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Monday, 24 February 2003

214 PREMIERSHIP: Basement baggies

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Following Sunday's 2:1 defeat in the "Mother of all six-pointers" (or at least until the next one) at home to West Ham, there now seems little hope of Premiership survival for West Bromwich Albion this season.

This should hardly come as much of a surprise to anyone, as the club themselves seem to have spent the current campaign preparing for the seeming inevitability of a return to Nationwide league football.

Having seen the economic plight that relegation has inflicted on the likes of Derby County, Sheffield Wednesday, Bradford City (among others), it seems the club made a conscious decision before the season even got underway, that they would pretty much go with those players who got them promoted. In effect, they adopted the long-term policy of Charlton Athletic, rather than gamble everything on Premiership survival. A commendable show of loyalty in those that got them to where they are now, but one that was always likely to end in a swift return to Division one football.

Whilst it should be acknowledged that Gary Megson could perhaps have done more in securing someone who could score a few goals, it is difficult to argue with the club's decision to think of future stability above the natural desire of supporters to see big name signings at The Hawthorns.

Many have already speculated that, should they go down, W.B.A. will be in a strong position for an immediate return to the top flight, given that they will not be under any significant pressure to sell off their better players, as is often the case with other relegated clubs.

With relegation from the Premiership taking some clubs to the brink of extinction, it has to be time that the clubs' boards came up with a more just alternative to the current situation, where those that face the drop are invariably plunged into an immediate financial abyss.

There simply has to be a way in which TV revenue can be allocated to provide a more level playing field. At present, unless a club has a wealthy owner prepared to back them financially (who are themselves often less committed to the club than they might first appear), there seems to be a system akin to that of Russian Roulette in place. Basically, a promoted club has to weigh up whether they risk all on survival, or more or less accept immediate relegation in the hope of a swift return, having gained experience, signed a couple of quality players and made a few quid from Sky in the meantime.

The alternative is a Premiership where the gap between the top and bottom not only grows ever wider, but one where, sooner rather than later, a relegated club is going to go out of business as a result.

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Antony Melvin

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