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Nothing worse than relegation from the top flight
3:00pm Wednesday 7th May 2014 in Sport
One of the proudest aspects of my career was playing Premier League football with some of the best players of my generation.
The high of being a top-flight player was like no other, as was the low of no longer being in that company.
I have been relegated from the Premier League twice, firstly with Leeds United in 2004 and again with Reading in 2007.
Dropping out of the best league in the world was the worst feeling I have experienced as a footballer.
They are two of the dark spots on my otherwise proud career. No player wants to be associated with defeat or failure and definitely not remembered for it.
I know exactly how the players of Cardiff and Fulham are feeling because I’ve been there.
One of things in football I believe to be true is that the league table never lies and at the end of the season you have got what you deserve.
The title race is not yet concluded, but it has consistently been between the best three teams – Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City.
Down at the bottom, there has been the same sort of consistency about the teams fighting the drop, with two of them already losing the battle.
At Leeds in the 2003-4 season, as a collection of players we were not good enough over the course of the season. We played some good games and won some matches, which gave us hope, but they were false dawns as inconsistency was our Achilles heel.
We had some very good players in our squad, including Alan Smith, Dominic Matteo, James Milner and Paul Robinson, but as a team we were nowhere near good enough and eventually paid the price.
At Reading in 2007-8, it was a case of ‘second season syndrome’ but again it was down to not being good enough over 38 games.
Good players like Steve Sidwell, Kevin Doyle, Stephen Hunt and Shane Long were in the squad, but as a collective unit we failed to produce far too often.
The pressure of suddenly needing a win, as opposed to wanting to win, is so different and is a very heavy weight to carry out on to the pitch.
That’s why the strong stay up and the weak go down, it’s as simple as that. The feeling you get when you know you have been relegated is like no other – it’s numbing, you feel sick in your stomach, hurt in your heart and your head’s spinning.
I remember finishing the last game of the season at Elland Road knowing we been relegated and being in my own world sitting out there on the pitch.
It didn’t seem like there were 34,000 people inside a packed stadium, it was just me and my thoughts. The worst thing about relegation is that the following season is a constant reminder about your failings of the previous campaign. However much you try to be positive and move on, you have constant reminders, most notably in the new fixture list.
There is one more Premier League relegation to be decided this season and there will be cheers for one set of players and tears for another. Good luck to them all – but I wouldn’t want to be in any of their boots.
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