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Not so sweet response

By Christine Foster :  21/04/2008 :  Comments (24) :
Having just read Paul Wilson?s excellent but troubling article in the Observer (link on the Homepage), I have to admit that this dose of realism is sadly accurate and poses an even worse dilemma ? not just for our club but for any Premier League club with aspirations. Its message is quite clear: that the Premier League is not the best in the world but the big four are the best clubs.

It also highlights the perspective that the way those particular clubs have been marketed by Sky has attracted the fanbase, the money and the players. Fans bought the hype of it all but the monster that is now the big four threatens to be the demise of top quality football in this country.

I wonder therefore if there is a case for restructuring the Premier League to make it more competitive. Perhaps the restriction on the number of foreign players would help in generating competitiveness and evening up the playing field.

Either way, it's clear that it's not just the money that guarantees you a seat at the top table, it?s the hype of the marketing people who want the top four to dominate because it's good business for them, the clubs and for Sky. They have such a strangle-hold on the Premier League on and off the field that it's not a glass ceiling that needs to be broken ? it?s a concrete one.

I for one cringe when people say we are the Best of the Rest. We are, but that?s not what I want for my club. As it stands, you need the players in quality and quantity to consistently challenge the big four. That?s what they have. Not only that but then you must compete against the bias of Sky, the media and uncomfortably, the league hierarchy and referees themselves.

I am not saying there is a stated degree of active determination to prevent the fall of the big four through dubious decision making, but it feels like it and the reality is that they DO get the decisions where there is any doubt in a referees mind. Why? Because they are supposedly the best and the best don?t cheat do they? So the leaning of officials is naturally towards them.

Yes, we all want to stick it to the top four clubs in the country but I would like to do it every week, not just twice a season. They are sticking it to us every week because even if they lose they know there isn?t another club with the depth of resources to really challenge their position. If it keeps going much longer the league will lose its overall quality because the days of a side having a great run and winning the league are becoming limited to the point of extinction.

The frustration we all feel watching Everton play well all year only to falter when the injuries mount and the legs are weary, should not be directed solely at the club, it's management or the players themselves. We are asking them to compete against world-class players with some of the best facilities in the world, against a league that is centric around the top four only; against money, slick marketing and ruthlessness. In the eyes of the money we are not at the big boys' table except to serve.

What then should be our expectation? How do we turn the table over? We are like the woodpecker chipping away at the leg of the table. I wish I had an axe...

The fundamental truth is that, in order to improve the Premier League you have to level the playing field for all its clubs, its size of squads and player nationalities. In doing so, you give the other 16 clubs, their players and fans, something that is far more valuable. Hope, and a realisation that it can be achieved.

I would rather be in a league of 20 clubs with great teams and great players than a league with four great teams and the rest there to make up the numbers. That?s were we are. That?s why we are frustrated because deep down we know we haven?t got the players or the money to consistently play at their level. We have the heart which they don?t have. But will it be enough?

Reader Comments

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Jason Lam
1   Posted 21/04/2008 at 05:09:17

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I agree with the sad state of affairs and appaud The Observer for having the balls to state the obvious. Fat lotta good it will do though.

As long as the Premier League’s profits are growing each year, I can’t see why there is a need to change a winning formula. Why should Man Utd and co want a more competitive league? Another 16 teams to give us a hard time each week? Why should I share my title with you? I’ve got billions of lemmings to feed in terms of mechandising and MUTV.

Sure the average layman loves to see Blackburn give them a run for their money, but all I heard was a huge roar from my neighbours when Tevez scored in the 88min. Nobody gives a fuck about the other 16 teams. Nobody gives a fuck about the quality of football shown by BOTH teams. It’s all glory, glory Man Utd.

We need a business case whereby we can justify having a more competitive league will produce if not more money for the FA, yet not undermine the big4 - more money for them the better. Problem is, the big4 will still be the big4.

Or we can take it in our own hands and do a Chelsea. Fucking depressing eh?
Derek Thomas
2   Posted 21/04/2008 at 08:00:30

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You’re preaching to the choir Christine, well most of us anyway.

The media who nurtured and grew the beast are now, ever so slowly, seeing the light, well a tiny glimmer.

