Away from Richard Scudamore’s £5 million goodbye present and Manchester United’s mattress sponsorship, England’s second division is taking up the reigns as the nation’s best league – here are eight reasons why.
8) Big clubs, big clubs everywhere
Some will see the Championship as a cemetery for some of England’s biggest clubs, those who haven’t seen success since the days of black and white. But in an era where clubs like Bournemouth and Brighton are establishing themselves as Premier League stalwarts, the Championship is where you’ll find some of England’s richest footballing history.
Whether it’s the might of the two Sheffield clubs, the heritage of Aston Villa, the intrigue of Leeds or the forgotten glory of Brian Clough’s back-to-back European Cup winning Nottingham Forrest side, the Championship is littered with big clubs.
7) Big clubs means big matches
All of these big clubs can only mean one thing… big matches. When the big clubs meet each other in the Premier League, the matches are cagey, scrappy and often used as a remedy for insomnia. When the big clubs come head-to-head in the Championship, they’re high-octane, electric and always guarantee goals.
There were five, yes five goals each when Forrest travelled to Villa in November and Derby scored two in the last five minutes to come from behind and beat high-flyers Norwich over the Christmas period. Unfiltered breathtakingly exciting drama, you don’t get that when watching Burnley vs Huddersfield, do you?
On top of this, the Championship has seen teams come back to win matches from losing positions more times than any other league in England (Opta). Is there anything better than seeing a team 3-0 down at half-time go on and win the match? We don’t think so.
6) 3pm unless stated
Remember in the olden days when football matches kicked off at 3pm and would finish around quarter to five? A nice lie in on a Saturday morning and just enough time to make it back to the pub for a drink or three after that match. Seems ages ago, right? Well, buried in the dark depths of English football’s footballing pyramid, they still do.
Bar the odd one, most of the matches will kick-off at 3pm on a Saturdayin the Championship; that means no frantic rushing about to make the early kick-off on time and it means no getting home in the early hours of Monday morning, after travelling half-way across the country for those dreaded Sunday tea-time clashes.
5) Marcelo Bielsa
Crazy? Yes. Bonkers? Yes. Genius? Yes. PowerPoint extraordinaire? Most definitely, yes.
Leeds’s very own bucket loving footballing royalty caught English football fans’ imagination when he announced his shock arrival at Elland Road and hasn’t stopped hitting the headlines since.
Whilst having an instant impact, catapulting a mediocre Leeds side to the top of the division and amongst favourites for promotion, it is the Argentine’s antics off the pitch which have sparked discussion.
Be that his peculiar choice to ditch the comforts of the bench for a bucket, the purity of his post-match interview outbursts or espionage tactics which make James Bond look amateur, Bielsa has been a breath of fresh in a league in need of an oxygen tank.
4) Management prodigies
At the complete opposite end of the scale to 63 year old journeyman Bielsa, the Championship is amongst the best leagues in the world for the emergence of young and exciting managers. When Frank Lampard was appointed as Derby manager at the beginning of the 2018/19 season, eyebrows were raised.
Despite a promising start, it is yet to be seen whether super Frank will be a hit in the dugout – but should the Chelsea and England legend find glory in Derbyshire, he will be joining a long and illustrious list of young managers that have made their name in England’s second division.
Eddie Howe, Sean Dyche and David Wagner are just a few that have guided their clubs to promotion, before finding relative success in the top flight. With one of the pioneers to introduce sports science and nutrition into the game, big Sam Allardyce, first finding his way in the Championship with Lancashire club Bolton – a big pint of wine cheers to that!
3) Playground for English talent
It isn’t just young managers who learn the ropes in the Championship: whilst this country’s best talent is either heading abroad for an opportunity, or rotting on the benches of the Premier League’s top clubs, it is the Championship which has evolved into a breeding ground for some of England’s best players of tomorrow.
The likes of Phil Jagielka, Ricky Lambert and Kevin Phillips are all previous winners of the Championship player of the year, with youngsters like Tammy Abraham, Che Adams, Harry Wilson, Jack Clarke and Mason Mount all tearing the league to shreds this year.
2) Pandemonium in the play-offs
Forget City vs Liverpool for the Premier League title, or the lacklustre push for the top four and Champions League football, any real football fan will tell you that the best footballing spectacle is the race for the play-offs.
Whether it’s the six-point blanket that seems to separate 5th place with 15th, or the club pushing for automatic promotion who have to settle with 3rd after having their Premier League dreams crushed on the final day, the Championship play-offs are football in its purest form.
They have served up some classics over the years, like the 1998 play-off final, which saw Charlton and Sunderland play out a 4-4 thriller before deciding it all on penalties, or the 2013 semi-final second leg between Leicester and Watford, in which Anthony Knockaert had the chance to send the Foxes to Wembley from the penalty spot in the seventh minute of added time, only to see his spot kick – and the rebound – saved by Alumina, who collected the ball and set Watford away to nick the match with the last kick of the match. Absolute carnage.
1) One of Europe’s best
It’s strange to think that a country’s second division could actually be amongst one of the best in Europe, but it is probably true. Along with the aforementioned Mr.Bielsa, big names are a constant in the Championship – class acts like Barca academy graduate Bojan, Wales’ Euro 2016 midfield star Joe Allen and England’s back-up World Cup goalkeeper Jack Butland are all regulars for Championship side Stoke. And it’s not even that long ago since one of Europe’s hottest prospects, midfield general Ruben Neves, snubbed Paris, Madrid and Munich for the delights of the West Midlands. Classy stuff.