I’ve found it impossible to contemplate next season’s campaign without a little voice in the back of my head telling me ‘we’re going to smash this league to pieces and return triumphantly to the Premier League, stronger than ever’.
It’s not that I’m naturally optimistic. Far from it, in fact. It’s just that the catalogue of unfortunate events that ultimately saw Bolton relegated last season (I’m not saying we didn’t deserve to go down, but I am saying we had more than our share of bad luck) surely mean we’re due for an upward turn in fortunes? We weren’t too bad in the final third of the season. Surely we can bounce straight back?
I decided to take a look at some cold, hard facts, rather than relying on my gut feeling. I wish I hadn’t.
Looking at the 12 teams relegated between 2007 and 2011, only four of them bounced back to the Premier League at the first attempt: Birmingham in 08/09; West Brom and Newcastle in 09/10; Nobody at all in 10/11; and West Ham in 11/12.
The ones that failed? Derby (still down); Reading (just back!); West Brom (back); Middlesborough (stranded); Burnley (ha!); Hull (stuck); Portsmouth (League 1); Birmingham (close, but no cigar); and Backpool (closer, but still no cigars).
In short, a return to the Premier League at the first time of asking is a rarity. Two thirds of the clubs with the opportunity to bounce straight back in the last four years have failed to do so. A scrappy penalty shoot-out victory in the Play Off Final would suit me down to the ground, but I know we have the squad to avoid all that and sneak into the top two.
There’s that little voice again. ‘We’re going to smash this league to pieces and return triumphantly to the Premier League, stronger than ever.’