But E.U. rules on freedom of movement wnd work etc will not permit a Johnny Foreigner Quota.

As for the EPL and the ATM 4 do you really think the turkey’s are going to vote for Christmas??
Christine Foster
3   Posted 21/04/2008 at 08:56:49

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Jason, Derek.. your both quite right in stating that the power currently lies with the money and why would they share it. Except of course how do you make it more competitive? A Europremier league? Great! for the Man U and the RS but good for the game? hardly. Good for the busines of the current top four.. absolutely..
Just a dilution of skill and the loss of finance will result making the gap larger.
Davey Miltiwitch
4   Posted 21/04/2008 at 09:08:59

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I believe that things began to go horribly wrong when the European ban came in. Out of Europe and unable to satisfy ambitious winners in our side, Everton were left in the wilderness, and did not have the stabillity to weather the storm and move on. Other sides in England needed to get back on a level playing field and compete on a Eurpean level once the ban was over, and I think that all English sides began to over-compensate by throwing the money around at quite frankly over-priced players, like it was going out of fashion.

In my eyes there is no ’big 4’ as such. These things go in cycles, and if a wealthy investor buys into a team (Like Chelsea) they will, before long, be added to that list. Meanwhile, if a team from the ’Big brigade’ (like Leeds) comes unstuck they are soon forgot about.
It is only a matter of time before another wealthy investor interrupts this current cycle.

Naive as it sounds, I do think that the current climate is a level playing field, after all there are 11 proffessionals v 11 proffessionals. Even if Rio Ferdinand costs 30 million on paper, is there really that much of a gulf in class between him and Lescott?

Maybe a more accurate summary is that the Big 4 have a pool of 24+ good pro’s who they can chop and change throughout the season, whereas the rest of Premiership clubs in England have half to make do with half that figure if they are lucky.

It is not difficult to see why teams like us are struggling. If you are in a long distance Motor race against a car with a full tank of gas and a spare set of slick tyres, while you only have half a tank and the tyres you are running on, what do you think will happen?

We should stop feeling sorry for ourselves and do something about this apparent domination, we have done it once before, and come VERY close to repeating it.

Lets refill the tank in the summer and shake it up once more. I honestly believe that with Moyes and a few quality additions we can.
Dave Lynch
5   Posted 21/04/2008 at 09:45:55

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No Shit Sherlock !
Stephen Stuart
6   Posted 21/04/2008 at 10:31:14

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Good, coherent article.

Football is an entertainment business not a sport. The fans are mere consumers of what is on offer - no more no less - and don’t have any real say in what the business does/wants - so long as they keep paying!
Eric Myles
7   Posted 21/04/2008 at 11:45:25

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I don’t believe it’s the nationalities of the players that is the problem or the solution.

Due to the EU the Football League cannot place an outright ban on all foriegn players, players with EU nationalities must be allowed to play in the EPL and for many other nationalities it seems easy for them to obtain a EU passport by playing a year in Spain or Italy.

Besides, getting rid of foreign players will get rid of the majority of the flair and exciting players in the league. Would you really want a team full of Caraghers? Or Nevilles?

So the answer has to be something along the lines of a draft like is used in US sports, along with salary caps and transfer fee caps. But then that becomes unworkable because it would have to be applied across the whole of European football at least, if not FIFA as a whole. (It works in US as they are the only country in the ’World Series’ of baseball or whose teams can become the ’World Champions’ of NFL.

So for the outlook of English football I’m afraid it’s more of the same for the foreseeable future until the ’top 4’ of every country break away to form their own European Super League which will then raid the best talent from what’s left behind.

Nick Heady
8   Posted 21/04/2008 at 11:01:11

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Arsenal haven't spent millions on their squad. Granted they could if they wanted, but the majority of Wenger's buys are not massive names costing millions. Coaching has to play a part in it, how can Wenger consistently get players to be comfortable on the ball and be able to pass to team mates when under pressure? I think everyone's beggining to believe the bullshit. With the right coaching and a good scouting policy we could be back up there.
Robbie Muldoon
9   Posted 21/04/2008 at 12:30:00

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Mate it was all summed up when Rooney emerged, got into the England team only for Erikkson to say he should be playin for a top 4 side.

The Rooney affair epitomised what is wrong with the mentality of footballers, managers, fans and the media.

