Why one of the most unpredictable leagues in the world doesn’t receive enough appreciation
When talking of the best leagues in Europe, the usual mentions often include The Premier League, La Liga and the Bundesliga. Don’t get me wrong these are all fantastic divisions in their own right, but one league which has been building in drama and passion for years now is regularly forgotten about.
The Championship, England’s second tier, is a division in which anything can happen. A prime example of this being the final day of the elongated 2019–20 campaign. Two of the three teams which started the last round of matches (21 July) in the drop zone went down, but amazingly none of the teams who made up the bottom 5 on 2 July were relegated. As Hull City, Wigan Athletic and Charlton Athletic went down, Middlesbrough, Luton, Barnsley, Huddersfield and Stoke all hit form at just the right time.
Even with no fans in the stadiums, the drama was unbelievable in the final run of matches. Not many leagues could this unpredictability reign supreme in such a thrilling way.
It wasn’t just the relegation scrap which provided final day drama. The tussle for a playoff place brought about one of the unlikeliest comebacks in recent history. Needing a six-goal swing to make the playoffs ahead of Nottingham Forest, Swansea did their part by thumping Stoke City 4–1. All Forest needed to do was not lose by three or more and they would seal their place, however they don’t call the Championship one of the most competitive leagues in the world for nothing.
Nottingham Forest crumbled at home to Stoke, also losing 4–1 and handing Swansea their own playoff place on a silver platter. The psychological impact of this could well still be playing with Forest players, as they sit on zero points four games into the new campaign. We may never see a goal swing like it again, but it made for some incredible viewing.
The Championship, to so many teams, is the promised land. In recent years, smaller clubs such as Yeovil Town and Burton Albion have graced the division and given it all they have on the shoestring budgets under which they operate. The former of these teams may have only lasted one year, but they would hold future Premier League Champions Leicester City to a draw.
It is a division in which everyone can beat anyone. Another fine example of this would be Peterborough United’s 2012–13 campaign. ‘The Posh’, as they are nicknamed, came into the Championship with a hugely positive mentality, and they would go on to record the record number of points in which a team has been relegated fro the Championship with. They beat champions Cardiff City as well as Watford and Wolverhampton, who would go on to have successful Premier League campaigns in the following years, on their way to 54 points. They won on 15 occasions, few teams are relegated after winning a third of their games in the Championship.
To call it bonkers would frankly not give the Championship enough credit. The most important point for newly relegated teams from the Premier League to understand is this; don’t underestimate it. Numerous teams have dropped into the Championship with an air of overconfidence and for so many it has been their downfall.
Sunderland finished bottom of the Premier League in 2017 only to finish bottom of the pile in the Championship just a year later. Others have more recently struggled in the second tier, Huddersfield and Stoke have both failed to acclimatise to the more physical nature of the Championship and have only narrowly avoided Sunderland’s fate. Underestimating the Championship is one of the most dangerous things a club can do
The Premier League may be the most lucrative and attractive of the English divisions, but the Championship has the style, grit and unpredictability that most leagues can only dream of. If your team is in the Championship it can be nerve wracking but as a neutral, there’s nothing quite like it in the sporting world.