by Tom Exelby
The Championship, “real football, real fans” that was the pitch 7 years ago as the second tier of English football looked to emerge from the towering shadow of its elder brother. And finally it has done just that. The success of Norwich, Swansea and QPR this season shows that promoted teams are no longer whipping boys, a lovely novelty to be patronised and then disposed of. The development of the Championship must be thanked for that.
In 2004 the irritating renaming of the football league was greeted by unanimous bemusement. Many fans argued that the Championship was really league two, and league one was really league three, and the premiership was really league one. However despite frying the odd brain as puzzled fans tried to work out how Barnet were topping League One there can be no doubt that a fantastic league has emerged, Competitive, well attended, bursting with the talent of tomorrow as well as the odd fallen giant. “The fizzy pop league” is really bubbling.
The 2010-2011 season saw the Championship crowned the worlds 4th most attended association football league and 9th most attended sports league. An average of 17,457 packed into stadiums including the historic Elland Road and City Ground as well as brand spanking new arenas such as The King Power Stadium. The reason for these huge attendance figures is likely to be the complete unpredictability of the league which contains no less than 12 teams with a genuine chance of at least the play offs. Only 24 points separate top from 20th as oppose to 39 in the premier league. And as I myself have found out, The Championship is the grave of many a football coupon due to its anyone can beat anyone randomness. The mere fact that the Championship has relegated Norwich City, Charlton Athletic, and both Sheffield clubs points to the uncompromising nature of the competition.
Southampton, West Ham and Middlesbrough all have academies which would be the envy of any Premier League club.
Another reason for the huge attendances is the fact that the Championship is home to some real talent. Since the rebranding of the division there has been a precession of future talent with Gareth Bale, Adam Johnson, Tom Cleverley and Aaron Ramsey all plying their trade in the division. And the division is still producing with Joe Bennet, Marvin Sordell and Tom Cairney amongst the most talented youngsters in Europe. Retention of such talent has become possible due to the new parachute payments which soften the blow for relegated Premier League teams, and allow some of the most productive academies in England to keep their talent. Southampton, West Ham and Middlesbrough all have academies which would be the envy of any Premier League club.
The Championship not only offers a tantalising glimpse at the stars of tomorrow, it also provides a platform for some of footballs’ former A-list to ignite floundering careers. Robert Green, Paul Konchesky and El Hadji Diouf are all currently signed to Championship clubs, a truism which would have seemed ridiculous a couple of years ago. Last season Craig Bellamy sandwiched a successful spell at Cardiff between life at two of Europe’s biggest clubs in Manchester city and Liverpool, the fact that Bellamy was keen to stay in the Welsh capital is testament to the current stature of the Championship.
Despite the positives the new TV deal for The Championship is actually 26% down on its predecessor. And with the possible loss of West Ham and Leeds in the near future to the Premiership average attendance is likely to plunge. However with Charlton and the Sheffield clubs looking to join the action the Championship could be set for further excitement, the truth is that rather appropriately the future of the Championship is difficult to predict. For now though it offers the best entertainment around – “real football” indeed.