One of the truly exciting things missing in American sports is the fear of relegation. For those not familiar, many of the world’s soccer leagues have multiple divisions which change slightly each year. The force behind these changes is finishing position within the league. The best teams from the lower division move up, called promotion, and the worst teams in the higher division move down, called relegation. It would be like the three best AAA baseball teams replacing the worst three MLB teams each season, although there really is no truly fair comparison in American sports due to minor league affiliations and things of that nature. So while American leagues have to worry about teams tanking to get better draft picks, European soccer teams fight for their lives to scrape up whatever wins they need to stay out of the bottom three. It is a much more exciting system and there is no way you can argue otherwise.
What this often leads to is teams finishing near the bottom of the league celebrating like they won a championship if they narrowly avoid relegation. Tune into the Premier League’s final match day next Sunday and you will certainly see players on terrible teams treating a draw like a Super Bowl victory. It’s truly fascinating stuff. Well, one team got to celebrate a few days early this year. Huddersfield Town A.F.C., located in a town of around just 150,000 people, tied Chelsea, the biggest team in London, in Chelsea’s home stadium of Stamford Bridge. In the Premier League, a draw is worth one point in the standings. This lone point secured Huddersfield’s seventeenth place finish, meaning they will not be in the bottom three come Sunday. And this wasn’t a Chelsea team that was on cruise control, either. Chelsea was fighting for a top-four finish, an extremely coveted position in the Premier League due to the Champions League spot that accompanies it. Chelsea had everything to play for, and tiny Huddersfield still got their point.
This would typically be a nice underdog story, but it gets much, much better (you didn’t think I’d write an article about it otherwise, right?) Huddersfield was scheduled to fly back home after the match. They were ready to take their beating from Chelsea, get home quickly, and prepare for a battle for their Premier League lives on Sunday. Turns out, however, that a flight is no way to celebrate a guaranteed seventeenth place finish. Huddersfield, before even leaving the stadium, began having crates (yes, crates, not cases) of beer delivered to the locker room. Then, instead of boarding that plane, the players boarded a coach for a four-hour party bus trip back to their stadium. Manager David Wagner, when asked about the change in plans, stated it was so that they could drink “more than one.” There is no way that that bus was not home to one of the greatest parties that took place on the planet today. Again, this is a team that finished seventeenth in a league of twenty teams and didn’t even win the game.
American sports could really learn something from this. Instead of the Grizzlies, Hawks, Mavericks, and Suns racing to the bottom, imagine getting to celebrate your team finishing fourth-to-last in the NBA with the same excitement that the Warriors and Cavs have every year. Adam Silver has spent half of his stint as commish trying to eliminate tanking, yet soccer has had the perfect solution for over 100 years. I know there is no inferior basketball league that could allow this situation to work for us, but it would create an infinitely more exciting system. Most importantly, though, cheers to Huddersfield. Being just a notch above terrible, as opposed to terrible, is a good enough reason to celebrate in my book.
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