THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Was League One completely unpredictable? Huw Richards reviews the 2006-07 season in what should surely be called Divisions Two

There may be somebody, somewhere who predicted this division’s outcome. If they had money on it, they’ll be very happy. Not many saw it coming. Of the teams promoted only Bristol City picked up any votes to go up in WSC’s pre-season predictions. Between them Scunthorpe and Blackpool got 12 votes for relegation. But that’s League One – wild, unpredictable and more fun than you might expect. While the yo-yo was back in fashion elsewhere, none of seven League One new entries returned whence they came.

With most teams more prone to mood swings than a commodities dealer, Scunthorpe’s consistency made them worthy champions. After a poor start they rose rapidly, a constant factor among a fluctuating top-of-the-table cast. Their 4‑0 City Ground demolition of Nottingham Forest was perhaps the pivotal result and Scunthorpe also gave us the best chant, “Who needs Mourinho, we’ve got our physio”, in honour of manager Nigel Adkins.

They provided several echoes of the previous season. One is the influence of the at-the-time-unremarkable League Two Class of 2005, who have supplied League One’s champions – Southend, Scunthorpe – and losing play-off finalists – Swansea, Yeovil – for the past two seasons. Like Southend, Scunthorpe had an outstanding striker. For Freddy Eastwood read Billy Sharp, who not only sounds like a cartoon-strip striker but scores goals like one. Both showed that you can rise through modest resources, good management and decent football. Though many fans of comparatively well funded Bristol City felt that their results were better than their performances, this was outweighed by cases of virtue being rewarded.

Oldham looked for a long time like this season’s Colchester. John Sheridan transformed his rugged inheritance from Ronnie Moore into a team in his own thoughtful, ball-playing image. Still better were Blackpool. In the final few weeks they were not simply the form team, but the best this division has seen in years. They won ten in a row with precise, along-the-ground football, finding angles rarely seen at this level. In the play-off final Yeovil were made to look like agricultural long-ballers rather than the tidy team who beat Forest.

Like Scunthorpe, Blackpool started poorly. They were in the relegation zone until October. This, though, is a division for stayers rather than early sprinters – Forest went the way my team Swansea had last year. The best team I saw play Swansea, before Blackpool’s extraordinary final-day pyrotechnics, were Gillingham at Priestfield. At home Gillingham were genuinely one of the best teams in the league. The mob they sent away weren’t half as good.

Elsewhere, Carlisle took a fair shot at a third consecutive promotion, Crewe were the most extreme mood-swingers of the lot and Huddersfield’s post-play-off failure hangover seemed to get much worse once Terry Yorath left. In any case it was mild compared to the grand mal afflicting Brentford. The disappointment of Chesterfield’s relegation was leavened slightly by a League Cup run. If the choice of Swansea’s 3-0 win at Sheffield United as the best FA Cup performance betrays bias, honesty compels the admission that United were heroically bad, worse than anything seen in this division.

Rotherham compelled sympathy, fighting their points deduction so well that they briefly escaped the bottom three, only to lose form, have to sell their best players and drop back to the fate universally predicted.

Mention of points deductions summons up thought of next season’s rookies Leeds. They and Forest have such a huge edge in both support and commercial potential that if they get it right, they will be unstoppable. But they didn’t get where they are by getting it right. Forest’s reaction to League One rather echoes the Christian Scientist in Hell: “It is not hot and I’m not here.” It is, they are, and an admirable outbreak of end-of-season civility, with fans applauding victorious Yeovil at the City Ground, suggests they have begun to realise it. If not, there’s a lesson from Blackpool, whose fans were similarly applauded past a Swansea pub after their final day epic. The Blackpool team relegated to the lower leagues for the first time in 1978 were much better than Forest 2005 or Leeds 2007. It has taken them 29 years to get back. On that basis, Forest may still be with us in 2034, and Leeds two years after that.

From WSC 245 July 2007

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