 0-2 Tottenham
07 May 07 |  Premier League
Foxes can go straight up - Howard
29 Apr 09 |  Leicester
We deserve title success - Mandaric
22 Apr 09 |  Football
Leicester City's season in photos
20 Apr 09 |  League One
Aston Villa 1-0 Newcastle
24 May 09 |  Premier League
What now for north-east football?
24 May 09 |  Football
Premier League 'defies downturn'
03 Jun 09 |  Business

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