The final day of the 2011/12 Premier League season was the most dramatic there has ever been and arguably the most dramatic there will ever be. Although two of the teams to be relegated had already been decided, everyone’s eyes were on the one prize more valuable than survival — the Premier League title.
Having won the Premier League a record 12 times, with no other team managing more than a quarter of that number, Manchester United faced the traumatic situation of losing their crown to their bitter rivals Manchester City. Ultimately that is exactly what happened, with scenes of jubilation from both teams at the Etihad Stadium after City’s opponents QPR narrowly avoided relegation at the expense of Bolton Wanderers.
With Blackburn Rovers also condemned to the drop, survival specialists Wigan Athletic found themselves as one of only five North West teams left in the top division, along with newly crowned champions Man City and Premier League ever-presents Man United, Everton and Liverpool. There was the possibility of them being joined by Blackpool until the Seasiders were defeated by West Ham in the play-off final at Wembley. This was similar to the relegation battle between QPR and Bolton in that the London team outlasted their North Western opponents.
As well as Man United dominating the Premier League since its inception in 1992, there has been an interesting trend in recent years which has seen the North West of England being home to more top flight teams than any other region. Since Wigan came up in 2005, the club has refused to go down year after year, meaning that the North West has continued to house at least seven Premier League teams each season. With sporadic appearances from Burnley and Blackpool, there have even been occasions when this number has reached eight, just two shy of half the teams in the league.
For the upcoming 2012/13 season however, the North West will lay claim to only five top flight teams. Last season’s Premier League contained the same number of teams from the whole of Southern England, who were coincidentally all from London. In contrast to Southern England, however, this will be the first time in over ten years that the North West has only had five teams in the top division. The last time was back in the 2001/02 season, in which reigning Premier League champions Man City played in the second tier of English football. The season before in 2000/01 was the last time there were less, when Bolton and Blackburn were fighting for promotion to the Premier League. As both teams came up, this was the last time the clubs would play in the second division until they were both recently relegated.
Whilst the North West has just lost two of its Premier League teams and failed to gain any from the Championship, it remains a significant region of the country due to the fact that it still houses 25 percent of the teams in the league. However, with there not being an equal split of Premier League teams between the North West and the whole of Southern England in five years, this will be the first time since the 2006/07 season that the South has had more. More significantly, it will be the first time in eight years that London, the capital city of England, has had more teams than North West.
With the rivalry between Bolton and Blackburn now set to take continue in the Championship, the Premier League can instead look forward to 30 London derby matches. Also, nearby Reading make their return to the top flight, where the Royals will surely be looking to cause a few upsets in the capital. Meanwhile, Southampton have seemingly switched roles with their South coast rivals Portsmouth. Only three years ago, the Saints were preparing for life in League One whilst Pompey were relishing what was ultimately the final season of their seven–year stay in the Premier League.
November 2011 saw the Match of the Day team move to a new studio in Salford. With the two Manchester clubs going on to dominate last season’s Premier League, this transfer from London up to the North West was symbolic of a shift in power, as Tottenham, Arsenal and Chelsea ultimately provided little threat to City and United’s battle for the title. And with Spurs about to embark on an uncertain new era under Andre Villas-Boas, the Gunners faced with the possibility of losing Robin van Persie, and the Blues’ FA Cup and Champions League double providing a welcome distraction from their lowest league finish in a decade, just how much of a challenge will London’s heavyweights be able to mount this year?
As the 2012/13 Premier League season approaches, the South certainly has the quantity, but does it have the quality?