12 December 2009 ~ Another week in football, dominated in the popular press by the stories from the Premier League. We've had "Handshakegate", Portsmouth’s seasonal game of pass the payslip and the news that Premier League clubs had spent almost twice as much on agents as the Football Foundation is able to distribute in grants. Meanwhile, the League One season was taking an unusual shape. Over the past few seasons the division has been contested by clubs who, in playing terms at least, have been hard to distinguish.
The top six has largely been determined by which teams managed to put a good run together or had most luck with injuries at crucial points in the season, with little to choose between the majority of sides in terms of style or quality. At the same time, with the exception of Leicester last season, the drop into the third tier has not been kind to Championship sides. As far back as 1999 Manchester City escaped only via the play-offs, Nottingham Forest had three attempts to get out and Leeds United are still there.
But this year the picture looks as if it might be different. Last season’s relegated teams are all showing strong form that suggests they might bounce straight back up. The other team in strong contention is Leeds, and what a contrast they make. It’s difficult to see how many people would resent a swift return to a higher level for Norwich, Charlton or Southampton. For Charlton any success seems just reward for the years of exile before the triumphant return to the Valley. In the same way, it seems to me that Southampton deserve a better time after seasons of poor leadership in the boardroom. Making allowance for the ten point penalty they suffered for going into administration, the Saints current form would put them around the play-off places.
A first visit to Carrow Road at the weekend, to follow my team Oldham to yet another defeat, showed that it is still possible to create an occasion out of a match without resorting to bombast, which kind of brings me round to Leeds. For the first time since they have been in League One they appear to have a team that could get them out. Their football, against Kettering aside, is slick and, like the three teams relegated from the championship, looks a cut above the other teams in the division. But while promotion for Norwich, Charlton and Southampton might raise a smile it’s hard for me to feel the same way about Leeds.
In a recent visit to Boundary Park, another defeat for Oldham, their large travelling support reminded me that too often humour is traded for belligerence. While they swell the turnstile income they dampen enjoyment. Their showcase of amusing songs ranged from “We’re going up, you’re going down”, through “Yorkshire, Yorkshire” ending with “Fuck off Oldham”.
All of that said, the season is not yet half over. Huddersfield, having spent heavily, and Colchester, who may not be pretty to watch but are very effective, will feel that they will have a say in the season’s outcome. In any event, it is a season with a very different feel so far and it is hard to see how even the strongest of runs or the best of luck with injuries is going to allow any of the other 20 teams to break into the top group. Brian Simpson