It’s been hard to avoid the news this week. The north west of England has been severely battered by the storms with many people facing the prospect of a long clear up and an immediate future in temporary accommodation. The flooding has simply devastated parts of Cumbria and it will be a long time before any form of normality returns. It’s times like these that perhaps put football in perspective.
There aren’t too many Football League sides to be found in the extreme north west of the country but perhaps the most famous would be Carlisle United. Located a mere metaphorical stones throw away from the Scottish border, the Cumbrians find themselves to be a relatively isolated club and so it was only them suffering at the hands of the elements. The freak weather left much of the pitch at Brunton Park submerged under inches of water, leaving Saturday’s fixture at home to Swindon in League One seemingly hanging in the balance.
Miraculously, Carlisle were able to take to the field on Saturday, only to be defeated by an early strike from Charlie Austin. It is the harsh reality of football that the supreme efforts of the club’s ground staff were not rewarded with the three points which many would argue the club deserved simply for ensuring the fixture was fulfilled.
The efforts of all concerned must be commended in Carlisle. Many worked through the night to ensure that the water was cleared from the ground and that the pitch was fit for action on Saturday. So impressive was the turnaround, no pitch inspection was required. As staff worked around the clock to pump out the standing water, the unique draining system incorporated into the design of the pitch ensured that despite first appearances, the fixture was in truth never in doubt. The nature of the busy fixture schedule these days is such that a postponement would not have been received favourably for either side. It’s hardly likely that Swindon would have looked forward to a midweek return trip to the far north west.
At the opposite end of the English coast – but sticking with League One – Southampton entertained Norwich on Saturday in one of the most entertaining fixtures the division will see this season. A wide open contest saw the two sides play out a 2-2 draw at St. Mary’s. It’s amazing to think that only four years ago, this would have been a Premier League fixture. Both sides were relegated from England’s top flight on the final day of the 2004/05 season, with neither club being able to make a push for promotion back to the promised land.
What is refreshing to see is that it appears both of these sides are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Norwich have stabilised after a disastrous start to the season and are showing that they really are a big fish in this division. Currently occupying a play-off position, the Canaries will undoubtedly be in mix for promotion come May. Southampton’s story is not quite so clear cut. Having started the season with a points deduction, Saints still find themselves in the relegation zone, but crucially, they have overturned their deficit and appear well on the way to a season of consolidation. Had they not been handed their points penalty, Alan Pardew’s side would be comfortably mid-table and within reach of the play-off positions. An immediate return to the Championship seems unlikely for Saints this time around, but it’s hard to believe that they will still be in the drop-zone at the end of the season.
These two clubs are just a couple of examples of the many big sides who have taken a tumble down the divisions in recent seasons and whilst it is great to see some new and often smaller sides climbing the football ladder, it is a sad sight to see such big names falling on harder times. Fans of lower league clubs will relish hosting the big boys and indeed their days out at a famous sporting arena, but it is great to see clubs who have fallen on hard times starting to turn the corner. Promotion will probably be a step too far for Southampton and is by no means a guarantee for Norwich, but both clubs should be back in the Championship, if not higher, sooner rather than later.