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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

I Can't Stand Up For Falling Down

With League Two side Wycombe Wanderers looking good to bounce back from relegation last season at the first time of asking, Nobes looks at both the positives and negatives of yo-yoing between divisions.

Wycombe boss Gary Waddock is on course to lead his side back into League One

"I will be the manager building a group of players to build for promotion. We need to to make sure we don't have that yo-yo effect where we get promoted and get relegated again."

They were the determined words of Gary Waddock after the former QPR boss saw his Wycombe Wanderers side relegated from League One at the end of last season.

After Saturday's 1-0 win over high flying Rotherham, the Buckinghamshire side strengthened their hold on second place in League Two - and moved seven points clear in the automatic promotion positions.

With the season moving into its second half, it seems it's a case of so far so good in Waddock's attempts to bounce back from relegation last term at the first attempt.

Then will come arguably the more difficult task though - ensuring Wanderers don't fall straight back down again. That's because Wycombe are in danger of becoming the latest club to gain infamy for their yo-yoing ability.

Having spent so many years in the Non Leagues, successive promotions under Martin O'Neill at the beginning of the '90s was the beginning of a decade playing in England's third tier.

They were heady days for the Chairboys, who even managed an appearance in the FA Cup semi finals in 2001 after a sensational run under the guidance of Lawrie Sanchez.

However, a succession of lower mid-table finishes and flirting with the drop eventually saw them drop down into the basement division in 2004.

Consecutive top seven finishes ended in play off heart break in 2007 and 2008 before Peter Taylor took Wycombe back up to the third tier in his first season at the helm.

A few months into last season and Taylor had gone with Waddock - fresh from establishing Aldershot Town in the Football League - drafted in as his replacement.

In truth, the 48-year-old was always fighting a losing battle in looking to stave off relegation. After a slow start to this campaign though, Wanderers are now starting to justify their tag as one of the pre-season favourites.

It begs the question just where Wycombe's place is in the Football League. Apparently too good for League Two, they have always been strong challengers for promotion in the basement division.

However, ambitions in League One seem to revolve around staying above the dotted line come May. Welcome to the territory of the yo-yo club.

It's a term which has more commonly been associated with the movement of certain clubs between the Premier League and second tier over the years.

The likes of Sunderland, Manchester City, Crystal Palace, Leicester and, most notably of late, West Bromwich Albion have, at times, all been considered too strong for the Championship but not good enough for the top flight.

However, could we about to see a new generation of yo-yo clubs lower down the ladder?

The narrowing gap between League Two and the Conference, allied to an increase in the number of promotion and relegation places between the two has heightened the possibility of clubs moving between the two divisions on a more frequent basis.

Scunthorpe have spent the last few years interchanging between the Championship and League One - promoted in 2007 and 2009, relegated in 2008 and, very possibly, 2011.

Scunthorpe have twice been promoted, and once relegated, in the past four seasons

The likes of current League Two leaders Chesterfield and perennial League One strugglers Yeovil are also two clubs, like Wycombe, who seem in a constant struggle to determine just where in the Football League they are most at home.

Not that's it's a struggle which should be seen as entirely negative though. After all, life doesn't get any more exciting than when you're a supporter of a yo-yo club.

Every fan has experienced the tedium of meaningless end of season games when their team has nothing left to play for. The sun shines, the players look like they would rather be on vacation, and the fans want to be drinking beer while watching the cricket instead.

However, when you're involved in promotion or relegation battles every season, you're guaranteed great box office. Seasons go down to the very last game, the very last minute.

Yes, some of those nail-biting relegation battles may eventually be lost, but some are won - and they are possibly even sweeter than the joy experienced with every promotion.

Besides, does relegation hurt so much when you know your side will be well placed to enjoy a profitable campaign next term - winning more matches, scoring more goals, and possibly winning promotion once more?

They are the dramatic moments and memories which live with supporters. Being there when their side wins promotion or loses relegation. They are the games we remember, the programmes for which we are desperate to have, the ticket stubs we receive and vow never to throw away.

It's about taking the rough with the smooth - tasting the glory of moving up a division and taking the pain of slipping back down again. Surely it beats season after season in the same division ala Rochdale though?

Campaigns are always fresh. Beginning with fresh hope or that anticipation of entering the unknown was more. Fixture lists have a different look to them - not the same tired monotony of that Easter trip to Macclesfield yet again.

Of course, that's me putting somewhat of a positive spin on that particular yo-yo. It's true, too, there are downsides to constantly fluctuating between two divisions.

Indeed, one of them was probably key to Wycombe's managerial switch last term - replacing the more defensively-minded Taylor for a manager in Waddock who sends his teams out to attack.

After all, if you're going to go down, you might as well do it in style - entertaining along the way. As current-Bradford boss Taylor discovered, dull football is excusable if it helps win promotion. Doing the same on the way to demotion isn't.

Never knowing what division you're going to be in causes other problems though. Building a settled side is challenging - one constructed to win promotion often requires a different make-up to one looking for survival.

It also requires players with strong character and, if they remain after relegation, needing to shift their mentality from a losing one to adopting a more positive frame of mind.

History shows the difficulty of many sides in making the transition from getting used to playing for three points in every game, rather than going away and shutting up shop. Handling the pressure of a sudden raise in expectation is another common problem.

It's the kind of scenario where a careful and prudent club must consider one-year contracts - with budgets understandably affected by the change in divisional status and the difference in financial benefits on offer.

Clubs can become stuck - afraid to push the boat out for survival in case they don't achieve their goal and they find themselves, instead, suffering for their overspending whilst back in the lower division.

Should they secure promotion this term, it is the kind of headache Wycombe may, once again, find themselves in ahead of next season. Just this time, Waddock will be determined to overcome it.

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