A couple of decades ago a player like that probably would have stayed at the club.
Jonathan Fogg
10   Posted 21/04/2008 at 12:36:15

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Completely agree. The problem is that it is a viscous circle. As annoying as it is true, the only reason SKY pump the money in every year is because of those four teams. WIthout this money, the other 16 cant survive. This reliance on this money means that in effect we are reliant on the those four teams which is sickening considering they are also the reason why we along with everyone else is in this mess. I fear that the only way this cycle will be broken, is if there is a major collapse in the TV market. But even then, such is the extent of the gulf in finances that it would probably be the other 16 teams that would suffer more in the aftermath of such an event. But blindly we will (including myself ST holder in the Lower Gwladys btw) all keep buying into it because we love the club when in reality we have zero chance of winning the league and can only hope at getting to a S/F or Final where we will be beaten by one of the four anyway! Depressing when you actually think about it!
Tom Edwards
11   Posted 21/04/2008 at 13:00:06

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I think a simple way to sum up how the Premier League is generally perceived and what it means in terms of business, would be.......
"Grand Slam Sunday"

Sky don’t give a shit about any other teams. Let’s face it, we FINISHED in the top 4 not long ago, but were never thought of as one of them. I didn’t see us being touted for any of the blessed "Grand Slam Sundays", etc
Dave Randles
12   Posted 21/04/2008 at 13:11:51

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Great article. A play on the same theme of what has been said on here a thousand times previously.

The fact is that Sky have ruined (note I didn?t say ?are ruining?!) football.

Next season?s top four will be Man United, Arsenal, Chelski and the unspeakable, perhaps not in that order, but top four all the same. Next season?s cups will, in all likelihood, be won by some predictable permutation of the same teams. How that constitutes ?the best league in the world? is honestly beyond me.

I find the Premier League boring beyond words, but the fact remains that Sky have exactly what they want ? a league dominated by just a few ?sexy? teams. Things will only get worse too, as the exposure of the ?Sky 4? increases, so their armchair fanbase will grow, lessening even further any remnant of importance of the ?real? fans, you know, ones that actually pay to witch games.

Back in 2006, I posted a thread which included, ?Football as we knew it is fucked. Since Sky invented the game, the sole aim has been all about creating a larger TV audience at all costs. Everton, along with 16 other Premier League clubs, are paying the price. The monopoly of the top four simply will not be broken so long as the current TV deal remains as unbalanced as it currently is. That?s exactly the way Sky want it. Gone are the days when Ipswich, Forest and dare I say it, Everton can consistently compete at the top without long-term sustained investment in the playing staff?.

When I occasionally stumble upon old threads to which I have contributed, I am often surprised at how my opinion changes with time. My words of 2006 though (well that paragraph at any rate!) are the same as they would be right now. Football as we knew it is gone and probably gone forever.

Victor Johnson
13   Posted 21/04/2008 at 14:26:01

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What makes you think that money is the root of the problem? You sound like a paranoid communist to me. Everton, and perhaps you, were not complaining when we were one of the ’Big Five’. Better to focus your energies on why we and Spurs have been usurped by Chelsea, and start working on a counter-strategy to prosper in an environent whose dynamics are rather out of our control. Live and learn, put together that counter strategy and make it work. Evolution tells us not to stand back and fight on the basis of so-called ’historical right’ but rather to accept change and produce more intelligent, well-thought-out responses to ever-changing conditions before others do it before you. We failed to do this 15-20 years ago, probably blinded by delusions of historical right. Unfortunately, this process of change may take some time, although nature tells us it will happen.
Steve Green
14   Posted 21/04/2008 at 14:53:24

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While the idea of a salary and transfer fee cap is appealing, it would be difficult to enforce just in the Premiership, as Eric Myles said above.
Baseball, in fact, has no salary cap but it does have something that might be more readily applied to the Premiership -- a payroll luxury tax, which forces the bigger-spending teams that exceed a given payroll limit to pay what amounts to a hefty fine that’s spread among the teams that didn’t overspend. Think what United, Chelsea and the RS, in particular, would have to contribute, along with other recent offenders such as West Ham and Newcastle.
If something like that were to be introduced in the EPL, then one of two things would happen -- either the overspenders would be content to keep subsidizing the others, or (more likely) they’d cut back on their transfer fees and wages (ironically improving their bottom lines), which would go a long way toward levelling the financial playing field.
Jay Harris
15   Posted 21/04/2008 at 14:01:33

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Whilst I agree with the sentiment I totally agree with Davey Millwitch.

