It’s fair to say that in recent seasons we have seen a gap developing at the top of the English football pyramid. The likes of Manchester United and Chelsea have pulled further away from other sides in the Premier League. With more and more foreign investment into our domestic game, some teams look like they are beginning to close this gap to some extent. That said however, it may still be a season or two before Manchester City for example make a real sustained title push. What is even more pleasing to see is that a similar trend appears to be developing in the football league, although not always reliant on the money of a billionaire. The examples of this would be the rise of clubs like Scunthorpe and the return to the top of Blackpool.
The recent progression of Scunthorpe has been rapid and highly impressive. Last season saw the Iron return to the Championship via the play-offs, defeating Millwall in the final at Wembley. Nothing special you may think, but when you consider that in 2004, the club only just escaped relegation from the Football League, it is clear to see that this is a side who have come a long way in a very short space of time.
Following their flirtation with the prospect of non-league football, Scunthorpe were a club reborn the following season as they stormed to a runners-up spot in League Two, thus ensuring their promotion. A season of consolidation so to speak was to follow with a 12th placed finish in League One before what many saw as an unexpected assault on the top of the table. Indeed, 2007 saw not only another promotion, but United were also crowned League One champions. There may have been those inside the club who saw this potential but few outside of it forecasted such success.
Perhaps inevitably, Scunthorpe made an immediate return to League One the following season but have since proved that their recent promotions were no flash in the pan. Victory over Millwall at Wembley last season ensured their return to the Championship at the first time of asking. From seemingly an established member of the lower leagues, Scunthorpe have risen through the ranks and have certainly managed to change this perception of the club in just a few short years.
Historically speaking, Blackpool had only recently developed the reputation of being a lower league side in England. Their relegation from the second division in 1978 marked the start of nearly three decades outside of the top two tiers of English football. More recently however, and with minimal fuss, they have forged their way back into the Championship and have established themselves once again at this level.
Indeed, life for the Tangerines looks quite peachy so too speak at present. This marks there third season back in the second tier and they slowly appear to be developing into a very decent side. Finishing in 19th and 16th in their last two seasons respectively, Ian Holloway’s men presently occupy fifth spot in the Championship. A quarter of the way through the season, they are there on merit and their upsurge in fortunes is no accident.
Take a look around their home ground of over one hundred years, Bloomfield Road, and you will see the signs of progression quite clearly. The stadium has been redeveloped over a number of years from the antiquated venue it once was to a modern sporting arena, worthy of hosting football at a higher level than what has been on offer in Blackpool for the past few years. Although the redevelopment is not yet complete, (the East stand remains a small, open, temporary affair) the ambition of the club is mirrored in their spruced up home.
Of course, it is early days this season but the signs are promising for both clubs mentioned above to push on. As stated, Blackpool presently find themselves in the play-off positions whilst Scunthorpe are comfortably above the drop-zone as things stand. It would be naive to say that they will finish in these positions, but they are both showing positive early signs that their objectives will be met for this year.
In truth, there are other clubs who we could talk about in the same breath as these two. Colchester enjoyed a spell in the Championship having enjoyed many a season in the third and fourth tier. They now find themselves back in League One but are certainly a force to be reckoned with. Yeovil have also achieved a phenomenal amount since they entered the football league but a few short seasons ago. Now playing in League One themselves, they only narrowly missed out on promotion to the Championship in the play-off final in 2007, succumbing to a 2-0 defeat to Blackpool.
This writer does not wish to label any club as “little” or “small”. It just seems right that some credit is given to the clubs who haven’t achieved so much over the last few years and are now beginning to come good. As suggested above, very few outside of Scunthorpe would have predicted that they would be where they are now back in 2004. Perhaps the same can be said of Blackpool. It’s just great to see some new names starting to appear or even reappear after a long absence from English football’s higher echelons. Long may their progression continue.
News and views from the Football League
Keane for more time to prove himself – October 5
It’s a funny old game – October 8
A new owner does not guarantee success – October 12
Tied up in Notts – October 16
Climbing the Football League ladder – October 19