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The harsh reality of the English football pyramid

Many view the EFL as the nexus of 'proper' English Football. Free somewhat from the money-orientated extravaganza of the Premier League which revolves around international lure and TV deals. Whilst the EFL has partially moulded into the modern day concept of football, it is still widely conceived as the archetype of domestic football, almost as a separate entity to the top flight.

Since its enactment in 1992, many EFL clubs have dreamed of reaching the dream land of the first division, some have risen through the ranks, Oldham spring immediately to mind. But, in reality, it is a tremendously demanding endeavour. What has been rare, is a small club achieving successive promotions up the tiers like Luton Town have remarkably done. Without reaching the pinnacle of English football, as of now, The Hatters delivered back-to-back promotions to the Championship between 2017-2019 after being in the then Conference Premier (now National League) in 2014.

Their success is largely unprecedented, to go form the fifth tier to the second in five years is incredible and serves as a testament to the players and managers. But the reason that we have never seen the likes before is because it is so hard to do. This piece will delve into the disparity within the tier system of English Football in terms of restraining teams from achieving consecutive promotions and how the financial haven of the Premier League filters down through the EFL.

As the game has grown to a global market, money has exponentially rocketed in the 21st century in terms of transfers and wages. In 1905, Alfie Common was transferred to Middlesbrough from Sunderland for a record £1000. In 2017, Neymar went to PSG from Barcelona for around 222 million euros. This encompasses how far the game has come.

There appears to be a quality gap between the metaphorical attic of the EFL and the cellar of the Premier League. Clubs like West Brom, Norwich, Fulham, Bournemouth fall into the 'yo-yo club' genre, whilst Aston Villa and Leeds have notably established themselves as safe top flight clubs after Championship promotions in the last few years. This exemplifies the difficulty of crossing that bridge between top-end Championship club and secure Premier League outfit.

The recurring problem that the 'yo-yo' teams have found themselves in is their inability to cling onto the coattails of Premier League football whilst dominating the Championship. But even then, the Championship offers a lucrative ideal to those more middle Championship sides who could go on a run at the end of the season and end up in the playoffs, three games form the Premier league.

That is why so many fans love the EFL, with its twists and turns and drama, anyone can beat anyone on their day despite the seeming superiority of those aforementioned top clubs. This theory is evident as you descend into League One and Two. The 46 league games are a slog, but it enables an opportunity to turn things around and turn a relegation scrap into a playoff push.

As transfer spending has increased, this has had a knock-on effect down the tiers as by product deals feed the money down to the lower tiers. For example, if a Championship player is bought by a Premier League club for a lump sum, the Championship team then has the capital to make other signings as reinforcements. They may sign a promising young talent from League One and so on. The process filters down and, as a result, all EFL clubs benefit in some way. Players with a high ceiling are typically snatched up by clubs higher up the pyramid.

This past January, Wycombe star Anis Mehmeti went to Bristol City whilst Burton Albion signed National League side Dagenham & Redbridge's star striker Josh Walker, which has had a detrimental impact on that team. But the benefits of having talented players is that they normally receive a decent amount for that player, which can then be utilised to add depth.

The loan system is also a beneficial format for clubs to expend players to receive game time, whereas the clubs receiving players on loan have an extra squad member. Idris El Mizouni has been paramount for Leyton Orient in their title run this campaign, a man who joined on loan from Ipswich in the summer, epitomising how loans benefit all parties involved when successful.

But as the beautiful game becomes more and more revolved around who has the most money, the core values of football may be lost. Niall Couper, the CEO of Fair Game, deemed that "the Championship has become a casino and at stake are the history and traditions of our great clubs." The consequence of losing parachute payments after failing to regain top flight status has greatly impacted some Championship clubs. In addition, clubs who have pushed hard financially to gain promotion but have been unsuccessful are found to be worse off in the seasons that follow.

A recent Athletic article about financial sustainability sought out a model that places Middlesbrough and QPR at the bottom of the table in relation to club sustainability and longevity. Because the two had tried so desperately to go out on a limb to get promoted but not doing so, they are now in a much worse position. QPR, despite starting the season so well, have slipped to 17th, sacking Neil Critchley after one win in 12 games in charge.

Moving down into the transition between the second, third and fourth tiers, the outcomes are not as drastic because of the lessened disparity between the leagues in comparison the difference that the premiership makes on income. Although, Sky Sports have elevated their EFL coverage in recent years, but the focus remains mainly on Championship football, with the odd league one and two game sprinkled in. Rotherham and Sheffield Wednesday are perhaps the most prominent clubs in the field of flippant relegations and promotions between the Championship and League One.

Plymouth, who were in League Two a couple of seasons ago, are now pushing for promotion in to the second tier, being another ambassador for quick promotion success. Highlighting how it is possible to make a leap up the pyramid in a short period of time. But, for the majority, clubs are stuck in a vicious cycle of mediocrity or unsustained promotions, the overarching message emanating from the EFL.

To summarise, the harsh reality lies where EFL clubs are either financially incapable of signing their way up the football pyramid, or are stuck in a transitional universe where they are in a division inbetween leagues on their own, with jubilation one May, followed by devastation 12 months later.

The solution to the matter is a grey area. Should changes be made? Is the system unfair? Is it just the way it is? All valid questions from fans, however, the product that is there for entertainment and agony, from a fans perspective, is there to be endured as an annual rollercoaster from beginning to end...

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