May 16, 2011

Relegation battle blues

by Dan Bilicki In: Soccer

For a day, I knew what it felt like to be a fan of West Ham United.

Thanks to the incredible parity and astoundingly tight race at the bottom of the English Premier League, more teams than ever are going into the last weekend of the season with a chance of being relegated to second-tier football. So, if you’re a fan of Blackburn, Birmingham, Wolverhampton, Blackpool, Wigan or West Ham, these past few games have been ultra intense and essentially life or death.

After all, something like relegation is completely unknown in North American sports. In the NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB, teams can not only afford to have terrible seasons, they actually get rewarded with the top picks in the coming draft! Imagine if instead of the Edmonton Oilers getting Taylor Hall for coming up empty last season, they had to play an entire season in the AHL – and have to win it all to get back to the NHL. Not to mention all the TV money and sponsorship deals they’d lose.

So, as a fan of Blackburn Rovers, it hasn’t been a fun recent few months thanks to Steve Kean’s bumbling incompetence as a manager. And now, even sitting as high as 15 in the EPL table, relegation is still a serious threat thanks a week 38 fixture at Wolverhampton, who are also on 40 points.

Had West Ham been able to hold a 2-0 lead over Wigan in the second half on the weekend – even for a draw – I could be breathing a lot easier right now. But instead, in apparently classic West Ham fashion according to ESPN’s Dan Mason, they collapsed, allowing their lead to slip away before Charles N’Zogbia’s eventual winner in stoppage time.

So, with West Ham officially out at 33 points, there’ll be a mad dash to the finish on Sunday. With every game being played at the same start time, it’s not like teams can afford to scoreboard watch either. Since the three teams at 39 points are all on the road too, none of their games should be cakewalks, either.

I could only imagine the heartbreak of Hammers fans, which have had to deal with monstrous management for a while now. Their manager, Avram Grant, was also sacked after the match, which should have really happened at least a month ago.

At least they’ll be playing in the Olympic Stadium in a couple of years, in the Premier League or not.

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