First time failure is trend Norwich City must avoid
Norwich City will have to defy the odds if they are to establish themselves in the Premier League.
The Canaries head into the richest football league in world football – but one which has become a graveyard of dreams for many newcomers.
Only once since the turn of the decade have all three promoted clubs survived – and while Blackpool can buck the trend tomorrow afternoon, the odds are stacked against the top flight new boys.
Fulham, Blackburn and Bolton all won promotion to the top flight in 2000-01 – and haven't dropped out since. But they are an isolated case.
In nine of the last 10 seasons – not counting the one that ends tomorrow – at least one of the three teams that have come up have gone straight back down again. West Bromwich Albion have done it twice, earning themselves the less than flattering description of a 'yo-yo team'. In 1997–98 all three went straight back down.
But what is striking is that most of the teams promoted since 2000 have failed to establish themselves in the top half of the table.
Fulham, Blackburn and Bolton are considered established Premier League sides, but between them they have just 12 top-half finishes out of a possible 27.
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Wigan have done it once in five attempts and will fail again this term – and could be relegated tomorrow if results don't go their way.
Stoke are close to being a safe bet, but while they go into tomorrow ninth in the table, it has followed placings of 12th, 12th and 11th.
Wolves finished 15th for two seasons in a row, but tomorrow could see the end of their Premier League stay – again, if results go against them.
The top half is a tough nut to crack. Manchester City cracked it four times in the space of seven years, but are perhaps an exception to the rule since they became the world's richest football club. A fifth place finish last season will be followed by a third or fourth at the end of play tomorrow.
It's fair to say that the gap between the Football League and the Premier League isn't exclusive. There is clearly an inter-divisional gap in the top flight – between those prepared and/or able to spend, and those either unwilling or unable.
The distance between established teams and those who flirt with glory is growing, thanks in main to the huge sums of money clubs receive each season... while they are there. If you are labouring away in the Championship, the prize for promotion is a big one, until you add up just what those established clubs have been able to get their hands on each season. Which is probably why so many promoted clubs find their first season in the Premier League so difficult.
Should relegation follow there is always the buffer of the parachute payments which amount to �48m over four seasons (�16m for each of the first two seasons and then two seasons at �8m each). It's a handy windfall – but peanuts compared with the �40m-plus that they would earn by being in the Premier League.
If you don't get it right, relegation can cause major problems. Ask Leeds, Southampton, Charlton or Sheffield Wednesday. Or even Norwich. Once the rot sets in it can take a long time and a lot of angst to recover.
Guardian journalist David Conn's annual look at the finances of Premier League clubs revealed some startling figures, not least of which was that despite record income, the top flight clubs between them lost almost half a billion pounds.
In 2009-10 the clubs raked in �2.1bn. But only four clubs didn't record losses – the other 16 totalled �484m.
Those who didn't lose money were Wolves, Arsenal, Birmingham and West Brom. The fact that Wolves and Birmingham go into Survival Sunday as two of the five teams who could be relegated, may be relevant.
Many losses were offset by rich owners whose dream of watching the best players at stadia they own comes at a massive price. Average Premier League wage bill? Get this: �70m. Total spent on player wages? A staggering �1.4bn.
If a club has been outside of the top flight for a few years, relying on a few million pounds of income to build a team worthy of promotion, they enter a whole new world when they go up, a world dominated by massive figures. If you don't have someone to bankroll the club, how do you compete against a team spending twice as much on player salaries as you have available to find and fund new acquisitions?
Conn points out that while Manchester City, Chelsea, Aston Villa and Fulham have big name backers, some of the less fashionable clubs have subsidies to fall back on which perhaps Norwich City can only envy.
'Peter Coates' family, who own online gambling company bet365, have invested �43m in Stoke City, US private equity investor Ellis Short �47m in Sunderland and the little-known Isle of Man-based Edwin Davies has taken to �85m his financial ballast of Bolton Wanderers, whose loss last year was �35m,' he wrote.
Stoke, Sunderland and Bolton Wanderers. Finishing positions in the last three seasons: Stoke promoted-12th-11th; Sunderland 15th-16th-13th; Bolton 16th-13th-14th.
The achievement of staying in the Premier League is not to be under-estimated, but that is a massive investment for clubs that are nowhere near challenging for major honours – which perhaps brings us on to the most salient of points about the Premier League – its domination by the big four.
Since the Premier League was borne in 1992, 44 clubs have played in it. Only four have ever won it – Manchester United have a dozen titles, Arsenal and Chelsea three apiece and Blackburn one.
Since Blackburn's triumph in 1994-95, it's been all about United, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool – since 1994 it's been United or Chelsea winning – and while Tottenham and Manchester City are now getting in on the act, the fact remains that the road to Champions League riches, which is worth millions, is dominated by an exclusive group of clubs.
The gap begins to grow: between the big guns and the established clubs; between the established clubs and the perennial strugglers; and between the perennial strugglers and the wide-eyed new boys.
The bookies will have you believe the divisions will be obvious again. William Hill have Norwich odds on to go straight back down: 8-11 to be relegated and 9-2 to finish bottom. And 7-1 to finish in the top half.
The odds may be stacked against the Canaries – but City fans know that's just how they like it.
• THE PROMOTED TEAMS AND HOW THEY FARED
• 1999/00 (season promoted)
Manchester City relegated
Manchester City 9th
West Brom relegated
West Brom 17th
Crystal Palace relegated
West Ham 9th
Sheffield Utd relegated
West Brom relegated
West Brom survived