Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Wigan V Crystal Palace

Responding to the victory that takes them back to the Premiership, Ian Holloway, the Crystal Palace manager, apparently said they are 'on a hiding to nothing'. This honest assessment has immediately lead to many people getting the wrong end of the stick and saying he's already written off their chances of survival. The determination Holloway showed in trying to keep Blackpool in the Premiership shows that he is not a man to give up easily, and however hard the job might be, he'll still be trying to win games until relegation is a mathematical certainty. 

More importantly, if the experience of Blackpool is anything to go by, he'll also be trying to play entertaining football, and not just taking his team to shut up shop in their own half at every ground they go to. And this is the way it should be, for Holloway is right, Palace are on a hiding to nothing, and if relegation is almost inevitable, it's far better to do it in a positive way, by trying to compete.

If you don't believe me, then look at the team they've replaced. Wigan were on a hiding to nothing for eight seasons, but in all that time they've never played like a team for whom finishing 17th is the target. On their first game in the top flight, they held their own against Chelsea in a game that was starting to look as if the referee would carry on playing until Chelsea scored, which they eventually did in the 95th minute. Jose Mourinho admitted they did not deserve to lose, and they went on to defy the odds time and time again. Testament to their approach to football is Roberto Martinez looking destined to become manager of Everton. Would that have happened if Wigan had played like a team resigned to their fate, more concerned about clinging on to the premiership millions than about the value for money they provided for their supporters? I doubt it.

In winning the FA Cup and getting relegated in the same season, Wigan have achieved an unfortunate first (although Birmingham managed a similar feat when they won the league cup two seasons ago). It's again testament to Wigan supporters that, for the most part, they seem to be saying they would rather have won the FA Cup and gone down, than lost it and stayed up. It's a recognition of what football should be about - the excitement about achieving something, rather than pulling off an annual battle for survival where the prize for success is questionable.

I know people will say that a prize for success of between 50 million and 120 million is hardly questionable, but the value of this money isn't what it seems when you compare it to the budgets of the big four and the other top teams. You still have a playing field that is as unlevel as Barnet's Underhill Stadium, and, in spite of the vast amounts of money you get, you still end up comparatively poorer than you were at the start of the season, always expect to lose more matches than you win, and know that the next season might be even harder as your top players are picked off by other clubs further fuelling the rise in wage bills you have to compete with

That, to me, is why if you get in the Premiership you have to enjoy it. Go out and play entertaining football, try to win, and give your fans something to savour, not something that will bore them rigid for the season . Accept that there is a fair chance of relegation, but don't worry about it. After all, if you drop down a division, while you may lose your 50 -120 million, you'll be playing against teams that don't have the parachute payments you get, and your lower income suddenly becomes worth a lot more than the higher income you used to get. You become a big team in your division, and once again have the excitement of a season where something other than survival is at stake.

Holloway got that at Blackpool, successive Wigan managers got that when they were in charge, and some of the other unlikely success stories in the premiership have also got it, playing football without fear, and competing, not just trying to survive.

I'm not a fan of Crystal Palace, although I do like Ian Holloway. I don't care if they stay up, and would actually be happy if they came down as a result of a long standing grudge against them for conning a referee into giving a penalty that effectively sent my own team out of the Championship nine years ago. But all of that aside, I still hope that when they do go down, they've had an enjoyable season.