This time last year, the Newcastle Evening Chronicle brought widespread mirth and mockery upon our black-and-white neighbours by suggesting the Magpies’ disappointment in dropping into the Championship was misplaced because the Toon had actually landed in the ‘place to be’.
The Chronicle foretold that English football’s second-tier being awash with big clubs, historical trophy winners and sides which attract decent crowds, meant Newcastle’s arrival in the Championship would swell the league’s status still further.
Sunderland boss Simon Grayson has been talking about this very trend today as the Black Cats take their place amongst the faded giants in the second-tier. So how will this Dwarfication affect us?
The Geordie newspaper predicted that the Magpies’ presence in the league would conclude a return to the glory days of yore for the old Second Division that had not been seen since before the formation of the Premier League.
Dwarfication was the term coined to describe the expansion of the Championship and a continued evolution of it becoming one of Europe’s premier leagues. The evidence for this continues to include the fact that attendances in England’s second-tier are now at a level only beaten by the Premier League, the Bundesliga and La Liga whilst club revenues in the division continue to grow.
And it was a reasoned argument - up to a point. The Championship is indeed home to some ‘big’ clubs and the trickle-down effect of the monies from the Premier League boom have ensured a minor renaissance down here in the former Division Two.
It’s just well - with the Mags being the Mags and the Newcastle Chronicle being the voice of the Toon - they took it to mean the glory of relegation was the best thing that could have happened to them and their presence within the Championship would be the best thing that could have happened to the league. But this madness resides deep within Magpie DNA and can be little helped.
But the size of the clubs in the second-tier is a continued theme which Simon Grayson has hinted at in comments published in the local press this morning. The Black Cats boss told the Sunderland Echo:
The English leagues are arguably the biggest in Europe, if not the world, and the Premier League attracts the big stars and before you know it, players that would be playing regularly in the Premier League ten years ago are having to drop down into the Championship to make a career in the game and that is making the Championship more successful and interesting and tougher to get out of.
Indeed, it’s all starting to sound as if Dwarfication is actually an ongoing phenomenon and not one which was solely restricted to the Newcastle-effect the Championship experienced last term, as the Sunderland boss explains further:
You have former European Cup winners in this division and teams that have been around the top end of the Premier League at times.
Aston Villa, Nottingham Forest, Leeds, Ipswich and Derby County all have impressive history in European competitions and previous title winners litter the Championship. Decent sized clubs with top-flight pedigree make up the numbers with the likes of Wolves and Sheffield Wednesday. Then are the also-rans in the big boy stakes like Preston and Middlesbrough.
Yet the biggest single difference between Sunderland and Newcastle’s recent descents into the Championship remains the fact that us Mackems don’t feel the need to inform the rest of our second-tier peers that we’re doing them a favour just by being down here amongst them.
And history counts for nothing much nowadays. When the likes of Burnley, Bournemouth, Brighton and Huddersfield are in the Premier League, faded boasts of historical big club status or large fan bases are becoming thinner and thinner as the top-flight cash cow continues to transform former ‘tin-pot’ outfits who make it into the big division.
As Grayson says:
the names and what they have done in the past are irrelevant. It is about the present and what you want to achieve now.
What exactly Sunderland ‘want to achieve now’ is another debate however. With a patently meagre budget and an apparent strategy of flogging any player with value and replacing them with cheaper, promotion-hopes are a seemingly a distinct second-placed policy behind saving and debt-reduction.
Stabilising the club as a mid-table Championship concern at worst appears to be the plan - with a manager with mid-table Championship pedigree at the helm. Any further aspiration for Sunderland this season extends merely to a ‘hope for the best’ added-extra for the Black Cats’ hierarchy.
Disappointing perhaps, or merely pragmatic realism? Whatever the ‘plan’, Dwarfication will affect Sunderland in a wholly different manner to the way it played out upon big-spending Newcastle last season.