The Championship is the best league in world football. Are we all happy with that? I thought so.
Amid talk of financial implosions, the impact of coronavirus and talk of bets in the Philippines lately, we’ve taken our eyes off, well, the sheer agony and ecstasy the second tier serves up in buckets.
The uber-saturation of Premier League fixtures under lockdown restrictions has seen the return of Championship fixtures largely under-appreciated, when the truth of the matter is that the second division still feels like a jet-ski race over lava as opposed to the top flight’s meandering cruise into port.
Of course the ignition for this piece started on a balmy Tuesday night in Wigan. The Latics are being held face down underwater by game-players in the boardroom, and yet the team, the very heart of the club, turned up with one of the most remarkable results in any season, anywhere.
Social media has never been unanimous, until the outpouring of joy as down-and-out Wigan crashed home seven goals in the first half against beleaguered Hull, dogged by their own boardroom turmoil over the years.
The half-time scoreline made no sense, none at all, it won’t be repeated in a generation, but it served as another reminder as to the greatness of the Championship.
In theory, the league’s 46-game format should offer more space for gaps to open up, yet a quick glimpse at the current table shows how little the Championship cares for your puny ‘logic’.
Seven points divide the top four, with two – or three – games left to play. West Brom had a clean shot at getting cosy in the top two last night, so of course they couldn’t find a way past Fulham.
Of course, Fulham’s efforts have given their west London rivals Brentford a chance to draw one point behind West Brom this week.
Leeds could lose to rock-bottom Barnsley and blow the whole damn thing wide open, because this is the Championship, and the Championship doesn’t play by the rules, nor does it play to the beat of any rhythm or rhyme.
Seven teams could mathematically finish in the sixth play-off spot. By the end of this midweek round of fixtures, two points could separate four teams on the edge of the play-off situation, and yes, of course two of those teams are Welsh rivals Cardiff and Swansea.
Cardiff, by the way, currently occupy sixth despite conceding just one less goal than new boys Charlton Athletic who sit one point above the relegation zone.
About the relegation zone… last season’s League One promotion winners Barnsley and Luton remain in the bottom places, but solid lockdown form means both have closed the gap on the pack above.
In four of the last five seasons, every 2019/20 Championship team would already have enough points on the board to survive relegation with games to spare, yet eight teams are still not safe from the drop. Because the Championship always changes its standards.
The league is a place where bloated-budget teams come to die. See Sunderland. See Stoke City’s best efforts to mimic them. And it is also a place where the little guy can come to flourish.
Sheffield United moved up from League One and swiftly passed through with style and grace, Brentford operate on a shoestring budget and will have thoroughly deserved their success – if indeed that is their fate – proving the league does not discriminate against those in red and white.
The Championship still feels like football. It’s not a brand, it’s not dominated by faux fans hiding behind Twitter avatars and sticking -ology to their fake names. It feels authentic and raw and chaotic and brilliant.
There are a thousand ways to succeed in the second tier, but none set in stone. Adding zeroes to a bank balance brings no guarantees. In the Championship, you’re just another fish being tossed around in the sea hoping the tide turns in your favour.
The Premier League, for all its quality, is a compartmentalised land where teams know their place. The hierarchy remains, and all attempts to crack the dominance will either not succeed or be sustained. The Championship is an opportunity for all. ‘Come and have a go, give it a crack, you might get lucky, you might explode.’
Wild unpredictability is the cornerstone of live sport, and the Championship doesn’t stick to the rules, any rules. It does whatever it wants. And it’s a wonderful spectacle for it.