There is a day for many American sports fans when they become enlightened about the concept of relegation and promotion in various professional sporting leagues around the world. Naturally ideas of doing it for professional baseball start dancing around in your head, like dropping the Pittsburgh Pirates for a club from Triple-A, never mind the fact the structure of almost all American sports would never fly. The minor leagues in America are just that, minor or at best feeders or farm clubs for the big boys. Nothing is set up for open leagues under the current franchise system, rendering these flights of fancy moot.
If you're reading this little old slice of the Internets, you'd probably thought about stuff like that maybe on a cloudless spring afternoon or at the beach. It's a pipe dream on our shores, even with our professional soccer structure since MLS is home to entitled owners like Robert Kraft wouldn't want to see their investment dropped into a lower league, but that's an argument for another day and another site, frankly.
In any event, we saw the full wonder and amazement that was relegation on Sunday afternoon in a wild, crazy, nervy day where the table fluctuated with the frequency of a teenager's mood. It was so wild Ian Darke on ESPN2, god bless his quaint little heart, said you'd likely need a slide ruler to figure out the permutations.
At various times after kickoff Wolves, Blackpool, Birmingham City and Wigan were all safe and all doomed, often times by a single goal -- both in the differential and total scored. It only reiterated the importance of an entire 38-game season, even if those games in August seemed inconsequential at the time played, yet came home to roost. Imagine if Wigan were relegated by a goal and how the club lost on the opening day to Blackpool 4-0.
The flashpoint game, of course, was Wolves vs. Blackburn Rovers in a direct win and survive battle. Not sure what the Venky's Chicken Magnates said to Rovers' boss Steve Kean when they flew him in to India during the week. Whatever it was, it was straight out of the playbook of Los Pollos Hermanos owner, Gus Frings.
Blackburn came out and kicked serious ass from the opening whistle, pressing Wolves deep and pinging crosses all over, paying off almost immediately with a deflected goal from Jason Roberts. Yes, that Jason Roberts. Rovers were in heaven following Brett Emerton's finely struck volley ... set up by of all things a long kick from Paul Robinson, Rovers clear MVP this year. Blackburn was a miserable team to watch all season, but Sunday they brought it with the money on the line. If Rovers can build around youngsters like Phil Jones and David Hoilett next season, maybe they won't be quite as dire as this year.
It was amazing how poor Wolves played, finding themselves down 3-0 and all but done.
Meanwhile at Old Trafford, Blackpool was flying high through Charlie Adam and Gary Taylor-Fletcher... and then they fell apart to the champions, to a dreaded own goal and sunk back to the depths from which is came.
Wigan was lingering on life support ... and Hugo Rodallega pulled them out of the fire -- again.
For a while with about 12 minutes left in Birmingham's game with Tottenham, Alex McLeish's team was alive and safe, thanks to Craig Gardner's equalizer. It seemed Wolves were ready to go down based on one lone, single, solitary goal.
This crazy scenario didn't happen since Birmingham lost 2-1 to Tottenham(*) on Roman Pavlyuchenko's strike from the edge of the box, while Wolves fought back with two goals late from Jamie O'Hara and Stephen Hunt, cuing a party on party in Wolverhampton not seen since the heyday of Slade.
(*) Spurs gaining a play in the Europa League is a classic "You're a winner and a loser" scenario, though the club isn't big enough to turn its nose up at the competition. Who doesn't want to take a road trip to Metalist Kharkiv? Oh Birmingham are in the competition, despite playing in the Championship next season. That should be a load of fun, too.
Was the final day craziness better than an American style elimination playoff system? Is 38 games where, in the end, it's proven every single second of every single match could come into play to determine your favorite team's fate a fairer, more accurate gauge of a soccer team's worth?
However you slice it, Sunday was an unforgettable day where everything needed to align properly going into the games. Once the games kicked off, they lived up to the hype.
Gone, But Not Forgotten:
Blackpool was supposed to be the worst team ever in the history of the Premier League. A laughable combination of the Washington Generals, Cleveland Spiders and the team from the movie "Ladybugs." And in manager Ian Holloway, the Tangerines had their own version of Rodney Dangerfield on the touchline, too.
Funny thing happened. Blackpool weren't awful, even while trotting out players like Gary Taylor-Fletcher who looked about as athletic as a professional bowler where all that was missing was a pint glass and dangling cigarette. Unknowns like DJ Campbell, Luke Varney and David Vaughn all accounted for themselves quite well.
Blackpool entertained from Matchday One, beating Wigan in August and spending most of the 2010 in the top half of the table. Holloway was a hailed as a genius as the team scored goals, played free-flowing, offensive soccer and were a genuinely likable bunch in a world otherwise populated by cynics, louts, primadonnas and other misanthropes.