Everything goes in cycles.

For those who supported the blues in the 70s we were all depressed because the RS dominated the WORLD of football. Although watching Manure get relegated to the old 2nd divivion did offer some relief.

Then along came Howard Kendall, some shrewd inexpensive buys, a great team spirit etc and in the meantime the RS were bickering about who was getting a game and who wasn't.

Result: we broke the monopoly. At least until Heysel but that?s a different story.

Now I accept because of the money and media in the game it's a different climate now but the principles remain the same with some shrewd buys and unity throughout the club especially encouragement from the terraces anything is possible, difficult yes but not impossible.

Ourselves and Man City were in the top 4 for long periods this season if we could just stretch that out over the season.......
Joe McMahon
16   Posted 21/04/2008 at 21:17:29

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Christine - I emailed Paul about his article, and about decisions going to the Sky 4, Liverpool more than most. ie, Penalties against Arsenal. This was his response:

"You say Spurs and Newcastle have spent their fair share, and you can add City to that, but the point is that for all these clubs spending big is a risk. Everton haven?t got the money to back Moyes? ambition, but even if they had, would it be wise to throw a fortune at trying to break into the top four, when those clubs are guaranteed income every year? It might be worth it if the top four could become a top six, but that?s not the way things stand. It can only ever be a top four, and while a superhuman playing effort might crack it for a season or two, superhuman spending is unlikely to push out an Arsenal or a Liverpool for long. Look at Leeds."
Robert Carney
17   Posted 21/04/2008 at 22:52:12

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Good article Christine, as always. Not all pessism on the front though. Look forward a few years and Man U could easily implode. The present manager does not have long left. Thier finances in the present climate are not good. The same applies to Chelsea and the shite. Arsenal look the best run club at the moment. Any of the six clubs below could replace them. Sky could even lose the rights to broadcast. The new people could want a fresh approach. Its astrange old world.
Christine Foster
18   Posted 21/04/2008 at 23:28:49

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Its a fact of life that change happens, sometimes good and sometimes not so good. I firmly believe that the Sky monopoly will end and the days of the top four may well be numbered. The trouble is of course that may be a while away.

Joe McMahon I think what Paul says is very true. Business is about risk and the ability to take that risk. Everton and others are not in the same league when it comes to losing the odd 100 million on a few failed players..The risk is too great and yes, money does talk in this business. Of course you have to have the best manager, coach and facilities as well adn that costs money, just look at the debate regarding Kirkby, a half decent stadium at best in a poor location. It effects the clubs as a business and risk is paramount (aka Leeds U)
Clubs may be able to have great seasons and break the top four that year but unless they do it for 5 years on the run, then its going to be very difficult to break that monopoly.
Now on the good side that will happen, one of those sides are going to going to mess up, we just have to be positioned right to take advantage.
Gary Mortimer
19   Posted 22/04/2008 at 10:00:59

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Excellent article.

Mike Parry (Talksport?s comedy blue) usually spouts an incredible amount of claptrap, but a couple of years ago he stated that football was going to ?Hell in a handcart? and, unfortunately, for every supporter who doesn?t support the ?Sky 4?, he was correct.

There?s a few comments above that I?d like to comment on myself.

?But E.U. rules on freedom of movement and work etc will not permit a Johnny Foreigner Quota.? True, however, there is a cap on overseas players in cricket ? I guess that there must be a gentleman?s agreement of sorts in place. Due to the obscene amount of money in football at the moment there is no way any of the Sky 4 would jeopardise their membership of that exclusive club for the sake of fair play.

?. . . there is no ?big 4? as such. These things go in cycles . . . ?. I think that football has changed so much in the last 10 years that I?m not sure this is the case, as long as the Sky 4 qualify for the Champions League year in year out, they will always have a huge financial advantage over the other clubs ? for the second year running there are 3 English clubs in the semi-finals. My 10 year old son has only seen 3 different clubs win the title.

