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Five reasons why you should give the EFL Championship a go

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Roar Rookie
15th March, 2022
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This is why the second tier of English football deserves your attention. 

1. It’s more English than the English Premier League
Although the English Premier League is fast and professional, for me there is something missing. A whopping 65 per cent of its players are foreign nationals.

It amuses me when people criticise the A-League Men because it’s not the same level as the EPL – no league is. It is true that other sports have what is basically a world league – the NBA springs to mind – but only about 20 per cent of their players are from outside the US.

The EFL Championship – England’s second-tier competition – still has 45 per cent foreign players, but that is slim compared to the EPL.

The fiercely contested league was once called the second division before the establishment of the Premier League and for a little while the first division before being re-branded. And just to confuse everyone more, the third tier is now called League One and the fourth tier is called League Two.

Famous names like Queens Park Rangers, Blackburn Rovers, Nottingham Forest, Sheffield United and Fulham currently grace the Championship, as well as those with quainter sounding names like Huddersfield Town, Luton Town and struggling Peterborough.

Generic football

(Photo by Visionhaus/Getty Images)

Equally quaint nicknames abound – the Hatters, the Tykes, the Potters, and the Posh. They play at venues like the Den, the Valley, Kenilworth Road, Craven Cottage and Pride Park.

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Admittedly, some of these venues aren’t quite as small as they sound. Fulham’s Craven Cottage holds over 25,000, while Derby County’s Pride Park holds over 33,000. But Dean Park – high-flying Bournemouth’s home ground – seats under 12,000.

No matter what the capacity, the passion of the crowds is as great as anywhere, often more so, as these teams not only live constantly with the ambition of promotion, but with the ever-present danger of relegation hanging over their heads.

2. Entertainment
Speaking of promotion, the race for the automatic spots has been lively, with Fulham and Bournemouth now looking very likely. There’s been high quality stuff from them and more recently third-placed Huddersfield.

Watch the weekly highlights package and you will see some spectacular goals from right around the league. Fulham have the league’s most prolific striker in Serbian Aleksandar Mitrović.

Whenever the ball heads his way there is always anticipation from the fans and commentators, but the league abounds with entertaining goal-creators.

Bournemouth’s Dominic Solanke, Luton’s Elijah Adebayo, and Coventry’s Viktor Gyökeres and Matt Godden are all capable of magic performances.

3. Derby County fighting against the odds
Derby County are just one of the fascinating stories of this season. Headed by former England great Wayne Rooney in his first managerial role, the Rams have been in the fight of their lives attempting to avoid relegation.

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Early in the season they were handed a 12-point deduction after entering administration. I understand the reason for this, particularly as it was a result of mismanagement, but it always seems to me that this type of punishment is akin to kicking a man while he’s down. Plus, it punishes the players and the fans most.

But worse was to come. They were handed a further nine-point deduction for breaching profitability and financing rules when attempting to sell their stadium to a previous owner.

So far, they have performed admirably – so admirably that Everton have had Rooney in their sights as their next manager.

Derby recruit Wayne Rooney.

(Darren Staples/AFP/Getty Images)

At present they sit 23rd on the table after being leapfrogged last weekend by Barnsley. Now five points adrift of safety behind Reading with less than ten games remaining, time is fast running out for them, and their financial position is still perilous, but it is not mission impossible.

4. Luton Town and Coventry City back from the brink
Luton Town have been in winning form of late and are currently sitting within the playoff zone in seventh place – a remarkable turnaround considering they were as low as League Two and beyond a few back.

Years of controversy and points deductions saw them in free fall. Now, under manager Nathan Jones, who has recently signed a five-year contract extension, the 1988 League Cup winners play an attractive brand of winning football, giving hope and pride to their once despondent fans.

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There are surprises galore in this competition. Just when you think you’ve got a handle on it, teams like Huddersfield and Sheffield United turn things around and get a foot in the playoff zone. Then, a team in a slump like Coventry City puts on a 4-1 masterclass against in-form Sheffield United and whole new possibilities open up.

Coventry City have come back from the brink in more ways than one. This season, supporters have learned never to leave the ground early, as they have scored more injury-time winners than any other club.

