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The charm of the Championship

Paul Fletcher | 15:25 UK time, Monday, 21 July 2008

Some things change, some things stay the same.

There are six new clubs in the Championship this season but, as was the case last summer, I really couldn't say with any degree of certainty what the division will look like at the end of the forthcoming season.

I have asked various people how they think their team will do this season. None of them know.

And although I'm more likely to stagger next door half asleep at three in the morning to ask my neighbour to crank up his awful European techno than feel sorry for a bookmaker, I don't for a second envy the Championship odds compilers.

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For example, how many people do you reckon had a promotion treble of West Brom, Stoke and Hull last season? Frankly, I would be surprised if anybody did.

QPR are this season's favourites for promotion.

This is the same QPR who have endured seasons of off-field shenanigans, including trouble in the boardroom, while working their way through a succession of managers and managing a highest placed finish of 11th since they won promotion back to the Championship in 2004.

The R's factor this season is the millions apparently swilling around Loftus Road following the takeover of Bernie Ecclestone and Flavio Briatore.

But new boss Iain Dowie has a mixed managerial record - good at Oldham and Palace, a failure at Charlton and average at best at Coventry.

And, with a striker from Fiorentina plus a midfielder from Genoa that I've never heard of brought in over the summer, there are plenty of ifs and buts about QPR.

What's more, can anyone say with any degree of certainty that the three teams relegated from the Premier League last season will mount a sustained promotion push?

On paper both Birmingham (Marcus Bent, Kevin Phillips and Lee Carsley) and Derby (Martin Albrechtsen and Rob Hulse) have bought sensibly while Reading have retained the services of manager Steve Coppell.

But Sheffield United, Charlton and Watford all failed to bounce back at the first attempt, with only the Hornets making the play-offs.

It is the same throughout the division. Plenty of teams will feel that if their pre-season is successful and their new signings gel then anything is possible.

And the exploits of newly-promoted Bristol City in reaching last season's play-off final will provide encouragement to Doncaster, Nottingham Forest and Swansea.

Some people reckon the reason why last season's Championship was so tight - just 18 points separated the play-offs from the bottom three - was because it was such a mediocre league.

But, unlike the Premier League, the reason the Championship is such an exciting division is in part because of its sheer unpredictability.

Steve Claridge played in every tier of English professional football during his career and is in no doubt that the Championship is one of the most exciting and competitive.

"It is a great division simply because so many teams have a chance," he told me.

"There is very little to choose between all the clubs. There are plenty of sides who are probably only three or four signings away from being able to do a Stoke or a Hull."

Claridge even reckons that with a 46-game season, teams can even start the season poorly and recover to win promotion.

Crystal Palace were 19th when Dowie took over in December 2003 but went up that same season with victory over West Ham in the play-off final.

"Put a good run together at any stage and you won't be far away," is how Claridge puts it.

The Championship reminds me of the old Division One, the era just before the game became awash with cash. Some astute management, a few shrewd signings and the right team spirit can take a side a long way.

I find it refreshing and desirable when contrasted with the multi-tiered Premier League in which most teams have no chance of cracking the top four.

It is a good thing that so many clubs start the Championship season with a realistic hope of realising their dreams.

But which clubs will last the distance and be at the top of the table next May?

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    At present in the premier league you can be assured of the names of the top four teams.
    This coming season it may even be that a top four will be come a top three with one of the four being left behind for lack of funds.
    By and large the teams in the Championship compete on an equal financial footing. (yes i know that parachute payments are an issue). This results in a league of 24 teams all able to beat each other on the day and there being mybe 10 or even 15 teams who would be able to mount a sustained challenge for a top six place.
    The entertainment value of the championship was far in excess of that offered by the premier league. Entertainment is what this business is supposed to be about. In the premier league the most interesting aspect of recent years has been the relegation fight. the Premier league title has seemed to be foregone conclusion for some time now. I support a team promoted to the Premier League and we are happy to be here but i think the entertainment at the hawthorns is about to be reduced.

  • Comment number 2.

    I love supporting a Championship club, going to Selhurst not knowing whether we'll win, draw or lose, but enjoying the games nevertheless.

    In the Premier League, it would be pretty certain we'd lose most games. Yes, the players are of a higher calibre, but personally I don't much care for seeing Man Utd muller the club I love, I'd rather see us battle it out with Barnsley for a hard-fought three points.

  • Comment number 3.

    The Championship is the best league in England. Full of excitement and is very unpredictable.

    A long shot for promotion has to be Forest. Good signings, a nice core of youngsters looking to establish themselves and arguably the strongest squad they had since Dawson, Jenas, Reid, Harewood and King were all sold on.

