Three teams get relegated from the Premier League every year. Generally, it is because they have been the shittest three teams in the division. Always, it is statistically because they have ended up with the lowest points total. But sometimes, one of the three teams is apparently ‘too good to go down.’ West Ham fan Scott tells us why this saying is total bollocks…
‘They’re not too good to go down’. That seems to have become somewhat of a slogan these days for fans up and down the country when idly discussing their Premier League relegation tips over a pint or two down the local. It is a phrase that has been inducted into contemporary footballing vocabulary as a result of too many ‘big clubs’ deemed far too strong on paper carelessly slipping through the dreaded trap door and into the ‘abyss’ of the Championship. Leeds, Newcastle and Blackburn are just a few of the sides to give credence to the term – all clubs that started their respective seasons with lofty ambitions but ended it with less-than glamourous away trips to the likes of Blackpool and Gillingham to look forward to. And there have been many more besides who have assisted in giving justification to the term’s very existence – see Manchester City.
But when exactly was this threateningly ominous motto first conceived? When can it officially be dated back to? Which side fucked up a campaign so royally that a new expression had to be created to give us a mid-season disclaimer, forewarning underachievers of a potential fate that ability alone would not spare them from? Who turned their Wayne Rooneys into Tommy Mooneys seemingly overnight? Well I think I have the answer.
Painfully for me, I believe that very team was West Ham United.
The Class of 2003
The year is 2002. West Ham are entering the new season with some optimism having just finished a laudable 7th place in Glenn Roeder’s first season in charge. And, although Hammers fans weren’t seen dancing down Green Street when it was announced he was to replace Harry Redknapp (Bagpuss) in the summer of 2001, a solid first campaign had initiated at least an air of compliance with the board’s decision. The squad is thoroughly littered with genuine quality too. From top to bottom, front to back – crammed full of unmistakable talent surely destined to threaten the top 6 and get the fans dreaming of beer soaked away trips to Kiev, Prague or even Riga if we are really lucky? And with a raft of young, hungry, homegrown talent in the ranks, perhaps, just perhaps, in a couple of years and with some shrewd transfer market enterprise, we could be up their tussling for the big prizes with the bigger boys. Is the cock about to crow on a new claret and blue-stained, silverware-laden era of success? Should we exercise our buy-back option on the trophy cabinet we sold to CashConverters several years prior? Do we dare to dream?
No. Nah-ah. Nope. For somehow, with a squad featuring future Premier League winners Michael Carrick (5 times), Joe Cole (3 times) and Glen Johnson (once); current, past and present England internationals Jermain Defoe (57 caps), David James (53 caps), Les Ferdinand (17 caps), Trevor Sinclair (12 caps) and Lee Bowyer (1 cap); Scotland internationals Christian Dailly (67 caps) and Don Hutchison (26 caps); Republic of Ireland international Gary Breen (63 caps); Mali international Frederic Kanoute (39 caps); and the finest West Ham player of the Premier League era, one Paolo Di Canio, West Ham are inexplicably relegated from the Premier League on the final day of the season.
The inevitable fire-sale ensues – and there’s some bitter pills to choke on. Joe Cole and Glen Johnson leave for Chelsea. That’s the tip of the iceberg. Jermain Defoe (who handed in a transfer request the day after we were relegated and then defecated on my dying nan… or at least I assume he did as he is clearly more than capable), Frederic Kanoute and Michael Carrick (although belatedly) ALL, yes FUCKING ALL, join Spurs. Club legend Paolo Di Canio joins Charlton. Trevor Sinclair heads with my blessing to pre-money, pre-FFP breaching Manchester City. The squad is completely ravaged – torn apart as if hit by an explosion of nuclear proportions. Amongst the rubble of destruction, we find Don Hutchison, Tomas Repka and Richard Garcia remaining. They weren’t who we were searching for but we are just happy to see some familiar faces. Reinforcements are parachuted in, or in Neil Mellor’s case, collected at a service station on the way to Preston North End on the opening day of the season. Where there was once Joe Cole there is now Adam Nowland. Glen Johnson’s locker now contains the property of one Andy Melville. You get the picture.
It was a disaster of an apocalyptic scale. A team that seemingly had all the minerals to put down sturdy foundations for future success had been ripped to utter shreds and patched together with Rufus Brevett et al. Relegation, and one as unexpected as this, had taken a top ten Premier League side stuffed full of international quality to the brink of financial extinction and laid the marker for the subsequent invention of the ultimate adage of alarm – ‘they’re not too good to go down’. Fast-forward 17 years and West Ham are at it again. You would think they’d have learnt their lesson.
The Class of 2011
Well they haven’t, and it seems they aren’t the swiftest of learners either. Following promotion back to the Premier League two years later in 2005, and via a Carlos Tevez-inspired final day great escape in 2007, West Ham were relegated again in 2011. And the fallout was almost as devastating second time round. Although the club retained England internationals Robert Green and Carlton Cole for their season-long stay in the championship, they relinquished yet another glut of blooming worldies. Scott Parker joined… FUCKING SPURS!!! Demba Ba travelled north to Newcastle. Thomas Hitzelsperger left for Germany and Wolfsburg in particular, whilst Robbie Keane and Wayne Bridge returned to their parent clubs following loan spells. Club captain Matt Upson stayed in the Premier League with Stoke City and both Luis Boa Morte and Keiron Dyer’s unsuccessful stints in the East End came to an end. Not on the same chart as the (lack of) class of 2003, but still hard to stomach.
The Class of 2020
And here we are again. As the virus brings a halt to football fixtures worldwide, West Ham find themselves level on points with 18th and with the very real threat of relegation from the Premier League for a third time looming over them. And this time it could spell complete catastrophe with the club’s board already pleading poverty following years of mismanagement and ill-informed spending – see Jordan Hugill. A mass exodus would be a formality. Add this to the fact that it’s already challenging enough to muster up anything vaguely representing an atmosphere in the Olympic basin as it is, let alone on a drizzly Wednesday night when Wigan roll in to town. It doesn’t bear thinking about. And somewhat more concerningly, it may be out of our hands.
If the campaign is unable to be completed and the powers that be opt for the weighted points system to decipher the final standings, our fate will be sealed (though I’m convinced they’ve been weighted all season given West Ham’s frequency to drop them). But should our grossly over-paid, typically under-achieving heroes make it back on to the turf to play out the leagues conclusion on the pitch, one thing is for sure – the last words David Moyes whispers in to Felipe Anderson, Sebastien Haller, Declan Rice and co’s ears (albeit from a 2m distance) should be, ‘you’re not too good to go down….’.