EPL: Why the Relegation Battle Makes for Such Great Drama
Each year, three teams face the ignominious fate of relegation.
These teams are banished from the EPL as Prometheus was banished from the realm of the gods. If they perform well enough in the Championship, they return triumphantly to the EPL.
However, this is often not the case.
The relegation battle makes for great drama season in and season out. Between the epic, Shakespearean battles, reams of awful humor, endless speculation and captivating narrative, watching the relegation battle unfold can be more fun than watching the battle for the league title.
The stakes involved in relegation make for harrowing drama.
Relegated teams lose countless millions of pounds and their star players. The 2010-11 EPL season is case in point. Scott Parker, the Football Writers Association Player of the Season, failed to help the Hammers avoid relegation.
West Ham will now undoubtedly lose Parker, along with Demba Ba, Matthew Upson and Robert Green, among others.
This stands in contrast with American sports like baseball or basketball, sports in which a team can win not a single game all season without consequence.
Watching the vultures hover around the dying teams, sharpening their beaks, ready to strip television rights, Barclay’s insignias and star players from relegated clubs is high drama.
photo: Parker plays in the sandbox with potential new teammate Alex Song.
The Broad Involvement
You’ve got maybe three or four teams each season that genuinely content for the title.
More than half the teams in the league are involved in the battle at the end of table in any given EPL season. Just a month ago, 12 teams had less than 40 points and all faced potential relegation.
While it’s laughable to think that Newcastle, Villa or Stoke City could have faced relegation, stranger things have happened.
The relegation battle gives supporters of a broad base of EPL teams a drama to invest themselves in. It gives supporters a sense of purpose, a reason to speculate, a reason to watch every match, consider every pass and agonize over every lost opportunity.
The EPL relegation battle creates classic narratives time and again.
This season, a number of narrative threads emerged from the battle.
From these narratives, new heroes are born and old heroes die. West Ham stalwart Rob Green did his best to prevent the tide from drowning his team, but he couldn’t. He is a tragic hero.
Wolves striker Steven Fletcher rose from mediocrity to cult heroism with his recent spate of goals. Wigan’s Charles N’zogbia scored a brace against West Ham that prolonged the team’s season until the last day, making him a revered figure in Latics mythos.
Alongside these heroes stand villains. Mike Dean, referee of the Wigan–West Ham match, called a foul on James Tomkins that cost West Ham the match and the season. Replays show that it maybe wasn’t much of a foul after all.
(We'll ignore the fact that Wigan outplayed West Ham and probably would have won without the foul.)
Darren Bent abandoned Sunderland to score crucial goals for Aston Villa while the Black Cats slipped dangerously close to relegation. He is a hero to Villa, a villain in Sunderland.
And the list goes on and on and on…
Where would the world of football be without an endless stream of speculative articles?
More to the point, where would football fans the world over be without comments sections on speculative articles in which to leave meaty treatises of abusive language regarding the content of said articles?
The EPL relegation battle produces speculation galore. Will Birmingham win the Carling Cup and be relegated in the same year? Has this ever happened before?
Will Avram Grant become the first manager to be relegated in two consecutive EPL seasons?
Will everyone’s second favorite team, Blackpool, go back down, despite their impressive start to the season?
Does Fernando Torres drunk dial Kenny Dalglish?
While all of this speculation is nothing more than wind rustling the trees of time, participating in guess work is one of the great pastimes of the EPL.
photo: Avram Grant signs an autograph for Howard Webb, prompting speculation.
The Harrowing Matches
Anyone who watched last Sunday’s showdown between Wigan and West Ham may have mistaken the match for Seven Samurai. The rain lashed. The warriors strode across the great plane. Cries of battle issued forth.
The men in claret and blue took the lead early. They pounced for the kill not long after. The whilstle blew for halftime.
The bedraggled warriors of the Wigan clan emerged from their halftime slumber weary but determined, swords brandished and sharpened.
Wigan brought siege after siege to the Hammers’ doorstep and, through persistence and spirit, won the day.
With the possible exception of Arsenal and Liverpool’s harrowing 100-minute showdown, it was the most dramatic match of the season.
And just the day before Blackpool and Bolton met in a brutal showdown that ended with seven goals being scored.
The Bragging Rights
The EPL relegation battle brings great bragging rights to those who managed to avoid relegation.
If Wigan stays up, Latics fans the world over (is there such a thing?) have the right to proudly say that they lived to fight another day in the EPL.
West Ham fans, on the other hand, sit in their closets with tailor’s scissors, surgically severing the Barclay’s badge from their jerseys so that when they take the streets they won’t be assailed by the taunts of the sardonic peanut gallery.
Of course, everything is relative, and a Wolves fan would do not to brag in the presence of, say, a Liverpool fan, but bragging right are bragging rights.
Last Sunday, an airplane flew low over DW Stadium dragging a banner reading “Avram Grant Millwall Legend.”
You can fault the English for many things but not their sense of humor. The nation that brought the world Monty Python, Ali G, Peter Sellers, Little Britain and Ealing Studios takes its humor as seriously as it takes its football.
The relegation battle creates an escalating arms race of humor in football journalistic circles, creating a miniature drama within the battle. Who can conjure the best pun? The most fatalistic image? The most probing quip?
Just a few days ago, Guardian journalist Kevin McCarra conjured the image of a West Ham supporter throwing himself off the turrets of the castle on the squad’s crest.
Well done, game on.
The relegation battle often comes down to the very last match of the season.
The tension is relentless for fans of teams involved in the battle. This season, Birmingham, Blackpool and Wigan may all finish on 39 points, meaning the fate of each team’s season may well be decided by goal difference.
On the last day of the season.
Sports drama doesn’t get more tense than that.