Football is predominantly a results game, with the possible exception of a kick around in the park, which is why Newcastle United found themselves in the Championship this season, and Burnley, Wolves and Birmingham all competed in the Premier League. Nevertheless, there is more to the game than 3 points: look at the current Barcelona team and wonder would they be eulogised to such an extent without the flowing football that characterised last season’s clean sweep of honours, or think back to the Arsenal invincibles who won their last league title while remaining unbeaten.
Off the field, other factors are at play. No one should question the achievements of managers such as Phil Brown in achieving promotion to the top tier, and following that by remaining there, they deserve their success and I wish them all the best. However, there is something quite disheartening about the sight of thousands of empty seats week after week at grounds like the DW Stadium, Ewood Park, and the Reebok Stadium, all the more so because of the absence of clubs like Leeds, Nottm Forest and Newcastle from the top tier. All three clubs can boast big stadiums, passionate support, and rich histories, and in some cases long standing and bitter rivalries with other Premier League clubs.
Which brings me to the weekend’s results, and the news that Newcastle United have secured promotion at their first time of asking. Firstly, a moment to congratulate manager Chris Hughton: he faced a difficult task trying to rebuild a shattered club after relegation, not helped by a bungling chairman and the constant threat of a takeover and with it the prospect of his P45 and a handover to Alan Shearer, Guus Hiddink or whoever else was rumoured to be replacing him. That he managed to weld a team together under such pressure, and severe budgetary constraints, is a testament to his character. While the coming year will be a massive test of his managerial credentials, he has earned the right to face that test.
What is most welcome about this success is not the team returning to the Premier League, but the club. Newcastle fans have long been derided by opposition fans for their delusions of grandeur, and no doubt they will provide many opportunities for mirth in the coming season, but they cannot be faulted for their dedication to the cause. A sold out St James’ Park is an impressive sight, and the fans have a good reputation for travelling away in numbers. This is one thing the league can most definitely do with: as the lure of the English game for players diminishes, a couple of the unique selling points remaining are the atmosphere in stadiums, and a sense of tradition, both of which are served by the return of “big” clubs like Newcastle to the summit of the English game.
Let us be clear on one thing: football clubs deserve to compete wherever they find themselves. However, we should celebrate those occasions when success on the field yields the sort of results off that field that benefit the game on a grander scale, and long my this continue.