Opinion

Relegation can be a catalyst for clubs, a journey for fans

Watford forward Troy Deeney. Source: Getty Images

The end of the English Premier League season on Sunday brought the usual sightings of players on their haunches with thousand-yard stares, coaches trying to remain calm, and footage of those that survived celebrating. The only thing missing were fans shedding tears on the terraces.

Relegation is an unpleasant experience and there are many examples of it being the start of serious pain.

Leeds United fans won’t look back too fondly on their Premier League exit back in 2004 as it took 16 years, numerous coaches, millions of dollars and immeasurable heartbreak to get back.

Nottingham Forest, two time European champions, fell through the trapdoor in 1999 and haven’t returned. Others have fared worse.

But going down can be a first step on the road to recovery. In 1974, an aging Manchester United team were relegated just six years after winning the European Cup and then enjoyed a fun season in the second tier, recording an average attendance of almost 50,000.

With a new coach in Tommy Docherty, a bunch of young players and an exciting new style, United bounced back and re-emerged in the top flight as a much bigger force with fans firmly back onside.

Away from the big leagues, deadwood can be cleared out, dodgy owners can look to sell and being out of the top tier gives a little more leeway out of the spotlight to rebuild. The last time Leeds were promoted, the momentum carried them to the English title within two years.

More than anything, if the team does not continue its descent through the leagues, then it can be a great way for a team to return to winning ways.

It can be a great feeling not to expect to lose every week but to start to look forward to games. Challenging for promotion is much more exciting than fighting against relegation year after year. And then there are the new stadiums, towns and cities you can travel to.

It is not only Europe. In 2011, Gamba Osaka finished third in the J.League, a usual position for the 2008 Asian champions. The season after it all fell apart and somehow they were relegated.

The club took a deep breath, won J2 and the season after - back in the big league - became Japanese champions.

Guangzhou Evergrande won China’s second tier in 2010 and subsequently won eight of the next nine Chinese Super League titles and became one of Asia’s powerhouses.

Relegation does not have to be a springboard to glory and success - my own team is an example of this.

Blackburn Rovers were relegated to England’s third tier in 2017. Facing only the sixth ever season outside the top two tiers in 142 years of history was not a pleasant prospect.

But after years of decline under unpopular owners, life in the third tier was fun. The team started to win, over the season an average of over 2,000 fans went to away games and it would have been much more had space allowed. it was great for fans to have a shared positive experience. It brought everyone together.

A quick return to the Championship followed and a 15th place finish. That doesn’t sound great but it was much healthier and positive than it would have been had the club never gone down and had drifted along to finish in the same position.

Relegation also provides other kinds of journeys. Heartbreak is necessary in sport. The despair of relegation can provide a narrative in the history of a club that is important and ties fans in to that story emotionally.

Relegation in Australia would do more than connect the pyramid and would do more than provide drama and excitement at the bottom of the table. It can be a misfortune that sets clubs back on the right path.