In the 1950?s 7 teams won the old 1st Division (Portsmouth, Spurs, Man U (3), Arsenal, Wolves (3), Chelsea, Burnley). The Sky 4 won 5 league titles and 1 FA Cup between them.

In the 1960?s 8 teams won the old 1st Division (Burnley, Spurs, Ipswich, Everton, Liverpool (2), Man U (2), Man C, Leeds). The Sky 4 won 4 league titles and 1 FA Cup between them.

In the 1970?s 5 teams won the old 1st Division (Everton, Arsenal, Derby (2), Liverpool (4), Leeds, Nottm Forest). The Sky 4 won 6 league titles and 5 FA Cups between them.

In the 1980?s 4 teams won the old 1st Division (Liverpool (6), Aston Villa, Everton (2), Arsenal). The Sky 4 won 7 league titles and 4 FA Cup between them.

In the 1990?s 4 teams won the old 1st Division/Prem (Liverpool, Arsenal (2), Leeds, Man U (5), Blackburn). The Sky 4 won 8 league titles and 8 FA Cups between them.

In the 2000?s 3 teams have won the Prem (Man U (4), Arsenal (2), Chelsea (2)). The Sky 4 have won all of the league titles and FA Cups between them.

The Sky 4 are getting stronger and stronger. This cycle is not going to end unless the Sky 4 clubs implode and the only club I can see dropping out is Chelsea and that would only happen if Roman took his cash elsewhere, they have no true winning tradition and their fan base would go back to the much reduced hard core of the 80?s ? and that would not be enough to generate the finances needed to win the Prem these days. Man Utd always had a huge following, even when they weren?t winning things. Arsenal appear to be run on a more sensible financial footing, which was needed after the move to their new ground. Liverpool? Off the pitch, they appear to be in meltdown at the moment, but although they look a million miles away from being able to put a season long push for the title, they are still 8 points ahead of us with 3 games to, and we all know how many armchair fans from all over the world they have.

?it was all summed up when Rooney emerged, got into the England team only for Erikkson to say he should be playing for a top 4 side. The Rooney affair epitomised what is wrong with the mentality of footballers, managers, fans and the media.? I agree with this whole heartedly, it is happening again with speculation about Arteta, Lescott, Bertbatov, Barry, etc? Top players at clubs outside of the Sky 4 are advised by the media and their agents that they have to play in the Champions League if they want to further their career. Obviously the Sky 4 have the financial clout to prize their target away from their current clubs ? I don?t necessarily blame the players, if I was offered double the wages to work at another firm, I think I would think long and hard about it. When a lifelong blue like Rooney chose to go to United, it was a result of a determined campaign by the media to get his prodigious talent away from ?low rent? Everton to a glamour club who would be on tv every week, so ?everyone? would benefit.

Let?s face it, when we finished 4th the other year, the media were gutted. We first got into the top 4 in September and the comments by all the pundits were along the lines ?just wait till November when the league sorts itself out?. Come November and we were still there and the comments were ?just wait till Christmas, the natural order will be restored?. Along came Christmas and it was ?come the muddy pitches in January and February, then, the men will be sorted out from the boys?. We were still there in March and it was ?every club will have a bad run and Everton?s will start pretty soon, Liverpool will catch them up no problem?. At the end of the season, we had finished 4th, but it was all about how Liverpool had messed up the prem, but had won the CL, so everything was all right. Our draw against Villareal in the CL qualifiers the following season must have been mana from heaven for the media, they didn?t want EFC in the CL ? they might have to bump one of the Sky 4 off the schedules! The fact that Villareal went all the way to the semi?s proved that they were more than just a decent team.

I think the unpalatable truth is that without a new/redeveloped stadium, no sugar daddy is going to come and throw more money then we could eat into a transfer fund in order to strengthen the squad. To break into the Sky 4, we need a new right back, at least one top quality centre midfielder and also another striker, and to get top quality they wouldn?t be cheap. Anybody got a spare billion?

Nil satis and all that.
Jason Lam
20   Posted 22/04/2008 at 10:14:46

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Just wish to echo Jonathan Fogg’s spiral into depression. The situation is similar to the Japanese Pro Baseball Central League. Now, I don’t claim to be an expert on this subject, I’m sure a lot of Japanese soccer fans would know better. However I am sure you’ll find those fans at the localized Man Utd website. So I’m the expert here.

