Yorkshire looks to rise again
FFT.com contributor Toby Higgins thinks it could be a lovely spring in the White Rose garden...
The year is 1485. Henry VII is crowned King, England are booed off after another disappointing result, and the War of the Roses ends with a famous Lancashire victory.
Shoot forward some 525 years. David Cameron leads Parliament, England are booed off after another disappointing result, and Lancashire are still thrashing Yorkshire, but rather than the killing field, this time itÃ¢ÂÂs the football pitch.
By the old county boundaries, Lancashire has eight teams in this season's top flight, while its next-door neighbour Yorkshire has none. The league table tells two stories: one of a county blinded by its own moderate success, and another which managed its money effectively.
In 1999-2000, the balance of power was very different. The counties had three teams each in the Premier League Ã¢ÂÂ Leeds, Bradford and Sheffield Wednesday on one side of the Pennines, Manchester United, Liverpool and Everton on the other. And you'll note that all those Red Rose sides played in cities which haven't always regarded themselves as particularly Lancastrian.
O'ervaulting ambition: Bradford sign Collymore
Fast-forward a decade and things looked very different. Lancashire seems a permanent top-flight fixture Ã¢ÂÂ Bolton and Blackburn are about to start their 10th successive Premier League campaign, Wigan joined not long after, and for every relegated Burnley there's a promoted Blackpool.
By contrast, 2009-2010 was surely one of the worst for Yorkshire football. Besides East Riding outpost Hull ingloriously ending a two-year top flight stay, the combined counties' highest finisher, Sheffield United, came 28th out of the 92 in the top four divisions, with Doncaster finishing 12th in the Championship. (Donny finished 12th in Ã¢ÂÂ99-00 too Ã¢ÂÂ but that was in the Conference.)
The way Yorkshire clubs have cascaded down the leagues is largely down to financial mismanagement, showcased by Leeds United. Their plight has proved to be a godsend to chairmen up and down the league, who found wanting to "avoid another Leeds" an acceptable explanation for anything that fans complained about.
Meanwhile the smaller top flight clubs in Lancashire, like Bolton and Wigan, have had careful investment and wise managerial choices.
But Bradford got it wrong too - having been caught out spending big at a time when the market was particularly crazy (see Leeds' ÃÂ£7m signing of Seth Johnson). And Huddersfield, who according to their fans had the "best team for 30 years" in 2000, suffered through overambitious spending.
"Here Seth, let me give you my pen"
Barnsley and Doncaster have found a level which fairly reflects two sides who are probably at full potential, but the giddy days of the Premier League are becoming a distant memory for the Sheffield teams Ã¢ÂÂ particularly cash-strapped Wednesday, who now reside two divisions away from the elite. And poor old Halifax, who 10 years ago faced Blackpool as equals, will start the season in the seventh-tier Evo-stik Premier Division.
Change, though, is in the air. Leeds' promotion back to the Championship has renewed hope of another shot at the big time, as did Huddersfield's emphatic 3-0 opening-day win at Notts County. Former England manager (well, sort of) Peter Taylor is the man asked to lift Bradford from the depths Ã¢ÂÂ which they will achieve if they play as well as they did in knocking Nottingham Forest out of the Carling Cup. In South Yorkshire, Rotherham and both Sheffields will expect to top their respective trees too.
It's not inconceivable that a Yorkshire side could be promoted from every division this season, and better still for the region, that no Yorkshire teams will be relegated.
A glance across at Lancashire, though, and there are one or two worried faces. Blackburn, Wigan, Bolton and Blackpool will all be unsurprised to finish in the bottom half, while the Merseyside clubs both finished down on the previous season in seventh and eighth. Even the imperious Manchester United, who failed to finish top for the first time in four seasons, could slip out of the top two this time around.
Lancashire may have won the War of the Roses, but on the pitch, Yorkshire are finally starting to fight back.