In gap-toothed Scotsman Charlie Adam(*) Blackpool even had a swashbuckling, one-man wrecking crew, deadly from freekicks and corners. Had the club stayed up, it'd be hard to argue one man was as valuable to his club as Adam.
(*) I'm preemptively tired of the Adam transfer this summer. Very high-risk, mediocre-reward player. His best value is on deadball spots, but if he goes to a better team will he always take them like at Blackpool? And he will miss games for cards, too. Plus his passing can be very wayward at times. Above all, is he suited to a cog in a better machine, rather than the entire team engine like he was at Blackpool? I'd stay away, personally and save his inflated transfer fee. The place he makes the most sense might be Fulham where he could replace Danny Murphy or at Stoke City, where he'd be given the reigns in the midfield, though it's doubtful either club pays as much as Blackpool are going to want.
Eventually the bubble burst, culminating with a 4-2 loss at Old Trafford to the champions elect. In the final analysis, to use the hoary old Dennis Green line, Blackpool "were who we thought they were." It is, though, a shame the Tangerines lost to Manchester United -- which did field a competent, representative team -- on an Ian Evatt own goal and a Michael Owen clincher. A crueler fate, cannot be found.
The question going forward, will Blackpool's Premier League flight of fancy inspire clubs in the future that it's worth standing toe-to-toe with the big clubs, going for three points, throwing caution into the wind and playing open, attack-minded soccer? Or will managers and board members look at the one scarlet letter Holloway and Blackpool couldn't shake -- 78 goals allowed -- and remember that pragmatism might not win the hearts and minds of neutrals, yet it will keep you cashing those Premier League television checks?
Here's something that's interesting as a counterweight.
Blackpool: 55 goals scored, 78 goals allowed = 39 points, 19th place
West Bromwich Albion: 56 goals scored, 71 goals allowed = 47 points, 11th place.
Years from now, people will remember Blackpool's moment in the sun and probably smile about all the crazy things Holloway said and the rollicking, back-and-forth goal fests the club produced. It's less convenient to remember, the table doesn't lie.
Gone And Forgotten:
There won't be many mourning the drop of Birmingham City. Sure El Brum won the Carling Cup, but that was probably the result of another classic Arsenal meltdown.
Long story short here, there wasn't much dynamism with this club with an assortment of strikers who were simply awful, though not set up to succeed in Alex McLeish's super-conservation 4-5-1 formation. Guys brought in over the summer like Jean Beausajour and Alexsander Hleb flopped or failed to make an impact. David Bentley did nothing on loan from Spurs, nor did Matt Derbyshire on his return from Greece.
When Cameron Jerome starts for you in a do-or-die match as a lone striker, well, you don't need to be Valery Lobanovsky to know you're in trouble.
Birmingham were the kings of the 1-0 win last season, this year they were outscored 58-37.
This is a club that needs a new injection of blood. The Stephen Carrs, Barry Fergusons and Liam Ridgewells of the world are good, competent professionals, but limited over the course of a couple years without any dynamic players around them. There's not a lot to build around here, with journeyman pros at almost all positions. Maybe they have one fight left in them to bounce right back from the Championship, but then what? Still stuck staving off relegation in two years time.
At least this makes Seb Larsson's exit all but confirmed. He'd be a worthwhile addition in a lot of places. Gardner is clearly a Premiership player, but he's likely the one guy Birmingham could actually build around next season, so they should hold onto him.
The one player I've repeatedly praised at Birmingham the last two years was defender Roger Johnson. Then on Sunday I saw him pulling up his jersey to reveal a lower back tattoo.
A tramp stamp.
Looks like Roman Abramovich is taking his George Steinbrenner worship a little too far. What's next, hosting the fall premier of "Saturday Night Live" and shooting a digital short about his Russian "junk" with Andy Samberg?
Suppose losing on the road at Goodison Park 1-0 with Jermain Beckford doing his best Lionel Messi with a neck-tat run through the defense and chip, well, I might want to make a rash move, too.
Firing Carlo Ancelotti? Eh, that seemed to have been decided months ago with the failures in the Premier League and Champions League. Ancelotti did win the double last season, can't take that away from him. In a way, getting let go by the Blues is a blessing in disguise for the affable Italian. Who would want to coach a team of aging veterans (Terry, Lampard, Drogba), a possible basket case in Fernando Torres and ... Nic Anelka.
Chelsea, however you slice it, is in a state of flux with a sour, prickly locker room. Good luck to whomever Abramovich brings in next.
It's hard to believe, isn't it, the team with as much wealth as anyone in the world -- Manchester City aside -- would run itself on the whims of an owner. There was the whole Ray Wilkins thing, plus scouts and technical directors have left the club, too. With more and more clubs getting into analytics and new ways to improve your club in the backroom or the training table, why is Chelsea playing it so fast and loose?
