Relegation helps to keep football sane”, says Charlie Connelly at the start of this engrossing study of the downside to a competitive system.
He cites the recent rise, fall, and at time of writing rise again, of free-spending Middlesborough to persuasively show that, sometimes, money just isn’t enough. Even champagne Charlies go down if they don’t get enough points and from Manchester United’s fall into the old second division in 1974 to Manchester City’s even more precipitous collapse over the last few years, we see once again that the bigger they come the harder they fall.
But sadly for fans of minnows, the tragedy is just the same. The benighted followers of Doncaster – who dropped out of the league completely in 1998 – or Bristol City whose four-year, 87-place, plummet happened so fast “it made your ears bleed”, are just as traumatised as any fan of the big boys. Connelly chronicles all this agony, along with a little bit of ecstasy for those who somehow escaped, with a lightness of touch that is compassionate to the losers and genuinely relieved for the survivors. Forget World Cups and Wembley finals – for the vast majority of ordinary fans, this is what football drama is all about.
“Charlie Connelly writes with a blend of genuine empathy and wry gallows humour.” Four Four Two
“Splendidly provocative and poignant; if there was a Campaign For Real Football Charlie Connelly would be its first president.” Independent on Sunday
“Connelly builds the story with excellent background detail and a dry wit. He scores by telling every story with the same involvement as if it were his own and when it all descends into the absurd he can’t help but laugh. And so will you.” BBC Match of the Day
“Contains some superb writing.” When Saturday Comes