    Plus at 28-1 odds of getting promotion, well worth a crafty tenner.

  • Comment number 4.

    The championship is unpredictable but the quality is poor.

  • Comment number 5.

    The CCC last year was an amazing place to watch football.
    As a Hull City fan, I cant sayI will miss it, but I will relish watching it again this coming year.

  • Comment number 6.

    You could argue that the quality of championship football is better than others think. Remeber there were 3 Championship clubs in the FA cup semi finals last season. Liverpool and Chelsea both went out to a Championship team.
    The beauty of the championship is that anybody can beat anybody home or away. You must also remember that there are alot of teams that have bigger support in the championship thanteams like Middlesbrough, Blackburn, Wigan, Bolton and Fulham get in the premiership. Teams like Sheffield Wednesday, Sheffield United, Nottingham Forest, Norwich City, Ipswich Town and Derby County would more than likely sell out allocations every single week in the premiership. My own team Derby were in the premiership last season and while the players embarrassed themselves on the pitch the supporters did themselves proud. Not once did the attendances dip under 30,000 despite only winning once all season.
    The Premiership is all about egos and money while the championship is about pride, passion and football

  • Comment number 7.

    As always in the championship surprises are likely to occur. With Southampton expected to struggle both on and off the field (with relitively unknown Dutch coach and continuing financial woes) it could go either way-bottom 3 or challenging for promotion. They have recruited a number of younger players and released some of the more useless players of recent seasons (Jermaine Wright), and along with home grown academy prospects looking to follow in the footsteps of bridge, bale and walcott they could be saying hello to the premier league once again next season (where they should be).

  • Comment number 8.

    With all due respect, someone needs to take a maths refresher course. That no one could've predicted last season's promotions means that the bookies probably made quite a bit of money on bets on the favorites!

  • Comment number 9.

    I will say Watford don't look like going up, because the last time we said that we went up.

    The Premiership owners could learn a lot from the Championship. Watford had a terrible 2nd half of last season, but the board know with a young manager you have to keep the faith in him and not just rashly sack the boss.

    Our transfers last season were dire (good luck to Derby with attempting to make Ellington run), but we seem to do better with a bit less money and a few talented young players. So with a good start to the season and maybe bringing a couple of old hands to guide the young players it could be a good year for Watford.

  • Comment number 10.

    Barnsley are a dark horse in this seasons ccc. In manager Simon Davey they have one of the most talented young managers in the country and if they can keep hold of Brian Howard they may just make it into the playoffs.

  • Comment number 11.

    As a blue (Everton) Birmingham will win promotion becuase of one man. That man is Lee Carsley. A name that despite playing for the opposition, when he comes back to Goodison park, will have his name sung by home and away fans alike. A true Everton great and one who will be sorely missed by by the Everton faithful. At our (Everton) last game of the season at Goodison when all was said and done and we had beaten the 'mighty' Newcastle there were two names being sung in the Gladwys Street. Those names were David Moyes and Super Lee Carsley. He will be Birminghams signing of the season. Bar none. All hail Super Lee Carsley. Possibly the most underated footballer the Premership has ever seen!

  • Comment number 12.

    barnsley!? hahaha thats the funniest thing i have heard today! dont count out the mighty owls for a top 6 finish, especially with the takeover due to be completed soon

  • Comment number 13.

    How on earth are QPR favourites ? I and many other Rangers supporters are laughing at this Hopefully we will finish higher than last season and possibly the play offs but favourites no way

    OK weve got money after years of struggling financially, and we are secure as a club, but the 3 owners havent exactly splashed the cash on players. Weve got a big screen now though

    So stop this nonsense and put your money on Birmingham, and possibly Coventry

  • Comment number 14.

    I have a decent understanding of the unpredictability of the Championship as a Leicester City supporter. I feel that the best way of achieving success is through gradual change and improvement of your squad. We tried to sign too many players when we were relegated from the Premiership last time. It didn't work, Micky Adams soon felt the pressure and things have continued to change regularly ever since. I can see a similar thing happening at Derby. It looks like they've signed a bit more quality than we did following relegation but if things start off badly Jewell will feel the heat and it could begin a chain of continued change of manager and players that fail to gel.

    I'd say Birmingham, Ipswich and Palace to go up this time around, in any order.

  • Comment number 15.

    Have to wonder why QPR are the favourites to gain promotion, may seem biased but Birmingham and Reading were both unlicky to get relegated and on paper Birmingham seem to have by far the strongest team in the league, Carsely, Phillips, Mcfadden, Larrson, Jerome, Kelly, Murphy I could go on!

