Guess what? We are part way through November, and Blues are mid-table. Depending on whether you are a glass half-full, or half-empty sort of person, that will be a little lower than expected or a little higher. I suspect, though, that most of us would have had us roughly where we are. Yes, we have had the excitement of the start of the Pep era, but, realistically, what is the future of our football club in the long term? Here we look at the fate that has befallen other clubs in similar positions to see if they lend themselves as a template Blues can follow or as an example to avoid like the plague.
The 2001/2002 Season
Let us go back to the start of the century. The country had not been laid waste by the millennium bug and Brexit was just a reclining chair from IKEA. There are several reasons I have chosen that year, but it is a good snapshot of what happened to clubs in and around us at that time. That season, the first division, (as it was called in those halcyon days), was won by Manchester City. The Blues, courtesy of their 5th place finish, were promoted via the play-offs. Since then, both clubs have had investment of very different amounts, and obviously their paths have diverged.
We are are stuck in the lower reaches of the Championship, while Manchester City are most bookies’ tips to win the Champions League, although not the Premier League this year!
Now, it would be unfair—and too depressing—to compare us with the other Pep’s team, so let’s see who else was in that division that year. West Brom got promoted and have spent much of the subsequent years yo-yoing between the top two leagues. Wolves, Norwich and Millwall occupied the other three top-six spots. All three of those have since spent time in league 1, with the first two also making trips to the EPL (where they are now, of course). Other teams in that league included Burnley, Crystal Palace and Sheffield United.
Going Down to Go Up
After looking like we could become somewhat of a yo-yo club (something that is derided by fans at the time as a symptom of lack of ambition/investment, but looked fondly upon when it is sadly no longer the case), our relegation in 2011 was the last time we dined at the highest table in English football. That was also the last time we played Manchester City in the league, incidentally. Since then we have flirted with promotion, but mainly done everything but sleep with relegation. At the time of avoiding the dreaded drop it is met with a huge sense of relief, but, with hindsight, should that be the case?
There is a common theme through many of the clubs I mentioned earlier that have, since that 01/02 season, had considerably more success than the Blues. They have not just stayed in the Championship before getting promoted; they have dropped down to league 1. Sheffield United, Swansea, Leeds, Preston and Charlton are further examples of sides that dropped to the third tier and have subsequently enjoyed a new lease of life.
Of course, relegation should not be (and often is not) a good thing. But there is no doubting the evidence that, if used correctly, it can also be a positive thing for a club. It can be a chance to shed the mantra of simply surviving another year, win some games, bring young players through and develop a new, positive mindset. That, along with the momentum that hopefully comes with it, is preferable to the same old, same old attitude that hangs over perennial championship strugglers like a Victorian smog.
Of course, simply dropping down a division is no sure way to improve the team, and I am certainly not hoping that is the future for the Blues. Sunderland are just one example of where an expected quick return has not materialised, which in turn has further consequences. A good example for anticipating what might happen will be with Ipswich, the doyens of championship stagnation. After finally dropping through the trapdoor last year, they are riding high in league one, seemingly with a new lease of life. Getting back is one thing—what happens when you get up is quite another, and that will be the acid test for Ipswich.
Perhaps I am one of those glass half-empty people just looking for a crumb of comfort in case it all goes wrong. Evidence suggests we are too good to go down and not good enough to trouble the play-offs. We are desperately in need of a goal scorer, probably a new goalkeeper and a little more resilience in defense if we want to look upwards rather than downwards. Sounds all too familiar.