Anyway, the popularity of the Central League in Japan is almost entirely credited to the Yomiuri Giants. All the matches are sold out, home and away. There was an initiative to introduce another team in the Central League, however the other teams voted AGAINST this - as this would lead to less games against the Giants during the regular season. All they cared was how many games they got to play against the dominate ’rival’ in the league. It guaranteed bums in the stadium and in from of the telly. And if the Giants didn’t win the Japan Series, the Japanese economy does down, it’s that depressing for the country.

If there was a notion to play each of the top4, say 5 fives a season at home, in place of the lower clubs, I’m sure the bottom 16 would form an orderly queue. We wouldn’t get any points but we’ll get more Sky money. Did someone mention depressing?
Michael Brien
21   Posted 22/04/2008 at 12:56:14

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A fine article - yes I find it a bit depressing that the big 4 four should I say Sky 4 are so dominant.

But there is always hope and as been shown in the past other things go in cycles. in the years 1967 - 1993 how many league titles did Man Ud win ?

Ajax managed to compete against some of the mega rich European giants thanks to a fine youth set up.It can be done but what it needs if there is no sugar daddy on the scene ( and personally I the likes of Abramovich & Co are totally trustworthy) is something that fans don’t always have a great deal of - namely Patience.
Neil Pearse
22   Posted 23/04/2008 at 00:58:27

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Fine articles, and some fine threads - particularly Gary for showing indisuputably that the 2000s are not the 1980s or even 1990s and there is NO CHANCE of any other clubs breaking into the top four without massive additional investment. Who thinks that Berbatov, Lescott, and Barry won’t be playing at a top four club within the next year? And these guys play for well-established, well-supported clubs!! (Spurs, Everton, Villa!)

Let’s face reality: there is no chance that there will be any levelling of the playing field. Zero. I this situation I think we must be realistic and seriously entertain a Champions League option of the top 16 or so clubs in Europe. Let’s push for promotion and relegation from this league - probably via some end of season tournament between the top teams in the national leagues.

This is now inevitable, and is actually a better option than the ridiculuous current situation of having two leagues (one of 4, one of the rest) playing in the same division. Sad, but let’s just get it over with.
Albert Dock
23   Posted 23/04/2008 at 08:57:38

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All this talk of cycles makes me think this thread should be linked with the Dutch one.

Could one of the cyclists please explain how Everton have spent 98% of their time in the top division? Not much of a cycle there methinks.

I see that Aldershot have won promotion back to the League. Can we expect to see them challenging for a European spot shortly?

If memory serves me correct only three or four teams have ever won the Portugese Championship. Perhaps they haven?t invented the wheel there yet. La Liga? Serie A?

Sorry cyclists but your theory is simply wrong. It might have had a small amount of credibility, pre Sky, but not now. Everton won the second division in 1931 and won the first the following season. Ipswich emulated them some thirty years later. That was almost fifty years ago. Did Derby look a threat this year following their promotion?

The pattern looks pretty much set for the future. The fab four versus the rest. Promotion into the Premiership, followed by inevitable relegation, is the only cycle I can perceive.

If you liken it to a penny farthing then they are the front wheel. The rest of us are the back one.
Colin OKeeffe
24   Posted 23/04/2008 at 14:42:55

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Fucki’in ell everbody on here got a crystal ball have they. Fact, Everton but for one or 2 more quality players would have pushed Liverpool all the way for a champions League place this year. Next year Newcastle and Spurs will be pushing hard with new management and greater investment in player. The truth is at least 1 of the top 4 (proabably Liverpool) is always going to be vunerable to teams pushing from below as the fact they’re 4th shows they’re inconsistent enough to be vunerable. It will happen that one will drop out of the top 4 (rememeber we came 4th and Spurs but for a bad set of kebabs would have come 4th) and then we’ll see a rocking of the current boat. who know swhat’ll happen to Chelsea this summer when Avram is given the boot and half their players leave? Or what about when Fergie goes and SCholes, Giggs and Neville follow? The playing field isn’t level but that doesn’t mean it can’t become more level i the near future.

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