  • Comment number 16.

    All very well the league, the standings, and the relegations and promotions being unpredictable, but at the end of the day, is the core product - the football, as exciting to watch as the higher echolons of the footballing world?

    I'd prefer to watch high-fliers like United, Arsenal or Liverpool (God forbid I could ever enjoy Chelsea's "brand" of football), their skilled players, in particular the former two, than the second tier, and by a long shot, too. Arsenal are, as much as it pains me to say it, extremely entertaining to watch at all times, and in more recent times, United are definitely there too.

    The league is obviously a fabulous competition, but for me, the beautiful game itself will always come before silverware.

  • Comment number 17.

    The Championship is a walk down memory lane. It would be the English first division of today if the Premier League had never started and it hadn't been completely populated by foreign players. It is English League Division I, circa 1975. Most of the players are English, most are mediocre to poorly skilled and most teams like to play direct football, i.e. the long ball.

    With the odd exception, most teams which get promoted from it to the EPL, return in quick time with their tails between their legs.

    It provides a useful contrast to the skilled ball artists populating the EPL and is Exhibit A for any visitors from another planet who ask the question "why does English football stink so bad?"

  • Comment number 18.

    As a Stoke City supporter I'm glad we won promotion last year, but I have to agree that the Premier League is too predictable.
    I just hope we get to 40 points and stay up. I know we'll get more than 11 points. Either way, I'll still be following and watching Championship football next season because it is a better league as far as equal competition is concerned.

  • Comment number 19.

    This links in with the problems of the Scottish Premier League I'm afraid.

    We have the multi-tiered supposed format similar to the English Premier League as the Old Firm are undoubtedly going to finish top and I can't think of many who would ever bet against it.

    And similar to the Championship, the SPL lacks the funds and glamour sparked by massive attendance and major television/advertising deals.

  • Comment number 20.

    Typical championship themed drivel. Now its not that I've got anything particularly against the championship and I'll probably go to a few Nott.s forest games next season but please lets stop pretending its a better spectacle then the premier league. I mean sure it's close but so is my 5 a side league, big deal, I don't know who's gonna win it, that doesn't mean I think that people will enjoy watching us play more then say Arsenal. To be honest I think that the Championship is currently letting itself down, for the 6th richest league in the world with the 4th highest support in Europe the quality of entertaining, attacking football is poor compared to say the Dutch, or French first divisions with which it is in many ways comparable.

  • Comment number 21.

    "Championship League" must be one of the greatest misnomers in sport. As well as one of the tackiest, not to mention illogical. It would be "refreshing" and "desirable" to go back to a simple, straightforward Division I, II, III,IV set-up. But with the 'game' "awash with cash" the nomenclature has become as rediculously over-inflated as the contracts, transfers and agents fees. In fact, such exorbitant titles become almost inevitable in order to nominally justify the exorbitant pricing. One bad thing leads to another. The most important kind of "promotion" in the 'game' today is not the football kind but the marketing kind.

  • Comment number 22.

    I think calling Dowie a failure at Charlton is a bit strong, he was hardly given a chance there.

  • Comment number 23.

    For several seasons now, the only interesting thing about the PL has been the relegation battle.

    (The BBC would do well to bear this in mind - and stop plastering Man U and Chelsea all over it's sports headlines!)

    The Championship is REAL football.



  • Comment number 24.

    Swansea City. We've got a fantastic Spanish manager who believes in good, technical football and has a complete understanding of British football and culture. Some great signings over the summer, a couple of them with Spanish "liga" experience. Whilst other teams spend 2,3 million pounds on average players, Martinez has brought young, hungry, quality players to the club for small fees or even on loan. Gorka Pintado Championship top scorer, player of the year Jordi Gomez. You heard it here first.

  • Comment number 25.

    Does it matter if the quality is poor?, id much rather watch a forest palace 4-3 than italy getting a 1 nil win away in ukraine. or chelsea wining 1 0 at home to everton. they say the premierhsip is the best league in the world, but in terms of excitement the championship wins hands down.

  • Comment number 26.

    "All very well the league, the standings, and the relegations and promotions being unpredictable, but at the end of the day, is the core product - the football, as exciting to watch as the higher echolons of the footballing world?"

    "I mean sure it's close but so is my 5 a side league, big deal, I don't know who's gonna win it, that doesn't mean I think that people will enjoy watching us play more then say Arsenal."

    The Championship is far more exciting to watch than the the Premier League, which is all to often very predictable.

  • Comment number 27.

    The championship is the most exciting league to watch just because you never know who going to win...

    With the season upcoming and no one knows who's going to win it to me thats enough to go and watch it.

