A Relegation Wish

With the football season coming to a close, fellow Glory co-founder Lee and I got together to talk over the current league standings and eye-catching recent results. With myself being a Norwich City fan and Lee an Ipswich Town supporter, football talk can get interesting to say the least...

Neither team has had a great season. Norwich were relegated from the Premier League last season, and many tipped the canaries for instant promotion. However, they finished 8th in the table – with shambolic away form contributing to their mid-table mediocrity. Ipswich, meanwhile, finish in 16th – hardly surprising, considering the blues operate with one of the Championship’s lowest transfer budgets. But with Mick McCarthy at the helm, they have a determined and charismatic leader capable of achieving the impossible. 

“If only we were relegated. It’s the only way to go forward.”

Not the sort of statement you'd expect from a lifelong Ipswich fan. A supporter of such an historic club, actively wishing relegation on his team? But Lee's words got me thinking: can a football club become so stale that fans see relegation as the only opportunity for positive change? Is it really sometimes necessary to go backwards in order to go forwards?

Ipswich may well be an example of such a 'stale' club: 15 consecutive years in the EFL Championship (longer than any other team), an uninspiring transfer budget and consistently inconsistent results on the pitch. And don't see this as a Norwich fan taking a dig at Ipswich –these are the words of a lifelong Tractor Boy simply voicing his frustrations.

It’s become the norm for fans to view relegation – or at least regression – as a means of tearing down in order to rebuild. There are plenty of teams that dropped to the lower tiers of English football, started afresh, regained promotion and discovered greater stability in the process – a prime example of which is Southampton FC.

In 2005, the Saints were relegated from the Premier League after 27 successive seasons in the top tier. The club spent four years in the Championship, but against a backdrop of severe financial turmoil, relegation to the third tier of English football loomed. This was the first time in 50 years the south coast club had been so low down the football pyramid, and to make matters worse, Southampton were forced to start the new season with a -10 point deficit after going into administration.

The fans had endured years of hell, and the future of the club looked bleak. However, the saints marched on, with a new owner who promised to establish a new vision for the club, rebuild and map out a plan to secure future progression. That season, the Saints finished, 7th – just four points off the play-offs. Not bad, considering they started the season with a 10-point mountain to climb. The following season (2010/2011), under the guidance of manager Nigel Adkins, the club was promoted back to the Championship. The winning feeling continued at St Mary’s, with back-to-back promotions helping the club regain its top-flight status, and key players like Jose Fonte, Adam Lallana and Rickie Lambert attracting admiring glances from elsewhere.

Southampton now sit a comfortable 10th place in the Barclays Premier League, and after finishing 7th in the division during the 2014/2015 season, they also competed in the UEFA Europa League in 2015/2016.

A remarkable transformation over just six years. Southampton returned to the top tier a club reborn, and it's these yo-yo fortunes that give hope to those suffering in stasis. Of course the Saints weren't alone: Sheffield United, Sheffield Wednesday, Leeds United, Manchester City, Hull City, Swansea City and more all went down to return stronger, and give credence to the words of fans like Lee, who see relegation as a blessing rather than a curse. As a Norwich fan, I endured a similar long-term transformation. My team slipped all the way to League One, losing 7-1 against Colchester on the first game of the season, before securing instant back-to-back promotions all the way to the promised land of the Premier League. 

It’s become commonplace for fans to wish for relegation in the hope that their clubs can move forward. Of course, for every phoenix from the ashes story there are hundreds where a club has fallen and kept on falling, but it’s the success stories that fans remember and refer to. Whatever your club's situation, hope and glory is what keeps us supporting. 

– Ryan Mason