On The Left Side

Sunderland’s relegation from the Premier League has been coming. More inevitable than another draw at Old Trafford the Black Cats waved goodbye to their top flight status this weekend and no one was really that surprised.

Everyone said the right things. Phrases like “Bounce straight back” and “take stock of the situation” were uttered but the reality is Sunderland may never return to the top division. Certainly not in the near future. They weren’t good enough for the top division and their ability to cut it in the Championship with the current crop of players is very much in doubt too.

The BBC reporter questioning David Moyes post-match asked the manager “if this was his lowest point in football from a managerial career of many highs?” Many highs!? I can only assume he’s referring to the 2013 Community Shield win, his one and only trophy with Manchester United (after all, it’s a real trophy, just ask Jose).

There is no doubt that David Moyes is part of the problem, not the whole problem but certainly part of it. This is not the same man who leapt around on the touchline for Everton all those years ago. Failed managerial stints at Manchester United and Real Sociedad have jaded the Scotsman. Where in Everton’s post-match press conferences he had the steely-eyed stare of a psychopath, he now permanently wears the expression of a man who has woken up after a night out in Katie Price’s bedroom:  he doesn’t know how he got there, and doesn’t know what to do now he’s there, so he waits, patiently for the end to come and prays it’s painless.

In reality, the cost of relegation is far more than the pounds and pence quoted each and every week in newspapers and on TV. It’s emotional too. The managers and players involved may never bounce back from the season in which they were booed off the pitch every week and only appeared first on Match of the Day after a five-nil drubbing!

Arguably for the fans, it’s even worse. At least you were able to watch your team grace the holy grail of football fandom. It is only in the top flight do you have the privilege of enduring your team’s best (and worst bits) being pawed over by Lineker, Shearer and co (providing you can stay awake long enough obviously… if not at least you’ve got series link set on your Sky box eh?) At any given moment you can conjure up goals, interviews and statistics from your team’s performance. But once you fall from that lofty perch you are into the black hole of lower league anonymity, ignored by back pages, football pundits and gossip columns alike. Unless one of your team is involved in an unsavoury scene in a nightclub, hotel room or car park.

It’s not just relegation from the Premier League that can be devastating either. Each step down eh footballing ladder can have a catastrophic impact on anyone and everyone involved with a club. Maybe this is why some teams chose to ignore it all together.

Last week Leyton Orient ended their 112-year stay in the football league. A season of drama and controversy paved the way for their exit from the football league along with honorary president Barry Hearn’s exit from the club. When Sunderland were relegated this weekend the blame was evenly split. Manager, Chairman, Players and more all took equal blame, as they should. After all, surely a football clubs downfall is a result of a number of factors – from refereeing decisions to weather conditions, to the social-economic status of the clubs geography. It’s very hard to pin the blame on just one person… usually. In Orient’s case however, we can all agree that their disappearance from League football is down to one man. Francesco Becchetti, who took control of the club three years ago and has since then systematically set about destroying it, running the football club with the same level of competence that way Theresa May handles Brexit negotiation.

The shambles was epitomised by the way the club’s website reported on the game that condemned them to appointments with the likes of Sutton United and Woking next season. It was a 3-0 loss to Crewe that hammered the final nail into the coffin, but the official club match report shied away from the games real significance describing the painful benchmark in the clubs history simply as “a disappointing result” with no further explanation as to the further impact. If you close your eyes and pretend the monster isn’t there maybe it’ll just go away?

Relegation is tough enough as it is. The last thing that any player, manager or chairman needs when facing the drop is a ‘celebrity’ fan getting involved. Especially, when that celebrity fan is also an honorary president of the club.

Relegation is yet to be confirmed for Hartlepool United but they currently sit two points from safety and everyone is getting a bit nervous. The Pools plight has had a particular effect on Sky Sports Soccer Saturday host Jeff Stelling who hasn’t been shy in using his TV airtime to air his views. Last week he called for the sacking of manager Dave Jones when he said; “This is not personal Dave, but Dave Jones, for God’s sake, for the good of the club, walk now, go now!” Virtually frothing at the mouth when he added; “If he won’t walk, sack him!” before wiping the spittle from his mouth and cutting to a live report from Chris Kamara who had no idea where he was, let alone the score (probably).

…and that was it. Dave Jones resigned, leaving Stelling’s beloved Hartlepool rudderless and drifting towards the gushing waterfall of relegation. (Who knew he had such power? Maybe Arsenal fans should give him a bell to see if he can motivate a certain Frenchman to do the same).

In truth Dave Jones’ departure hasn’t solved anything, it may have even made the situation worse for Hartlepool. Who would be crazy enough to take that job? Who would happily walk into that gig knowing the pressure involved and the weight that will rest on your shoulders if your team is relegated? Who would willingly go from the passionate, enthusiastic, driven pre-United Moyes to the man we saw given his latest solemn press conference at the Stadium of Light this weekend?

The ONLY solution is Stelling himself! He’s got the suit, he’s got the reputation and Jeff Stelling the football manager would no doubt be Unbelievable Jeff (sorry) for the post-match press conferences alone. Sure he may not have the coaching badges, he may not have the tactical nouse but one thing is certain, he’d be awesome at updating the team on the scores from elsewhere at half time!

Jim is the host of On The Left Side… a weekly satirical look at football for your ears. Short, sharp and funny it’s the perfect compliment to the word of serious football analysis. You can check out the latest episode here.