With relegation now staring our once proud club squarely in the face after yet another cowardly defeat, it is time for reality to set in and for us supporters to collectively accept that we will not be playing Premier League football next season. Those who still harbour hopes of a miraculous escape must now surely realise that this group of players lacks the work ethic or desire, let alone talent, required to make the great escape.
Doom and gloom is the order of the day right now and, after a brief revival during January, performances have become completely destructive and devoid of any effort or belief. With ten games to go, I for one just want this horrific season to be over; I’m not looking forward to another nine hundred minutes of disappointment.
Can we find any positives in impending relegation? On the face of it, it is obviously difficult to do so. After all, it’s every football fan’s nightmare scenario and the negative thoughts and outcomes can easily spiral out of control.
There are obvious drawbacks to being relegated that we simply cannot get around and which we need to acknowledge. Most prominent is the money factor. The new Premier League television deal comes into play next season and we will be missing out. This inevitably means that historically smaller clubs than ours will ultimately end up being richer than us and capable of attracting some incredible playing talent whilst we look on enviously. This also makes it exceptionally difficult to catch up with these teams in the future.
For me, one of the hardest things is giving up our proud achievement of being one of the seven clubs ever present in the Premier League. That is gone and I don’t like it at all. It set us apart and put us in an elite group.
Other concerns I’ve seen from people include things which may seem trivial, such as not even being on ‘Match of the Day’ any more. As I say, it may seem insignificant in the grand scheme of things but it’s the little things like this that will also take some getting used to and that will always be a reminder that we aren’t where we truly belong.
So, can we draw any positives? I think so. However, there are no guarantees and you will need to be fairly optimistic in getting on board with some of these!
Firstly, it’s important to remember that this isn’t the end of Aston Villa Football Club. We have suffered relegation before and have come back strong and enjoyed success. In 1972 we won the third division (now League One) and fought back from those all-time lows to be kings of Europe ten years later. Whilst this is an extreme example, and unlikely to be repeated due to the vast sums of money involved in the modern game, the point is that, even from such depths, success can be recovered eventually; we won’t always be in the situation we are in now.
Whilst there have been many ‘experts’ suggesting that we could end up suffering back-to-back relegations, previous evidence of relegated clubs suggests we won’t. People always like to scaremonger and cite the examples of Leeds United and Portsmouth – teams that were relegated and spiralled further down into League One and League Two. However, both of those clubs had overwhelming debts due to overspending. Portsmouth, in particular, had no infrastructure to support the expenditure and the club passed through the hands of several different unscrupulous owners before needing to be being bought by a fan consortium to stop the club from winding up. Leeds’ chairman at the time, Peter Risdale, notoriously gambled everything on the club making the Champions League places and, incredibly, even borrowed cash against future projected income. When that plan failed, the club was saddled with huge debts of over £100 million and players on monster wages had to be sold in a fire sale.
Financially at least, we are pretty stable, which should hopefully give us at least some sort of foundation to rebuild the side, whatever happens.
Similarly to this, the extent of our patheticness on the field will likely see us finishing with one of the lowest ever Premier League points totals. Due to this, we are tipped to struggle next season in the Championship also. History doesn’t necessarily show this to be the case. The obvious comparison is with the famous Derby County side of 2007-08 that amassed a paltry eleven points over thirty-eight games. This did indeed set the tone for the following season, where they barely managed to keep their Championship status, finishing in twentieth position.
Closely followed in the frankly awfulness stakes is the Sunderland team from 2005-06 that accumulated fifteen points in total, one less than we presently sit on. The subsequent season, the Black Cats came roaring back into the Premier League by winning the Championship outright. The fact that we are completely wretched this season doesn’t necessarily mean we will be next season.
Continuing this further, should we emulate that Sunderland side, or even just have a mid-table finish, it will mean that we (should) finally win a decent number of games, which will be especially good to see at Villa Park. Since the start of the 2011-12 season, we have won a total of forty league games out of a possible one hundred and eighty. Breaking this down further to just our home games, it becomes even more shocking: a total of twenty-two wins in ninety league games. That works out to a disgraceful 24.4% win ratio.
Even more depressing is our goals ratio. In those ninety home games we have scored just ninety-four goals. In this period, we have never managed to score more than twenty-three goals at home in a season.
After all this, relegation is almost a blessing. Even if we somehow managed to survive this season, the likelihood is that we would simply struggle once again next season. It is demoralising going through this season after season. Whilst I am too young to remember our last stint in a lower tier of football, by all accounts the 1987-88 season in Division 2 is looked back upon very fondly. If we can clear out some deadwood and implement some sort of organisation, next season could actually end up being enjoyable despite the Villans not being in the Premier League. Things are so bad that I’d certainly settle for that right now.
Whilst it is easy to think negatively and see every team wanting to claim a victory over us next season or feel that we just won’t be good enough, the fact remains that we will be far and away the biggest club in that division and we really should possess some of the best players, whether they are ones already in our side who stay or if we go out and strengthen. We should be the main attraction in that division and the biggest draw for any players looking to get themselves into the Premier League. Of course, this is somewhat reliant on Randy Lerner backing whichever manager we may have at that time.
Perhaps the biggest long term benefit of relegation to Aston Villa will be the restructuring it brings. Our chairman, Steve Hollis, is an unknown quantity. I was impressed with the movement to bring Mervyn King onto the board and by all accounts the positions of the infamous trio of Tom Fox, Hendrik Almstadt and Paddy Reilly are seriously under threat. Relegation may just force them out the door. It will be a big test for Hollis to restructure the club and whether he is capable of doing so remains to be seen. Fox in particular is in imminent danger; whilst he may cling to his record of increasing revenue as a major reason why he should remain, other factors such as reports of his clashing with fans and even ejecting supporters who dare to protest have already made his position untenable even at this point.
Whilst much of this is theory and not guaranteed, if all else fails, the only other positive we can cling to is that we won’t have to endure a last day rollercoaster which ultimately sees us relegated. Having our hope crushed so early on in the season has at least spared us that and given us a chance toaccept that we will no longer be in the Premier League next season – and now I really am clutching straws.