29 April 2007

Relegation Blues

I could barely bring myself to watch today's match between Arsenal and Fulham, not only because Fulham had scant chance of winning, but also because so much was riding on it. For Fulham, anyway; Arsenal is going nowhere this season and have settled into what for them is mediocrity, a fourth place position from which they have no hope of rising any higher.

But for poor little Fulham, now fourth from bottom and sinking fast, defeat meant another step toward disaster. For Americans and other non-followers of football, allow me to explain the principle of relegation: each season the bottom teams in each division are demoted to the next lower league (and conversely, the top three promoted to the next higher). Imagine, for example, if the New York Yankees had a bad year and finished in the cellar. The following season they would have to play in the minor leagues, and would stay there until they won their way back up into the majors.

For an English football team, relegation is disastrous. Just for starters, it will cost the owners in the neighborhood of £30 million ($60 million) in lost revenues from TV and merchandising. They'll also lose most of their best players, who will have to be sold on to other clubs who can afford to pay their wages. That in turn causes many fans to stop coming to matches, and ticket prices have to be reduced to counteract that trend, leading to even more of a decline in revenues. Many teams relegated from the Premiership never make it back, and gradually sink to yet lower divisions.

So that's the position Fulham finds itself in. If they don't win at least one of their remaining two games (or possibly draw both of them), they're almost certain to lose their Premiership status. From my purely personal standpoint, the biggest loss would be that their games would no longer be telecast in America. I was a season ticket holder when Fulham were a Second and First Division team, and since I just plain love football, I'd be happy to watch them even if they were only playing Swindon Town or Wycombe Wanderers. Unfortunately, the only reliable way to watch lower division English football is in person, and since I'm no longer in England, I'd be out of luck.

All that's meant to give you some insight into how I felt this afternoon as I watched, like a horrible car crash unfolding in slow motion, Fulham's 3-1 loss to Arsenal. It was made even worse by Fulham, after trailing most of the match, pulling back a goal to make it 1-1 with only 10 minutes left. If they'd been able to maintain that score, they would have gained a precious point and moved a bit up from rather than down toward the relegation zone. But it was not to be.

In the dismal aftermath, I found myself wondering why it upset me so much. I mean, unlike the club's owner, Mohammed al-Fayed, I don't stand to lose millions of dollars. My own season ticket expired last year, so I don't have any investment in the club apart from emotional, and if I were that desperate to see them play on a regular basis, I suppose I could have stayed in London.

And yet, I wandered about all afternoon in a grim stupor, almost as though someone close to me had died. Then a strange thought struck me: in a sense, I had gone through personal relegation of a sort. 10 years ago, you could say I was playing in a higher league, at least when it came to my particular line of work at the time, the music business. I had over a dozen employees, was responsible for multi-million dollar budgets, and had the privilege (and occasional pain) of dealing with some of the best bands in America (even if you never heard of some of them, trust me, they were). And now? Let's just say my life is lived on a considerably lower profile.

True, I still get the occasional author, journalist or filmmaker coming around to solicit my views on 80s and 90s punk rock and the DIY explosion, but for all intents and purposes, I'm history, which of course is why they're interested in me. Yet - and here's the kicker - while I do sometimes miss the frantic and frenetic days of being a scenemaker and music magnate, it occasions far less grief in me than the prospect of Fulham Football Club, of whom I was only ever a passive spectator, going down.

I asked someone why he thought this might be, and he replied, "Oh, that's simple. You don't have any control over what happens to Fulham, and that's why it drives you crazy. Whereas with Lookout Records and your music career, you made your own choice, or at least convinced yourself that's what you were doing. Accepting what we can't control is always the hardest part. It strikes right at the heart of our ego."

I suppose that makes a certain amount of sense. Maybe quite a bit of sense. But now that I've learned that invaluable lesson, could Fulham just maybe defeat the odds, win their last two games, and stay up in the Premiership for another season? Pretty please?


Marc said...

My favourite team (Bayer Leverkusen) once barely escaped relegation back in ~1992. They scored a goal in the 82nd minute so they got a draw and the other team went to the second division. But the minutes before were unreal. I was standing on the gallery and thinking about the second division and this was not only scaring me, I didn't even know what to think about having to play all those little cities and their unknown teams. I'm glad that didn't happen.
But history is cruel. The team we sent to relegation (Kaiserslautern) came back to the first league the year after and won the championship! We never did.

Joshua said...

Gone are the heady days of the December blog when lowly Fulham felled the mighty Gunners. In all fairness, especially in the first half, you are lucky the margin wasn't larger.
That said, I think Fulham should raise a stink like Jewell has done regarding West Ham not losing points for using illegal players

Wesley said...

Screw that "outside of your control" crap. You know that Fulham only started stinking up the place in earnest when you stopped going to their matches (don't believe me? the fixtures don't lie). It is, in fact, entirely your fault that they're about to be relegated.

kendra said...

wesley's right, you know.
cheer up larry, fulham will probably do well in the championship. that is to say, i don't see them dropping like leeds.
it's funny how sheffield wednesday started doing well as soon as i was diagnosed with cancer. i call it karma. if only i timed it right so that they could have made the play offs.