Saturday, April 05, 2008

The Fifth Stage of Relegation Grief

Twice within the pages of this blog I have praised the European system of relegation and promotion in professional sports.

Last June, I cited relegation as one of the reasons that the English Premier League ("EPL") of soccer/football was interesting. At the time, I said that relegation was the "awesome Shiva of sports, destroyer and transformer." Last September, in one of the more heavily commented posts on this blog, I argued that adding relegation and promotion to major league baseball would result in a more dynamic and interesting league.

Well, these chickens have come home to roost. With today's embarrassing 1-3 home loss to Sunderland, it looks like all but a mathematical certainty that Fulham, the EPL team that I root for, is going to get relegated.

A quick review for those of you who don't know what relegation means. Here's the relevant bit from my post in June on the topic:

England (like many a soccer-addled country) has multiple professional soccer leagues. Relegation means that the bottom 3 EPL teams are sent to the 2nd flight league, the Championship, and the top Championship teams rise to the EPL. This happens serially, with each league sending their best teams up and their worst teams down.

The result is something like Darwinism for sports. Good teams are rewarded, bad teams are punished. You don't have the Milwaukee Brewers — a profitable team that will never, ever do anything meaningful in the top US baseball league. Since team owners are not monopolistically locked into their leagues, and since the lower league teams aren't farm teams, owners of EPL teams simply cannot field a mediocre product year-in-and-year-out and count on reaping profits from an over-loyal fanbase.
With 5 games left in the season, bottom-dwelling Derby County is a distant 20th place, mathematically assured of relegation (and is in hot competition with the 2002-03 Sunderland team for the worst point total in English football history). 18th place Bolton looks like it could close the gap with 17th place Birmingham. 19th place Fulham? Well, it's going to finish in 19th place.

Time and again this season, Fulham has seized defeat (or at least a draw) from the jaws of victory. They have given up a late goal to their opponent in the waning moments of the match more times than I care to recall. Although seven teams in the EPL lost the same number or more games than Fulham (17), it's Fulham that will be relegated knowing that it has a chance to lead the league in ties (12). Most of those ties could have been wins, but for the final 10 minutes.

So it's Fulham to the Champions League League Championship. What am I to do?

Well, I certainly can't pick a new EPL team — most certainly not yet, not one year after deciding to root for Fulham and not while Fulham has a chance to make a quick return to the top flight for the 2009-10 season. I'll go back to enjoying the EPL on Fox Soccer Channel in the same blasé, disinterested manner I did before I cheered for a single team. I'll simply go back to watching football because I like watching football, even when I don't know much or care much about who is playing whom.

And I'll be a Fulham fan in the way that all remote fans followed their favorite teams in the days before extensive television coverage. I'll follow the box score. (Although almost half the EPL games in a given week are televised in the US, it's impossible to get Champions League League Champsionship games on your TV without purchasing a separate and expensive channel.) I'll read about Fulham competing against a new round of names that sound strange to me. Just when I got used to the Hogwarts-esque Tottenham Hotspur and Aston Villa, the Champions League League Championship will bring me Fulham against Crystal Palace and Sheffield Wednesday.

And I'll hope that Fulham stays the Fulham I like: a team overloaded with Yankee players, owned and mismanaged Mohamed Al-Fayed, and a team that battles for survival and makes you cheer like a crazy person when they actually win the big one.

Go Fulham.
Update (5/14): How wrong I was.


johnrob said...

"So it's Fulham to the Champions League. What am I to do?"

You mean Nationwide League, or whatever they're calling the 2nd rang these days (Coca Cola League?).

Andy said...

Good catch. Thanks for the correction, since it would be a good (and highly improbable) thing for Fulham to be in the Champions League.

Tim Frentz said...

good to see you have an interest in the Euro sport still. Great info AB. I need to subscribe to your blogs... thought I did once but am not getting email alerts... anyway.. I'll get it fixed.