Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Premier League denouement...

As I type these words at shortly after 9.15 on Saturday evening, those of you familiar with the world of English football will know that the next forty-eight hours will be the most exciting – and nerve-racking - of the season for the players and supporters of six clubs.

I say six, because after the nerve-shredding tension of the battle to stave off relegation is played out on Sunday afternoon, during which two of Sunderland, Hull City (who started the season with such promise), Newcastle United and Middlesborough will fall through the trap door into the relative oblivion of the Championship, comes the play-off final for promotion to the untold wealth of the Premier League.

Turning first to the battle to avoid relegation, it would appear that barring an entirely unlikely set of freak results, in which they would have to win, whilst all the others lost and in the process make up a deficit of five in terms of their goal difference, Middlesborough will be plying their trade in the second tier of English football next year.

So far so predictable.

But then comes the battle between the remaining three clubs, Sunderland, Hull and Newcastle to avoid the final berth on football’s Titanic. Whichever one of them eventually hits the iceberg, it will be a dark day for football in the north east, because all three of the combatants are from that part of the country. Yes, I know that when people refer to the north east, they are generally speaking about an area starting in Newcastle and ranging as far south as Middlesborough, but on what reading of geography is the city of Hull not in the north east of England?

For what it’s worth, gazing into the Throne’s rather murky crystal ball, I think that Newcastle and Sunderland will escape the drop by the skin of their teeth, whilst Hull will join Middlesborough and West Bromwich Albion on the unwanted journey south.

Meanwhile, on Monday afternoon, a game of at least equal, if not greater, importance will kick off at 4.00pm at Wembley.

That match is, of course, the Championship play-off final between Sheffield United and Burnley, with the victors securing a place in next season’s Premier League and with it the trifling matter of £50 million pounds or so of television money.

Living where I do, I know a good many Burnley supporters (more just recently than ever before; I wonder why…) and contrary to popular belief, very few of them eat bananas with their feet.

Interestingly, if Burnley are successful, they will become the eighth Lancashire club in the Premier League (0r 40% of its membership), joining near neighbours Blackburn Rovers, Bolton Wanderers, Wigan Athletic and the two Manchester and Liverpool clubs in the elite of English football.

What a contrast those riches would be in comparison to the footballing wilderness which is Yorkshire and the north east of England in general.

Fortunately, I will be watching all of those issues unravel as a neutral, but I dare say, having seen my club in both relegation danger and in the play-offs in previous years, that nerves are jangling tonight in those six towns and cities in northern England.

On a slightly different tack, those of you with longer memories may remember that on 12th August last year, I posted an item in which I predicted the way the Premier League table would look at the end of the season.

On Monday, I propose to hold my pundit status up to ridicule by comparing my predictions with what actually happened.
I can hear the gales of laughter already…

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