Leeds bigger than PL newcomers? Does size matter when it comes to football clubs?

As Arsenal and Liverpool fans bicker over which club is best for Luis Suarez, what about the sleeping giants like Leeds United and Sheffield Wednesday, asks Robert Critchley. How do you define a 'big club?'

It is a rhetorical question, but how does one define the size of a football club? The number of major trophies that they have won? The size of their ground or their average attendance? Their wage bill, turnover or the amount of profit they make?

Their position in the league pyramid perhaps? That would make Manchester United the biggest side in the Country and League Two newcomers Newport County AFC the smallest.

A reasonable assumption, but which clubs truly are languishing below where they believe they should be, which are punching above their weight and which teams have now found their natural level and reside in a league position that matches their perceived status.

British sports fans in general love the idea of an underdog, and seeing Yeovil Town and Bournemouth in the Championship will bring great cheer to many. While most will want The Glovers and the Cherries to be as competitive as possible, few will believe they are playing at their natural level.

At the other end of the scale, Leeds United and Sheffield Wednesday boast grounds which hold 30,000 more people than the stadiums of the newly promoted minnows. Both Yorkshire giants have had years of financial mismanagement, tumbled into the third tier of English football and are now emerging again as strong candidates to stage at least a push for the play offs in the hope of making it back to the top tier.

Is the natural level for clubs such as Leeds and Wednesday to be playing at the Premier League though? Do they fit more naturally in the Premier League than, for example Stoke City, West Bromwich Albion or Norwich City who have passed them in the opposite direction.

The newly promoted sides such as Hull, Crystal Palace and even Cardiff, despite large sums of cash being invested on their team will all do well to avoid going straight back down, and whatever way you look at it are not seen as big clubs. What would they have to do to change this perception?

Hull's average attendance of 17,000 last season was only 4,000 shorter than Leeds average, but the Elland Road based club would surely go to capacity should they return to the top level.

The addition of Leeds and Wednesday would make the Premier League more attractive, and produce bigger games then any of the three promoted sides this who came up this year, and this is what the paying public want to see. There is no doubt Palace will capture a few hearts, and Ian Holloway will be a media darling but a trip to Selhurst will be seen as a novelty, rather than a huge game.

Sheffield United and Wolves will ply their trade in the third tier of the pyramid this coming season, and will be desperate to escape. Two of the oldest clubs in the world, Preston and Notts County are there with them, but even with their history, the way football currently is means that their tradition will be restricted to the lower leagues.

Wolves versus Preston would have been a huge game in days gone by, and both sides would feel that they should be gracing a higher stage.

It does not work like this though. Tradition and following have no meaning. The biggest clubs are the ones who get the results on the pitch. Of course, every club will have its limit. Will the likes of Blackburn Rovers come from nowhere to win the league anytime soon? It’s doubtful. Where does that Premier League triumph leave Blackburn in the grand scheme of things? Is the Championship their natural level?

If the Premier League executive committee had the choice, who would be the twenty teams they would chose to grace their competition?

Leeds, the Sheffield sides, Nottingham Forest and Ipswich Town would feature highly on any list, but five or six current Premier League clubs could struggle to be classed as part of being one of the Twenty biggest sides in the country.

Where, therefore is the natural level for your club and what gives the perception of one club being bigger than another?

image: © Chris Robertshaw

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