It’s a commonly held belief that, football-wise, the Premier League is the best league in the world. It’s a commonly held belief fueled by the likes of Rupert Murdoch’s Sky and those too short-sighted to look past the lights and colours of England’s top tier.
For those with a little more footballing nous, however, it’s the Championship where the real action can be found and last weekend only helped to cement its status as the greatest club competition on Earth.
There’s all the drama of the Premier League without the pretentious circus that surrounds it. It’s football in a purer sense, stripped back to its basic essence but still without the unreliability and muddy unattractiveness of lower league football.
It’s a league where anyone can beat anyone, most teams can earn promotion and most teams should fear relegation. It’s a league to forge new legends and birth new stars. Football is the focus, a genuine competition with a league table that changes year on year.
Always a new winner, always new losers.
On Saturday, Ipswich Town, flagging in the relegation zone, earned their first win of the season against Swansea City: a team once solidly in the Prem and not-too-distant holders of the League Cup.
Almost identically shocking, Preston North End, also in the bottom three, put four past Wigan Athletic to beat another former Premier League stalwart and recent holder of the FA Cup.
On Saturday’s group of Premier League fixtures, the largest gap between a lower club defeating a higher club was just one place: Everton against Leicester City.
It’s also a league where giants get swallowed up and stuck; their top-tier status torn away and thrust into insignificance as the ever-waiting cluster of challengers look to defeat a bigger side. This year alone, only five of the league’s 24 sides haven’t competed in the Premier League and former Goliaths Aston Villa, Stoke City and West Bromwich Albion are all currently fighting to return.
While clubs dripping with history such as Nottingham Forest, Blackburn Rovers and Leeds United are all vying to work their way back to glory and stature.
As for the managers, it’s far from your everyday Sunday League coach trying to make it ‘down there’. There are big names in Frank Lampard, Tony Pulis and former England boss Steve McClaren. Other former Premier League gaffers such as Garry Monk, Nigel Adkins and Darren Moore compete shoulder-to-shoulder for their clubs.
The Championship table is painfully tight. Despite 12 games usually being enough to separate the men from the boys, there’s a four-way battle for first place, split by as many points as teams right now. They’re hotly chased down by eight clubs only six points off the top three.
By contrast, just eight games in, the Premier League already has the same number of points separating the third and fourth-placed teams, from the bottom half.
And with Thierry Henry now odds-on favourite to replace the sacked Steve Bruce at Aston Villa, we could be set for some footballing royalty joining the fray to show how he can compete in the dugout.
You don’t get much bigger names than the former Arsenal striker, French World Cup winner and Sky Sports pundit. And if it’s not Henry, it could be former Liverpool – and current Celtic boss – Brendan Rodgers who could return to the league where he cut his immaculately white managerial teeth with Watford, Reading and Swansea.
Then there’s the cabbage. In no other league could such a glorious event occur. But that’s all part of the Championship’s charm. It can have a laugh which hasn’t been manufactured on social media.
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The Championship is the best that English football has to offer and we’re all missing out by overlooking it.