Shanks' words

First published in Sport Daily Echo: Photograph of the Author by

In the words of the great Bill Shankly a league season is a marathon not a sprint and now this weekend the finishing line is in sight.

It coincides with the London Marathon on Sunday where rookies and newcomers will all be warned not to go off too quick.

Also, like another great sporting date on the calendar, the Grand National, which was held recently, even a decent start and getting over most of the hurdles does not mean teams will not falter in the final furlong.

In the Premier League for example, Arsenal faded in the finishing stretch to leave two of the four original favourites to battle it out – Chelsea and Manchester United.

The all important fourth place which Liverpool will probably have given up by not keeping up with the pace is being fought for by three other teams, one of which is Tottenham who enabled Manchester United to get back in the race by doing so well to beat Arsenal and Chelsea in successive games after their surprising loss to Portsmouth in the FA Cup semi-final.

GRUMPY Manchester City may yet prove that money can buy things while Martin O’Neill, who seems to be getting more grumpy as he gets older, has had an extremely good run with Aston Villa since losing 7-1 at Chelsea and cannot be discounted.

The other thing which seems to happen more now than the old days is managers moving around much sooner than they used to.

It’s more or less taken for granted that teams getting relegated are more likely to change their manager yet in the Premiership you have a strange situation where Avram Grant is already relegated but has been granted legendary status at Portsmouth because of his cup exploits and the fact he has kept strong team spirit while all around them seems to be falling to bits.

I think everyone in the game was staggered to hear about the size of the debt at Portsmouth and I’m sure the local businesses and tradesmen who will probably not see a fraction of the money owed to them will be as staggered as me to see £9m plus is owed to agents with one in particular due more than £2m for one player’s transfer.

On the plus side of things locally we have had this fantastic effort by Alan Pardew and his team to catch up after everyone else in the race was given a ten-point start.

While it may still be possible it would seem they will be pipped at the post but will have given everybody a good ride for their money and will get nothing but applause at the end of it all.

Further down the coast Gus Poyet in his first managerial job has done well to get Brighton up the table while young Eddie Howe at Bournemouth must surely be in the running for one of the manager of the year awards for what he has achieved at a club suffering severe financial problems to take them to almost certain promotion.

MAFIA The Championship has been dominated by Newcastle where I obviously have an interest.

The cockney mafia were derided by the passionate supporters when they didn’t ride into town but seemed to try to control everything from London leading to such happenings as Kevin Keegan walking out after players were moved in and out without him being consulted.

But gradually with Chris Hughton being promoted to manager things settled down, results have been brilliant and they will probably finish with 100 points having lost only four games so far this season.

Even Mr Ashley, the London owner, has started to win the fans over as they realised he has put so much money into the club but for him to really pass the test they will expect him to back the manager and bring more players in of Premiership class before the beginning of next season.

It should be remembered that Newcastle have the third biggest ground in the country, holding 52,000, which is more or less guaranteed to sell out every game in the big league and let’s hope that the owners have learned their lesson, unless of course they fall into the category of the Liverpool owners who have made it obvious now they only invested to make more money and get out.

INDUSTRY That is a big problem where rich owners are welcomed at the beginning but they have got to be aware of the traditions of the game when it comes to the supporters – the owners may view it as an industry but the man on the terrace is still only interested in following his team with a great passion and it needs to be hoped that some of that rubs off.

While still in the Championship, West Bromwich are the other team already promoted and it’s an amazing fact that in the last eight years they have been promoted four times now and relegated three.

I often wondered why their supporters called out ‘boing boing’ and I assume it is because of their jack in the box reputation. On the other hand is it a cunning move by their directors when we realise that any team getting promoted now is more or less guaranteed £40m in their first season as a minimum and if relegated the parachute payment is now £16m for each of two seasons.

That means no matter what happens West Bromwich can look ahead to £72m.

I suppose going up and down every other season doesn’t seem so bad from a business point of view but must make the supporters get a bit dizzy.

Sadly for me at the other end of the table Sheffield Wednesday, one of my old clubs, is in danger of relegation and anyone knowing that in the magnificent Hillsborough will be very sad if that happens as they, like many other clubs, look for investment.

Down the road at Leeds United, Mr Ken Bates, for many years chairman at Chelsea, will be desperate to get back with the big boys and while they recently had a bad run they are at present in a good looking position but if they look over their shoulders there are others that could catch them up.

It all adds up to an exciting end to the season.

Cynics say the quality of the top football is not as good because we have not got teams in the last four of the Champions League.

Others could well say it has been one of the most exciting Premiership seasons where going into the finishing straight there is still lots to be decided and the race will go right to the last day.

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