Now I appreciate that we still have 14 games in which to try and get ourselves out of this rather sticky predicament and of course relegation is only ever going to be seen as a negative in both the short and long term but I can’t help but feel that there maybe a few (Albeit minor) positives should the worst occur.
Please understand that in no way am I suggesting that I would like for us to get relegated and I hope that we do serve up yet another “Great Escape” but being realistic we have to consider the consequences come May. I wanted to weigh up the pro’s and con’s just to gage what everyone else’s thoughts are on the matter.
So to start with …. Relegation and the negative consequences. After 13 years in the top flight it will be a hammer blow for us to drop back down to the Championship which in all fairness is a completely different beast to the division we won all those years ago, both in name and ability. The fact is that any club relegated from the Premier League these days cannot expect to just walk straight back in at the first time of asking and for many clubs (us included) the first season or 2 will be about stability and working out who is and isn’t up to the task. There are obviously financial ramifications around dropping out of the Premier league especially when it comes to TV money but also , again particularly in our case with gate receipts. Let’s face it, the fan base has certainly grown with the club over the years but there is also a reason that we are the only club in the league to have a “Neutral end” which is partly to drum up outside interest to get bums on seats. I always find myself telling people that if they are visiting London and want to see a Premier league game then Craven Cottage is probably their best option. Of course the demand to watch Championship football is far less great and the likes of QPR will be the big beneficiaries should we lose our top flight status. Another point to consider is around our big following abroad particularly in the USA where no doubt opportunities to watch Championship football will be few and far between when compared to the regular streaming options that Premier league football brings. As easy as it is to fall in love with Fulham from afar, it will equally be pretty frustrating having to rely only on the radio commentary of gentleman Jim when getting your weekly fix.
Less money coming in will evidentially impact on our ability to spend in the transfer market and will also put further restrictions on wages although in honesty it’s not as if we will have to change our policy too much from what we have now in terms of net spend. Looking at our current squad there are a few players that we will have to say goodbye to given that their salary and ambition demands will not warrant spending time in the second tier of English football. New signing Kostas Mitroglou , Stekelenberg, Reither alongside a few of the younger players would be the main players I would expect to depart should it come to departing the Premier league.
Question marks will also remain around our new owner and the level of interest that he will continue to have in the running of the club in the long term. He will quickly realise that the incomings are way down on the previous year and certain elements will have to be marginalised. Ever since Khan took over he has preached about stability so we can only hope that he has factored in the possibility of remaining sustainable in the Championship.
Finally with the planned expansion of Craven Cottage seemingly in the pipeline, many of us will be left asking if that should remain a priority for the club and even if perhaps that the money we had set aside for such a project was a contributing factor to our lack of investment in the squad in recent years. When the initial project was put forward I cast my mind back to the days in which Ipswich found themselves in the top flight only to focus on developing Portman Road and less so on incoming playing personnel. A good few years down the line and they only just starting to mount a challenge for promotion again. I get the impression that we would struggle to fill the Cottage in its current state in the Championship so surely increasing the capacity is a bit of a fruitless task.
There are of course many more negative connotations around relegation and I have only briefly touched on a few aspects but hey! It hasn’t happened yet and I can only keep your attention for so long.
Now some will say that there are absolutely no positive aspects to being relegated and in many ways they are completely right. I would argue though that there are few aspects that in the long run could prove beneficial. The fact is we are in a unique situation at Fulham having the strange combination of the oldest squad in the Premier league coupled with one of the most exceptional Youth systems in the country. It is always a challenge for any club to know when the time is right in progressing youth prospects to first team duties and that can be made all the more difficult when a side finds itself battling at the wrong end of the table. While it remains to be seen who of our current crop of prospects is currently at a level to be able to justify a regular place (even in the championship) , it would be a more manageable transition at a lower level and allow us to place less emphasis on having individuals who are “Experienced at this level” as we do in the Premier league. The likes of Dembele, Christensen, Tankovic, Passley, Roberts, Mesca, Grimmer and to a lesser extent Dan Burn would all benefit from a full season in the first team and could well form the basis of a strong team for years to come. Equally relegation would likely see the removal of much of the “dead wood” in the side and leave us with only a handful of experienced players who would likely continue to excel in the Championship. Hangeland is probably to long in the tooth to achieve a big move and depending on who stayed , Sidwell, Parker, Duff, Dejagah and Kacaniklic would no doubt prove strong performers at that level.
While I have already touched on the fact that the Championship is of far higher quality than the Division we romped away with back in 2001, the fact is it would be a refreshing change starting a season with some actual expectation of being towards the right of the table and knowing that we would likely start many fixtures as favorites. Granted I am sure many of you will say that the ambition of every club in the Championship is to reach the top flight but sometimes it is the case of one step back two steps forward. The financial implications of relegation are always going to have an effect although the new parachute payment plan will go a long way to stabilise our situation. We all know our debts are minimal and unlike our local neighbours we would not have to continue to accommodate huge salaries in favour of reaping the benefits of our academy. Gate receipts will definitely drop but our geographical location will continue to allow for some further footfall. I would also like to think that prices may indeed drop and incentivise the hard core to continue their weekly pilgrimage. I get the impression that after a while in the top flight a clubs focus tends to shift from what happens on the pitch more towards everything off it. Of course sponsors will always be a necessity but should the redevelopment of the riverside stand be put on hold for a while then it isn’t the biggest disaster in my eyes.
We are already at the stage where there is speculation regarding the future of Rene Meulensteen at the club and I for one hope that he continues in his current guise. His cause has not been helped by the arrival of Wilkins and Curbishley and while that is another issue altogether, I would like to think that relegation would see us jettison both of the latter and give Rene the time to rebuild a young team ready to take the club forward again. The signings of Tunnicliffe and Cole from Man Utd could prove great pieces of business should we go down and will (particularly in Larnell Cole’s case) bring decent sell on value in the future.
Finally our owner, Shahid Khan is yet to really put his stamp on the club and while relegation is not exactly the greatest of first seasons to have under his ownership, most of us do understand that the situation we find ourselves in is not only down to our actions in the past 8 months. By sticking b the club and declaring his ambitions to get back up as quickly as possible he may well find favour among supporters who currently are still questioning his intentions. Should he be successful in gaining promotion then the bond between himself and the supporters will no doubt significantly strengthen and in turn perhaps encourage him to further invest in a side who are leaps and bounds above the current squad of 30 something’s.
I appreciate the above is all speculative and I fully expect a tirade of abuse and disagreements from many of you but I just wanted to share my thoughts. I continue to hope that we can turn things around and will be as disappointed as any of the rest of you should we not be successful in doing so but a little part of me sees a silver lining.