The Championship: how football should be
Just don’t mention Sam Allardyce. Image from Well Offside.
When the curtain falls on another year of Premier League ‘excitement’, Match of the Day will doubtless broadcast familiar scenes of grown men weeping into their replica shirts. Inconsolable at the prospect of Championship football, they will shed all remaining dignity for our amusement, ‘No, not the Championship, not Maniche and Claridge! Take me, take me now. I don’t want to live.’ Pathetic. If only those oafs could look at the positive side of the Championship, they’d soon cheer up. Let’s consider what they’re really afraid of.
Financial ruin: admittedly, a serious concern, but it needn’t be so providing clubs plan accordingly, and providing they haven’t just mortgaged their future to sign David Bentley on a five year contract.
The football is rubbish: hello, did you watch Stoke City v Aston Villa?
There are some horrible, soulless stadiums: yes, but there are also some legendary old venues like the City Ground and Elland Road. And anyway, the Britannia? The Stadium of Light? The Reebok Stadium? Come on.
The Football League Show: ok, you got me. But, thankfully, there’s more to the Championship than a hastily edited TV highlights package.
Money isn’t always the answer
First and foremost, money doesn’t rule the Championship in quite the same as it does in the Premier League. While wealth over your rivals remains an obvious advantage in the Championship, the wealth is often used poorly by impatient owners, meaning that smaller, more organised outfits are able to prosper. Relatively wealthy Championship clubs are still poor by Premier League standards, so will not tempt the best players to drop down the Premier League. Instead, Championship clubs with money end up paying big wages for Premier League failures that they hope will be class above in the second tier.
Some of them will deliver, like Adel Taraabt did for QPR. However, the real stars of last term where Watford’s Danny Graham and Norwich City’s Grant Holt, who continued to improve as the season progressed and – unlike Taraabt – are cutting it in the Premier League. This season, Southampton striker Ricky Lambert – signed from Bristol Rovers – has been almost unstoppable. Compare and contrast with Leicester, who recently reported a £15 million deficit, having invested in big names to bolster their promotion charge. Most would expect a play off place as a minimum from that level of investment, but Leicester lie in mid-table, searching for consistency. Maybe they’ll find it next season, or maybe they’ll throw more money on the fire.
The lure of the play offs
Are the play offs fair? A team that finishes third, ten points ahead of fourth will argue otherwise, but everyone knows the rules at the start of the season. The play offs are Championship’s life blood. You can normally count the clubs capable of competing for automatic promotion on one hand, but in any given season there are probably another dozen with genuine aspirations of making the play offs. Even at this late stage, only five points separates sixth place from twelfth, with 21 points still to play for. Throw in the relegation scrap at the other end and few clubs will enter April with nothing to play for. This league is also wildly unpredictable. When the pundits and commentators select their winners in August, few will have picked all three of the promoted sides when they are finally revealed in May. There is nearly always a surprise package, and the recent trend is for newly promoted sides from League One to plough straight through. Norwich laid the blueprint last year, and Southampton have followed suit. What price Charlton Athletic to storm the Championship next season?
The unrivalled sensation of kicking ass
Coventry City spent 34 years in the top flight but never managed to finish in the top six. What’s the point? For many clubs, a season in the Premier League means getting familiar with heavy defeats and scrapping away, hoping to reach the forty point mark, then regrouping and doing it all again the following year. What a miserable life.
Surely, it’s much better to have a season every now and then where enter every game with a decent chance of victory? In the Championship, smaller clubs are not intimidated by giants, they relish the opportunity to defeat them. Where else would Barnsley get to fancy their chances against a double European Cup winner.
The Championship season is a monstrous forty six game slog. Finishing in the top two places is a genuine achievement, and should be celebrated as such. Just be careful not rub Coventry’s faces in it; they’re still looking for that mythical top six finish ten years after they were relegated. There is no god. Or, if there is, he fucking hates Coventry.
Young players have a chance
Championship clubs handicapped by financial constraints are increasingly turning to more traditional and economical methods of building a side. Clubs like Watford and Crystal Palace are both committed to giving their academy products a chance. This season it’s Wilfried Zaha (Palace) and Sean Murray (Watford) who’ve got the Premier League scouts excited. Catch them while you can. Sadly, with the introduction of the Elite Player Performance Plan, the chances of seeing smaller clubs developing high quality players of their own is likely to be reduced – the Premier League clubs will sign them all for tuppence while they’re still teenagers, and throw away what they don’t need. But, you might see them loaned back in a few years time, if you ask really nicely. Thanks for that, Premier League, ‘preciate it.
So, dry your eyes, weeping man. The Championship will never be a product the way the Premier League is. No one plans their Sunday around watching two Championship teams they don’t support. Premier League fans will soon forget that your team exists. But, far from being a negative, this means all that really matters to you is your club, which is kind of how it should be. That’s not so bad, is it?
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