In the year of my ninth birthday I became interested in English football, acquired an album and began to fill it with photos of First Division footballers that were sold with chewing gum, and swapped by boys; we didn’t get to see the matches or goals in our single-channel television world, but that didn’t seem to matter. The season was 1969–70, and 45 years later I can still name all 22 clubs in alphabetical order: Arsenal, Burnley, Chelsea, Coventry City, Crystal Palace, Derby County, Everton, Ipswich Town, Leeds United, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, Newcastle United, Nottingham Forest, Sheffield Wednesday, Southampton, Stoke City, Sunderland, Tottenham Hotspur, West Bromwich Albion, West Ham United, Wolverhampton Wanderers.
I chose to follow Arsenal; they finished just 12th that season but would win the League + Cup double next time out.
Surprisingly little has changed in terms of the top-division clubs in 45 years. Fifteen of the 22 listed above are now in the 20-club Premier League. Of the seven that aren’t, six – Derby, Ipswich, Wolves, Forest, Leeds and Sheffield Wednesday – are, as I write, in the top half of what is effectively the second division. Only Coventry are outside the top two divisions: in fact they are in danger of slipping further.
So, as far as English football goes, it’s pretty much a case of plus ça change, plus c’est la meme chose.