    All i have to say now what out

    Southampton are coming.........

  • Comment number 28.

    I guess it depends on your point of view. In the PL, you can pretty much say how the top 4 will finish, although there is the excitement of maybe getting a two horse race to the end (even if its the same 2 horses every year). Relegation usually provides more excitement for one reason only - you can't predict how that team will do each game.

    I often feel a bit sorry for ManU or Chelsea fans. Where is the excitement on a Saturday afternoon that comes from beating Middlesborough or Fulham 1-0 at home? You fully expected to win, went is as overwhelming favourites and surely its more of a relief to not drop points? However, you know you have a chance to win things.

    As a Sheff Wed fan, I genuinely have no idea how we will do every week. OK, we have games that we go into as favourites (no many!) and some where we would take a point, but we always go in with a chance and so you get the excitement of scoring, agony of conceding and joy of victory (or disappontment of defeat) each Saturday and its the emotion that keeps you going.

  • Comment number 29.

    I would just like to raise the point that i think Fletch is very harsh in assessing Iain Dowie as a failure at Charlton when he was only in charge for 13 Games. Considering how much worse they became after he left in my opinion says he done a pretty decent job with a poor squad.

  • Comment number 30.

    I agree with the majority of comments posted. Being a Sheff United fan i am obvioulsy hoping the Blades get at least playoff, however with Birmingham coming down i have a feeling they will last the distance and definately get an automatic spot. I just heard Derby signed Robby Hulse, with them coming down from the Prem i think they will be in for a playoff or automatic place. Funnily enough i am holding out for Crystal Palace get an automatic place, i really want Neil Warnock to do well.

  • Comment number 31.

    How can you people question Dowie being a failure at Charlton?

    He signed Amdy Faye (who isn't a footballer and we still can't get rid of him), Simon Walton (a thug who never played a game for us), Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink (the ultimate mercenary) and Djimi Traore (need I say more). We only got worse after he left due to Les Reed, who himself lasted less than 10 games. Pardew may not have worked miracles, but is a damn sight better now Dowie.

  • Comment number 32.

    I think Calling the championship 'real football' is what is wrong with the english game at the moment. People still seem to value grit and determination higher than actual skill or technical ability.

  • Comment number 33.

    "To be honest I think that the Championship is currently letting itself down, for the 6th richest league in the world with the 4th highest support in Europe the quality of entertaining, attacking football is poor compared to say the Dutch, or French first divisions with which it is in many ways comparable."
    -------------------------------------------------------
    are you seriously having a joke? So you think Birmingham, Coventry, Leicester et al could compete week in week out with Lyon, PSG, Ajax, Feyenoord, PSV, Marseille etc? Teams in the French and Dutch premier leagues can attract the players to play attacking football like that because they have teams in the champions league and they are in the top league of their nation. It is completely absurd to expect there to be the same level of football, possibly the most ridiculous suggestion i have ever seen on this site. The championship has some fantastic teams in it and produces some of the best moments in English Football, as long as you're not expecting to see a game with the same quality as, say a CL encounter between Lyon and PSV.

  • Comment number 34.

    As a part-time Hull City fan I don't expect to have a great deal of interest in the Championship next season (although I suspect I'll need to get interested again, come August 2009!).
    My unbiased tip for 08/09 is Birmingham. It's a bit of an easy prediction, I know, but they have the best squad of players and arguably the best manager.
    I really can't see why the bookies are so heavily tipping QPR, though. I see them finishing just above mid-table at best.

  • Comment number 35.

    Hush hush everyone. Glenn Roeder's yellow and green army are up this year. Runaway champions.
    Anyone disagree?
    Well then, you are wrong.
    Cheers.

  • Comment number 36.

    QPR favourites?.... I find that hard to believe, as a Derby fan, I never had the 'pleasure' of following Championship football too closely last season, but I could see from afar which clubs looked likely to be competing with Derby this coming season. I would have put Birmingham, Charlton, Reading, Ipswich, Sheff Utd, Wolves, Palace and Watford amongst the contenders and QPR never even entered my thoughts. Sure, they have money - but the players they are signing are hardly renowned or big names are they. I think you might see a slightly more 'predictable' Championship this season, not quite as much as the Premiership, but 8 or 9 teams competing for the 6 places at the top will be hard to seperate, but I don't think too many would disagree with these teams.... 1 other, 2 at most might creep into the mix, but I'd bet my hard earned money that there will be more than 18 points seperating 6th from 22nd this season!...

  • Comment number 37.

    I agree with what Will Said...

    "Unpredictable but the quality is poor".

