The perfect Premier League: Why we need Leeds and Norwich back in the big-time

There was a recent all-too-brief trend on Twitter that saw fans compile their perfect Premier League table and this is brought up now, after the event, because presently the Championship is topped by Leeds United and Norwich City, two clubs who featured prominently in these fantasy top flights and duked out a thrilling clash on Saturday.

Three more popular choices – Aston Villa, Nottingham Forest, and QPR – are also currently in contention to return to the promised land which means that come August we might be three closer to having our dream twenty, a list that varies from person to person but really not to any great extent.

We pretty much all want Leeds back for example and this despite the club retaining a hated status across rival fan-bases even in extended exile. Forest too was included virtually across the board on Twitter and they are hardly the darlings of the over-forties nor a ‘big club’ in 2019.

The City ground - general

Breaking down the reasoning behind these selections reveals four overriding factors shared by one and all. Firstly there is a club’s fan-base to consider; the bigger the better. Then its stature is important with history playing a big part too. Lastly – and perhaps most obviously – the popularity or unpopularity of the club in question is key and interestingly either extreme works. Clubs that prompt mild apathy have no place here. This is a dream Premier League remember.

You may have noticed that only three reasons have so far been given. Don’t worry, we’ll get to the fourth very soon but before we do let’s stay with Leeds United and compare them to, say, Huddersfield Town to illustrate how the other factors come to the fore.

The Terriers are undoubtedly a popular club, with a large number of us admiring how they’ve managed to established themselves among the elite in recent seasons. Alas, in this instance unpopularity trumps popularity and their Yorkshire rivals massively win out. This can best be explained by the posing of a simple question: Who would you rather your club face this weekend? Huddersfield or Leeds? Which fixture would elicit the most enthusiasm?

Leeds United manager Marcelo Bielsa crouches down during win against Hull

Most would surely plump for the Elland Road giants and not only for the passionate antagonism implied. Stature comes into it also, with Leeds possessing a greater standing than Huddersfield even if the latter boasts an illustrious and proud history of its own.

Rightly or wrongly, Leeds are regarded as being a ‘proper’ club with ‘proper’ fans. Huddersfield are too, only less so. So a fan-base scores highly and history does too but pales in importance to stature. Being widely disliked meanwhile only helps a club’s cause.

Yet all of this is nothing to nostalgia, the fourth and most meaningful criterion when compiling a perfect Premier League. Let’s be honest, that’s why Norwich are so prominent and I really do mean prominent: having ploughed through so many of these lists I can safely say that the Canaries featured in every single one.

Darren Huckerby protects the ball from Hayden Mullins

Is their widespread inclusion due to their fan-base? Of course not: Norwich have a mainly localised set of supporters who are perfectly harmless and keep themselves to themselves when not barracking Ipswich. Is it their stature then? Again, that’s a definitive no. With all due respect the East Anglia club cede to most in this regard and the same goes for their historic achievements that amount to two League Cups.

What Norwich does have going for it however, crucially, is that they were one of the founding members of the new, shiny Premier League and what’s more they have yo-yoed up and down since 1992. This means they were likely involved at the highest echelon when the person who compiled each list was a child; when they would stay up to watch Match of the Day in their pyjamas and it would be a magical world. When, in short, football was so very special.

A vote for Norwich City then is a vote for pure nostalgia.

That certainly explains their presence below, in my own personal top twenty; an assortment of clubs so utopian I would happily scrap relegation and see them fight among themselves forever more.

Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham

The top six is sacrosanct and rightly so, with their huge supporter base and inherent grudges. Take away any of this sextet and the Premier League would be a little more rational and reasonable. Who wants that?

Everton 

Unlucky not to be grouped with the automatic six, the Toffees are top flight mainstays with a fan-base as chippy as they are loyal. A credit to the division.

Newcastle United

Never less than a soap opera Newcastle’s bestowment of entertainment doesn’t begin and end with their off-the-pitch travails. On it few clubs have given more classic games and unforgettable moments. Throw in their legion of fans too and it’s a no-brainer.

Alan Shearer celebrates scoring for Newcastle

Portsmouth

A toss-up between Pompey and Southampton as sadly there’s no room for them both. The inhabitants of Fratton Park win out because – in the best possible sense – they are tremendously mad.

Aston Villa

The Holte End. Three or four captivating – and at times underachieving – sides since the early nineties. A central location that makes it manageable to get to no matter where you live. Villa are wasted in the Championship.

Norwich City

Third place finishers in the inaugural Premier League campaign the Canaries soon after mined the leagues below, only surfacing a handful of occasions since. Who can’t be enamoured however by their unerring ability to get thrashed out of sight by the big guns only to then show resilience the following week. Then there’s the kits which oscillate between gorgeous and minging.

In fact the only consistent thing about them is a stoic insistence on playing decent football regardless of manager. That will do for me.

Fulham

One of the most beautiful grounds in the world and a strong contender for the most likeable London club.

West Ham United

Entrenched in local pride the Hammers are the very definition of a ‘proper’ club. Also score bonus points for so often taking great delight in bloodying the nose of the establishment.

Brighton and Hove Albion

You can’t have a vibrant and absorbing Premier League without a south coast derby and once again the Saints narrowly miss out. This time it’s by virtue of location, with an away day – or more accurately an away weekend – to Brighton always a highlight on the calendar.

Glenn Murray celebrates scoring for Brighton (2)

Leeds United

On spying *cough* my rival colours a supporter outside Elland Road recently drenched me in expletives despite being old enough to be my great-great-granddad. Never change Leeds, and hurry back. We’ve missed you.

Coventry City

Residents of the top division for 35 consecutive years the Sky Blues deserve to be here on merit. That’s before we get to the fans and the despicable treatment they’ve endured courtesy of owners you wouldn’t wish on a worst enemy. The Coventry faithful warrant inclusion. They’ve earned it the hard way.

Nottingham Forest

The traditionalists’ choice and let’s face it there is always room for sentiment when it involves a two-time European Cup winner.

Bristol City

Admittedly a left-field pick but why waste the unique opportunity of creating a brand new Premier league model without finally giving the south-west the big club it justifies?

QPR

A compact, electrifying ground that evokes an elaborate Subbuteo set-up plus a compendium of flawed but occasionally brilliant sides. That equals full membership. Additionally, any side supported by Nick Cave and Pete Doherty is hard to omit.

Sheffield Wednesday

Ace fans who turn up en masse no matter the division. The Owls have also graced us with some fantastic ballers, particularly in the Chris Waddle era. A welcome addition.

Article title: The perfect Premier League: Why we need Leeds and Norwich back in the big-time

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