Even if he's icily cool and relatively emotionless in the director's box, one thinks Abramovich in private must pout like Veruca Salt. "I want a Champions League trophy, and I WANT IT NOW!" (In Cyrillic letters, naturally.)
Have fun, whomever it ends up, living in Mourinho's long shadow at Stamford Bridge. And do keep one eye firmly on your back.
"Did you drop this baby?"
M. Night Shyamalan has moved firmly into the category of Internet punching bag. It's accepted law. That said, "Unbreakable" is an underrated movie, that could have been something special. Instead it's just a solid cable flick with a unhinged Samuel L. Jackson performance as the nefarious Mr. Glass.
At this point in their history, Wigan Athletic are the Bruce Willis would-be superhero character from the film. They cannot be killed. You could stab them, shoot them and throw them in a freezing river in a burlap sack and still live on as a Premier League club. They are the cockroaches roaming the earth after the apocalypse. Hell, if that whole rapture thing happened on Saturday as predicted, we know Wigan Athletic would have pressed on.
All but relegated a month ago, Roberto Martinez coaxed two wins and two draws from the Latics in the final four matches to survive in the top flight another season. Should this achievement be celebrated? Or does nobody even care?
If it means anything, the club's page on Eurosport's page "liked" by 14 people via Facebook.
Of the entire world's population with an Internet connection.
So hey, a tip of the cap for another season of indifferent soccer from the DW Stadium played by a collection of no-names, castoffs, never-was's in front of a small collection of fans.
Pretty sure we'll be doing this again this time next year, think we know how it'll end, too.
Around the League:
Bolton won't be selling too many of their 2011-12 home shirts to non-fans. Even diehard supporters might hold off on these ugly uniforms for a season. ... Martin Skrtel played every Premier League minute this season for Liverpool. Think he needs a tattoo to memorialize this feat. ... Great finish by Manchester City, FA Cup and automatic place in the Champions League. Gotta tip the cap to Roberto Mancini. ... Aston Villa finished in the top half of the table. Makes sense, right? ... Liverpool lost to Aston Villa, so the Reds don't have much to complain about, but the irony is that Kenny Dalglish's side -- and fan's -- appreciated a place in the Europa League, while Spurs treated it like a curse. ... Another thing I'm tired about every single English writer yammering on about is the amount of minutes Jack Wilshere played for Arsenal and his involvement with the UEFA U21 Championships, though Monday it seems like he and Andy Carroll might be out. ... Naturally Arsenal are stuck in the Champions League playoff qualifying round, precisely what Arsene Wenger's mentally unpredictable club needs -- a do-or-die pressurized match right at the start of the season.
Fantasy Team O' the Year:
Emma Graham's Think Pink United wins the league by a mere eight points. Credit goes out to her for keeping track of her team, such as starting Jamie O'Hara and Dimitar Berbatov in the final matchweek. Very well played and a massive, hearty congratulations.
One Other Thing:
Nerd alert: This paragraph is going to be about video games, or at least an amazing game I can't get enough of -- "L.A. Noire." Forget the fact it's simply a joy to blow away criminals with a character modeled after Ken Cosgrove from "Mad Men," -- Ken ... Cosgrove ... Accounts ... You're dead!
You probably don't have to love games to appreciate the art behind this one. It's not "Grand Theft Auto" set in 1947 Los Angeles, rather it's an actual detective game -- a throwback to the old "Police Quest" series, albeit with amazing facial models and a who's who of Hollywood "That Guys" popping up as characters including Dr. Leslie Arzt from Lost.
The cases you have to solve are actually engrossing and you want to find out the proverbial 'whodunnit' almost as much as you want to buy a detective cap are start moonlighting as a Gumshoe or a Seamus on the side. Highly recommend this one for all gamers.
A Final Thought:
If you've made it this far without clicking on something else -- easier said than done with most attention spans these days (I probably wouldn't make it) -- a heartfelt thank you for reading this season. Trying to track a sports league, on a non-professional basis isn't a piece of cake, especially for one based a couple thousand miles away across an ocean. Still, it's not like I'm stuck in a forced labor camp. This is a fun hobby to do and I keep doing it for the readers and all your guys insight. Admittedly this might not have been my best year writing-wise, or insight-wise or maybe too maybe times it felt strained or forced or full of typos or what have you. Just know with so much information out there on the Internet -- so many videos of cats falling off pianos or celebrity crotch shots -- it really does mean a lot me that you carve out a few minutes of your week to read my sometimes salient, often times inane and pedantic thoughts on the Premier League. Thank you all.