Football’s back. Back with a bang according to some. A lot has already been made of a “crazy” weekend in the Premier League. Proof, according to a hysterical Martin Tyler on SUPER SUNDAY that it’s without doubt, officially, unarguably, the best league in the world. Yes, the Manchester City vs Southampton match was exciting. But was it really that amazing? We all knew Southampton would eventually crumble and it didn’t really take much effort from City for them to do so. Wasn’t it so predictable? Who decided that this obvious league where only a handful of teams can duke it out for the title was the best in the world? Is it even the best in England? I present to you another league for our consideration. Less shiny, less glamorous, less boring. It’s the Championship.
It had me from kick off. By the ninety minute mark I was full on head over heels, hopelessly enamoured, wholly smitten with this new league. It was Charlton’s first match back in the Championship after a three-year absence. My infatuation may come as a surprise to some. After all, I did watch my team concede a 94th minute equalizer. The following five minutes were admittedly gut-wrenching. Yet the anger and despair soon subsided. I realised that my new love and I were in it for the long haul. Charlton were in the Championship. Finally. I had just seen my team play some great football against a team full of good players. I’d had a great day out in a big city and in a big stadium.
That’s one of the Championship’s biggest appeals these days. The weird families at the end of the road that bring the housing prices down have been forced out, in their place are the more reputable, more aspirational and more attractive. Gone are the likes of Stockport, Tranmere, Doncaster, Colchester and other small-time clubs. In their place are teams with big stadiums, real history and recent success. Leeds, Blackburn, Sheffield Wednesday, Forest, and, dare I say it, Charlton.
There’s some pretty good football on offer too. Any football “purists” reading this are probably reeling in horror at the very thought. Well I’m sorry to interrupt your tiki-taka w**kathon but it’s true.
Now that probably sounds immensely disrespectful to the likes of Stockport and Colchester. I can’t really pretend it isn’t. But after three years in League One I have been craving some away days at stadiums capable of holding more than a few thousand. I have been desperate for some players I am familiar with at The Valley.
Forget about the fact that we’re still restricted to 11.2 seconds of highlights on the Football League show, it feels as if we’re back amongst the big-time. I always felt that if The Premiership were to start again from scratch, with the twenty “biggest” clubs in the nation selected for a place, there would be at least ten teams currently in The Championship with a legitimate claim for a place. Charlton and Sheffield Wednesday, for example, were getting gates of well over 20, 000 in League One. Wigan struggle to get half that for a home game against Manchester United. Leeds, Ipswich and Forest probably each have more history of success and silverware than Reading, Fulham, Wigan and Swansea combined. I’m not arguing those teams don’t deserve to be there, they earned their places, but I’m simply demonstrating that the Championship isn’t the home to pathetic backwater amateur teams that many Premiership plastics would have you believe.
And it’s not just the big grounds and big names that make the Championship an exciting league to be a part of. There’s some pretty good football on offer too. Any football “purists” reading this are probably reeling in horror at the very thought. Well I’m sorry to interrupt your tiki-taka w*nkathon but it’s true. It doesn’t matter that there’s not a manager employing a 1-5-2-2-1 every other match. Or twitter’s next wunderkind from the Eredivisie being linked with a move every other week. The Championship is stuffed to the brim with exciting teams and talented players.
The Premiership may have given up on it, but it seems to me that the Championship is still a league for cultivating young talent.
Look at the ease with which players from the Championship have adjusted to life in the Premiership in recent years. Grant Holt continued to bundle in goals for Norwich last season and Leon Britton bossed midfields for Swansea. England internationals Gary Cahill, Phil Jagielka and Kyle Walker were all signed from Championship sides. This Sunday Rickie Lambert and many of his Southampton teammates looked as comfortable at the Etihad as they did two seasons ago in League One at The Valley.
The production line of good talent from The Championship shows no sign of slowing down this season either. For our entertainment and interest this season we have Matt Phillips and Tom Ince at Blackpool. Jack Butland, Ravel Morrison and Nathaniel Redmond at Birmingham. Wilfried Zaha at Crystal Palace. Marvin Sordell at Bolton. Jordan Rhodes at Huddersfield. Liam Bridcutt at Brighton. Marvin Emnes at Middlesbrough. To name a few. If you haven’t heard of them by now get to know them. Have a quick youtube glance. The Premiership may have given up on it, but it seems to me that the Championship is still a league for cultivating young talent.
I’m not about to pretend the quality of football is anywhere near as good as that of the Premiership. But I think it’s fair to say it can be just as entertaining. Of the top six teams last season only West Ham could ever be excused of playing negative football, and even they turned on the style towards the end of the season. What makes the Championship more exciting, however, is its sheer unpredictability. Almost anything could happen. That is not just Sky Sports hyperbole. For all this weekend’s Premier League craziness we all know that in reality the league will come down to the same two or three teams. The final day of last season was immensely exciting, but it was an anomaly. Furthermore it still delivered an outcome we were all expecting – Manchester City to win the league. Enjoy the unpredictability while it lasts. Until next week.
Even the match day experience is surely more enjoyable for the fan - there’s no half time lasagnes here, no “neutral” stands
Yet down here in the Championship the eventual victors are still anyone’s guess. There are roughly fourteen teams with a realistic chance of promotion. It will be fascinating to see what makes some teams succeed and others fail. A 25 goal a season striker, an innovative manager or a great collective spirit. Just one of these elements can be the difference between joy and despair in the Championship. We’ve recently seen Norwich and Southampton win the league straight after getting promoted while clubs such as Leicester and Cardiff have tried to spend their way out of the league and have failed miserably.
Yet it’s not just its inherent unpredictability that makes the Championship such fun. Even the match day experience is surely more enjoyable for the fan. Of course it’s still tightly regulated, and rightly so, but there’s no half time lasagnes here, no “neutral” stands. Heck, Peterborough still had a terrace until last season.
Can you imagine how much fun Southampton fans had last season? Going to grounds up and down the country, watching Rickie Lambert smash goals in for fun and out-singing the home fans? This just two seasons after they started League One with -10 points. Now a 3-2 defeat away to Manchester City could legitimately turn out to be one of the highlights of the season.
Am I arguing I wouldn’t want Charlton to gain promotion? Of course not. The amount of money the club would receive would be invaluable in helping to secure our future. But I challenge the argument that the Premier League is the best league in the country on every level. For world class quality? undoubtedly. But for entertainment value? Doubtful.
More great articles about the Championship:
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