I first went to Upton Park in the 1958-59 season. That means that this is my 59th season of actively supporting the team. Of the 58 completed seasons, 49 have been spent in the top flight of English football, and just 9 in the second tier. I have seen us relegated five times and then promoted back five times.
We’ve always had a reputation for coming down with the Christmas decorations. So I thought I’d conduct some research to ascertain whether this is a fact or a myth. Looking at those 49 seasons at the top table I found that on 22 occasions we finished the season in a lower position than we held on Christmas Day. And 22 times we actually finished up in a higher position at the end than we were at Christmas. Five times we ended up in exactly the same position. So in reality, on average the second half of the season has been equally as good as the first.
It is true that in the 1960s and 1980s the trend was to fall in the league table after Christmas more often than not. But since 1993-94, our first season in the newly formed Premier League, we have been in the top flight for 20 seasons, and in that time we have only finished the season in a lower position than we were at Christmas on three occasions. In 1993-94 we dropped from 11th to 13th, in 2000-01 we fell from 10th to 15th, and the biggest fall was in 2014-15 when in Big Sam’s final season we went from 4th at Christmas to finish 12th. In every other year we have either retained or improved our position in the second half. So apart from Big Sam’s swansong, we have never fallen to a lower position at the end of the season than we held at Christmas in our last 12 seasons in the top flight.
Our Christmas Day position this year is 13th. Our average finishing position in the 49 seasons in the top division in my lifetime is 13th. Of course 3rd was our best performance of all in 1985-86. That season we were 3rd at Christmas too. And on the five occasions when we were relegated, our positions on Christmas Day were 21, 20, 18, 20, 20. So if history (especially recent history) is anything to go by, what is there to worry about?
Of course we have played indifferently in quite a few games this season. But our five 1-0 victories, and four draws, leave us on 19 points from 17 games. It has not been a good season, especially compared to the last one. Our manager and the players still have a lot of work to do to ensure that we keep our distance from the relegation places, and hopefully push on upwards towards the top half of the table. We must stop throwing away points when we are leading in games too. The 12 points we have dropped from leading positions, would have seen us in 5th place in the table if we had held on to the lead in those matches.
It’s not all doom and gloom as some articles in the media would suggest. It hasn’t been the best, but trust me we’ve been here before. We’ve never been relegated from this position in the table at Christmas, and it won’t happen this season either. We are only five points behind seventh place in the table, which is where we finished last season. I’m looking for us to move upwards after Christmas, just as we have done in most seasons in the twenty-first century. The generally held belief that we come down with the Christmas decorations is a false one.