The Sky Blues have been an unlikely success story for much of the season. A few years ago, they were rock bottom. Their owners were a seemingly disinterested hedge fund operation and they started third tier League One with their own ten-point deduction for going into administration.

On the brink of being expelled from the league altogether and unable to afford the rent at Ricoh Stadium – a complex they helped build – they were forced to play home games at Northampton in 2013 and Birmingham’s St Andrews in 2019, during which time they spent a season in League Two.

These were wretched times for the 1987 FA Cup champions and a club that boasted inaugural membership of the Premier League and 34 consecutive years in the top flight.

But slowly, things started to come together. Under the stewardship of Mark Robins – their longest serving manager in decades – they secured Wembley victories for the EFL Trophy in 2017, followed by back-to-back promotions in 2018 and 2019, finishing the latter as champions.

With one of the skinniest player wage lists in the competition last season, they finished a credible mid-table. This season, they surprised most with an attractive, dominating brand of football.

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They handled some of the top sides with ease early on, but after a mid-season slump where they faltered against lower teams, they have dropped three points off the pace.

Promotion back to the Premier League is still possible, and their weekend victory over sixth-placed Sheffield United will restore confidence, but like Derby, they are starting to run out of time.

Football generic

(Gene Sweeney Jr/Getty Images)

5. The playoffs
Promotion to the Premier League is automatic for the top two teams. The third promotion spot is given to whoever comes out best in a four-way playoff for teams finishing third to sixth, culminating in an all or nothing match at Wembley.

That game is as dramatic as it gets, with hopes and dreams of players, managers and fans either deliriously granted or cruelly shattered.

Afterwards, the winning team climbs the platform and is presented with a cup, which is victoriously held aloft. This I do find kind of amusing.

To me, it’s like finishing third is a greater reward than finishing second. Still, I’m sure the teams above them get some nice rewards as well, and what’s the point of winning a game at Wembley if you’re not presented with something?

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The big prize, of course, is entry into the Premier League and the riches that follow. Though for some players, the realities of the top flight mean they are sold off for more expensive talent.

It is a huge jump financially from the Championship to the Premier League, and if a club’s officials aren’t up to the administrative task it can mean the briefest of stays.

And if you can’t get enough of the play-off drama, it doesn’t end there. League One and League Two also have their final play-off days at Wembley.

If you’re one of the many fans of Liverpool and Manchester United, then the odds are you’re really only interested in the top flight. That’s perfectly understandable.

I have a family connection to a Championship team and I have always supported them. Before everyone had streaming services, it was rare to see them play.

One memorable night I meandered into a Bondi pub to watch my team, who were fighting for Premier League survival against Manchester United at Old Trafford. The odds were against them, as they were for me, the pub being as it was, swelling with backpackers – mostly South Americans – all supporting United.

Michael Owen of Manchester United

(Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

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They held their own for much of the game and gave the Red Devils some almighty scares. I was incredibly proud of them.

Then, late in the game, United broke through for the winning goal. I was crestfallen. The rest of the pub though erupted in celebration. Among the cheers, grown men were jumping, hugging, dancing. I think I even saw a tear or two.

My question at the time, tinged with resentment, was ‘why?’ Why did they care so much that a team worth many millions of pounds, a team that most, if not all, would have had absolutely no connection to, a team based thousands of kilometres from where they were and where they were from, had been able to finally overcome a brave, vastly less wealthy team that needed a win a lot more than they did?

Don’t get me wrong. What Alex Ferguson and United were able to achieve was something to be admired – they didn’t start off wealthy; a combination of good management, marketing and timing (being successful at a time when the Premier League was launched) helped create the behemoth that lives today.

But as for my question, I have no answer other than everyone loves a winner and they were entertaining to watch. That is the magic, and the mystery, of the Premier League. It’s the best of the best.

Once in a blue moon a Leicester or a Blackburn will pop up, but until the financial arrangements of English football are re-organised, nothing much will change.

And that’s probably why I enjoy watching the Championship, regardless of whether my team’s in it or not. Every year you are guaranteed a new champion, and if you like underdogs, there’s a whole league of them out there desperately giving their all week in, week out for their life-long fans.

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That’s what football is all about.

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