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Friday, February 26, 2010

The Stagnation Game

As things stand, League Two could have a very different look about it next season.

That's because its two longest-serving members - Rochdale and Darlington - are both on course to be playing in different divisions next term.

So, with that in mind, added to Preston being on course for an 11th consecutive year in the Championship next season,
Lakes discusses supporting a stagnated side, and the effect it can have on a club.

We came, we saw, we conquered. It's a mantra familiar to all football fans who have watched their teams win automatic promotion to the next league up. The world of football is alight, the game has been beaten. Checkmate.

Some sides get promoted and realise the game hasn't been won at all. The game is just beginning and the real battle is against relegation. Some sides continue their impetuous drives and win promotion again.

Fans are treated to exciting fooball, whether going up or down, and the prospect of a thrilling season.

Then there's a third category: the purgatorial teams who sit somewhere in the ether between promotion and relegation.

They may flirt with both prospects, but ultimately have found their level. Too much depth to go down, not enough quality to go up.

Teams like Rochdale, Darlington, Oldham, Macclesfield, Lincoln, Burnley - until last season - and my very own Preston North End fit into this category.

For fans of these teams, it all comes down to buying a ticket for the league lottery and hoping for the best every season.

Without external investment they won't have the funds to go up and, with a squad of established players at their level, they probably won't go down.

So what's wrong with that? Surely when Preston were promoted to the Championship, that was the aim? To establish yourself at a higher level.

But priorities change so frequently in football. Fans are as greedy as chairmen and get stroppy if their side isn't pushing for the next level, even if they are not ready for it.

Preston fans have seen their side playing in the same division for the last 10 years

And herein lies a big problem. Fans. While chairmen, directors, and players may be happy to see their income stay at a predictable, safe level, fans will always be pushing for more money to be spent.

They're more fickle these days, driven on by the incessant TV footage of Premier League bigwig footballers masterbating into silver cups. Success is everything, and time waits for no man.

In some ways, being established helps.

For Preston, the longest serving members of the highest tier outside the Premier League, it offers the opportunity for seniority in the game and implies an established club, which up and coming players can rely on for a safe season and first team football.

Managers and players can both treat it as a stepping stone at which to achieve greatness before moving on, and in a way that's what Preston have always done.

But for every manager that moves on, the dream of shaking John Terry's hand or stroking Peter Crouch off in the bath at full time becomes more distant.

The team stagnates, falls backwards again in an inexorable cycle of peaks and troughs. Normality resumes, and the club's level becomes quickly apparent again.

For me, it's fine. We get to play good sides in a competitve league. Why do we need more than that?

Mind you, tossing off Peter Crouch in the bath does sound good.

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