A glance at the top of the Championship and League One Tables following the results of the weekend indicate that two of the great clubs of English football could be on the road to recovery after a recent period of turmoil.
Quite remarkably, Newcastle United and Leeds United are two of only seven English clubs to have played in the Champions League since the tournament was reformatted for the 1992/93 season. Indeed, as recently as the 2000/01 season Leeds were only 90 minutes from the final, having drawn 0-0 in the first leg of the semi-final against Valencia, only to go down 3-0 in the second leg at the Estadio Mestalla. Newcastle were representing England in the same competition as recently as 2003 and reached a UEFA Cup quarter-final in 2005.
The Magpies have started this season in brilliant form with only one defeat in nine games, and a perfect record at home. The 4-0 victory at Ipswich on Saturday was a fabulous result and a fitting tribute to Sir Bobby Robson in the encounter between two of his former sides.
With a squad containing players of the quality and experience of the likes of Alan Smith, Kevin Nolan and Nicky Butt in the midfield alone, it is no real surprise that Newcastle look like they are capable of running away with one of the most competitive leagues in European football, and a passport back into the promised land of the Premier League. Average attendances at St James’ Park so far this season have been over 40 000, Derby County have the next highest average at 28 000. With such a huge fan base, Newcastle really should be winning the Championship but the manner of their performances so far this season has been most impressive.
As for Leeds, the injury-time winner at MK Dons on Saturday meant that they continued an unbeaten start to the season that has seen eight victories from nine matches. With young players such as Jermaine Beckford and Robert Snodgrass attracting interest from other clubs, the tide appears to be turning for Leeds who are now in their third season in League One. For a club which managed to attract a capacity crowd of over 38 000 for the Liverpool cup tie last midweek and took over 4000 fans to the match on Saturday, the support for Leeds remains in tact despite all the recent difficulties surrounding the club. Leeds have been to the brink and back. Administration and point deductions have been overcome, and light can be seen at the end of the tunnel. For Newcastle, various figures have been stated as to the debt the club finds itself in. An immediate return to the Premier League would probably stave off any threat of administration, and with the club remaining up for sale, a continuation of the success to date this season could see the club as a most attractive proposition for potential investors.
An intriguing question is how the two clubs would fair in the Premier League. An immediate answer regarding Newcastle would be that they would struggle – after all they did finish in the bottom three last season. However, if patience was shown at St James’ Park, surely the club would not be in the position they now find themselves in. Would Sam Allardyce for instance have allowed his Newcastle team to be relegated? Probably not, and were he give more time than the six months originally afforded at the start of the 2007/08 season, Newcastle would surely be a mid-table Premier League team at worst. Maybe if the Toon Army were to give managers without an allegiance to the club more time – as they were prepared to give to both Kevin Keegan and Alan Shearer – success could return to a club which deserves so much better.
As for Leeds, Simon Grayson has certainly got them playing good football, however it is almost impossible to say where they would finish in the Premier League, as the earliest they could be back there is for the 2011/12 season. They do however still have average attendances which are higher than the likes of Wigan and Portsmouth, and the potential is still evident in Yorkshire.
Players would be attracted to both St James’ Park and Elland Road. Passionate fans, the prospect of the playing in the best league in the world and the opportunity of success are all selling points of these sleeping giants. As for a return to the Champions League? Probably not. Premier League mediocrity? Most likely. Lets hope that Newcastle and Leeds can be back among the elite of English football again soon. The fans certainly deserve it.