After the completion of this weekend’s fixtures, the Championship relegation zone made depressing reading for the three clubs promoted from League One last season. Bristol City, Preston North End and Milton Keynes Dons currently occupy the bottom three places after nine games, which should worry everybody who cherishes English football’s unique pyramid structure.
Very few pre-season previews expected City and Preston to flirt with the bottom three, though most of these previews also had MK down as nailed-on strugglers. Unexpected twists are part of what makes following football so enduring a pastime. However, it is precisely this capacity for the unexpected that looks under threat when you examine the Championship table as it stands.
The most alarming thing about this is that City and Preston are big clubs who have previously sustained Championship football for long periods and come close to being promoted to the Premier League – losing play off finals in 2001 and 2005 (Preston) and 2008 (Bristol City). If clubs such as these two are struggling after promotion, a serious question needs to be asked if the ability of promoted clubs to dream of prospering in the Championship are now seriously hampered due to the inflated sums of money which circulate in England’s second tier.
Fourteen Championship clubs are either currently receiving, or have previously benefitted from, parachute payments after relegation from the Premier League. The current payments being received by the recently relegated – Burnley, Hull and QPR are an estimated £64 million over the next four years if not promoted.
These payments may be necessary in order to enable clubs to fulfil contractual obligations made to players when chasing bottomless pots of gold. However, it is hard to see that they do anything other than encourage clubs to continue spending binges in pursuit of promotion, particularly among those clubs not currently in receipt of them eager to keep up with the rest. The heavy spending of both Derby and Middlesbrough, clubs who have had recent near misses on promotion, this summer are two examples of this.
Of the last 12 clubs to be relegated from the Championship, three have been relegated after only one season (Doncaster, Yeovil and Peterborough) and the rest comprise either clubs who have flown too close to the sun (Portsmouth, Coventry, Wolves, Wigan, Blackpool and Bristol City) or smaller clubs ordinarily expected to struggle in the division (the first time droppers plus Millwall and Barnsley). The common factor is clear – these are generally clubs who have never had the parachute payments, or clubs who have spent them on covering previous liabilities.
It is not as if the current bottom three are non-competitive – the Robins have tried to take risks by injecting the biggest dose of steroids into the auction for Andre Gray’s services before he decided to join Burnley. They also made a £6m bid for Crystal Palace’s Dwight Gayle, who was unwilling to move west. Preston and MK have been more frugal, but both brought in nine players each prior to the closing of the transfer window. The problem for them is, the Championship is now arguably as distorted by obscene sums of money as the top flight, and sensible club husbandry is now a lesser-spotted strategy in what is now a mad scramble to reach the Premier League.
An important part of the media’s language around the Championship’s appeal is the word ‘unpredictable’. With the yawning wealth gap that now exists between the haves and have-nots in the Championship, ultimate outcomes in the division are anything but unpredictable. If you don’t spend ludicrous sums, you’ve probably had it. If you do spend ludicrous sums, you may enjoy short-term success, but there is a chance something nasty could be waiting for you a few years down the track.
Do you agree that parachute payments have made the Championship more uncompetitive? Would you cap them? Do you think that any of the three promoted clubs can survive relegation?
Read more from Tom Simmonds here!