nine of the 20 current top flight sides, including Stoke
In February 1995 I went to watch Mansfield play away at Wigan. We tonked them 4-0 and sang all match. Their pitch was 60% sand and some of our lot had improvised a song about donkeys on the beach.
It was bitterly cold, their ground at the time seemed to be largely built of wood and the wind whipped not just around but actually through it. It seemed like there were fewer than 1000 home fans of whom we barely heard a peep out of all match and they started leaving 15 minutes from time. As we left, Annie Lennox’s “Walking on Broken Glass” coming over the PA for some reason, I thought (and you’ll have to bear in mind here that I support Mansfield Town, one of the least successful and least affectionately thought-of teams in England, a club whose colours, even in Mansfield itself, it’s rare to see anyone wearing) “I can’t imagine how miserable it must be to support this lot”.
Less than two weeks later Dave Whelan bought the club and just over a decade later they were playing in the Premier League. We were still in the fourth tier- by 2013 they were lifting the FA Cup and we were in the fucking Conference.
English football’s most proud and unique feature if you ask me isn’t the Premier League, it’s the fact that we have a further three, almost four, fully-professional, national divisions with generous numbers of clubs moving between them each summer. Looking at the other big five European leagues, once you get down to the third and fourth tiers they’re either regional, amateur, stuffed with the B teams of the top flight sides or all three. Most, even the semi-utopian Bundesliga, have only a few going up and down each year.
For a long time it’s felt like the Championship at least is an insane bubble waiting to burst (reading that article Moose links to referring to how unlikely Wigan’s fan base is to ever increase feels like reading foreign newspaper articles incredulous at the popularity of Brexit) and it’s hard not to feel like the dissolution of Bury was the start of the end of this. With the ramifications of the virus it could be happening much sooner than we think.