    I'd much rather the club I love be playing, and sometimes even competing, in one of the best leagues in the world than be in the mediocrity of the championship.

    Pitting your wits against some of the best managers and players in the world is where it's at. Playing in a poor quality league and pretending it's all good....isn't.

    Just hope that the Royals can get back there asap.

    BLUE ARMY!!!

  • Comment number 38.

    reading have the best manager in the league hands down, think they'll get auto promotion

  • Comment number 39.

    ... incidentally... note that all the 'easy' predictions for the coming season mentioned in my previous post have been in the premier league in the last 2 or 3 years, bar Ipswich!!!.... why's that?... that's because exposure to the best brand of football i.e. the premiership, makes these teams better. I'd take premiership any day of the week.... and that's despite our 11 point total still fresh in my thoughts!

  • Comment number 40.

    Good article Fletch, agree with almost everything. I'm a tractor boy and in all honesty I don't have a clue how we're gonna do this season!

    The Championship is a fantastic league, what it lacks in quality compared to the Prem, it makes up for in excitement. On the theme of quality, the essence of sport is competition and the fact that almost any side has a chance of at least making the play-offs makes it a competition of the highest quality in my book.

    Can't wait for the season to start!

  • Comment number 41.

    Just a quick response to the comment regarding "who could have picked the top three"..

    My Mate put £100 on MK DOns, Swansea, WBA and Man U.

    That netted him £110,000.

    On the last day of the season, he stuck £10,000 on Chelsea just in case (which would have given him £50,000 back) but Manu came good for him.

    Now tHAT is a call !

    A fair article I reckon. Honestly have no idea how the Mighty Swans are gonna do ! We get relegated / promoted - only separated by an oblique !

    STID !

  • Comment number 42.

    I think the PL vs Champ 'excitement factor' debate depends on which league your team is in, and in what capacity you watch the games.

    As a fan of a championship side (SWFC) this has been the most exciting (and scary!) season and I think it's the same for supporters of pretty much all of the champ clubs. Almost all at some point looked like they were going down or up.

    Contrast that with the PL where there's always about 6 or 7 (out of 20) teams who play for nothing more, or less than a mid table finish, for the whole season.

    BUT
    For neutrals I think there's no doubt that the PL has more entertainment factor in terms of the football being played, not the competition itself.

    SO
    It comes down to what you value more, competition or good looking footy.

    I was on the edge of my seat watching Leicester vs Stoke (0-0) on the last day of the last season, but I don't think any neutrals who just want to watch a good game would have been...

  • Comment number 43.

    Decent article. Didn't agree with everything said, but I do agree that this division has much to offer. Roll on the new season eh? At least then there'll be something worth watching on telly again.

    PS Mr Fletcher - you should print off a copy of your blog and leave it on the desk of Derek 'Robbo' Robson. If ever someone needed tips on how to write a decent blog, it's him!

  • Comment number 44.

    Well as a Southampton fan i have to say the championship last season was more exciting, nail-biting, interesting and better viewing than the PL. I was more worried about our final day match agaisnt Sheff Utd than who would win the PL out of Man Utd and Chelsea. The PL is epicly predictable. Arsenal and Liverpool starting well and everyone saying oooh they could do it this year!! Then falling away around november. Chelsea and Man Utd fighting it out for the title. Same 2 or 3 clubs, Everton Spurs and a surprise guest, possibly Man City or Villa, trying desperately to break into the top 4 in the misguided belief that they can. The same few clubs who play out the entire season knowing they will only end up mid table: This season West Ham, Pompey, Boro, Newcastle, Sunderland, Blackburn, Bolton. And the promoted teams battling against relegation, along with the usual suspects: Stoke, Hull, Albion, Wigan and Fulham.

    Whereas in the championship everyone attempts to predict what will happen, but at the end of the day don't have a clue. Anyone can beat anyone, home or away and theres always a surprise team battling relegation, last season Southampton, and a surprise team pushing for promotion, last season Hull and Bristol City.

  • Comment number 45.

    Personally the three teams going up for me will be Birmingham City, Reading and Bristol.
    I think the chance of promotion for Birmingham are very strong because of their experienced squad. Along with the leadership of Carsley, not only him but the quality of their other players like Larsson, Jerome, Mcsheffery, Kelly and Kevin Phillips. Birmingham will play attackive football. Same with Reading and Bristol.
    Although i agree that the league will be very close and everyone has the chance of promotion, thats what makes the league so good.

  • Comment number 46.

    My prediction for the PL this coming season, im guessing it wont be too far away from the actual final outcome:

    Chelsea
    Man Utd
    Liverpool
    Arsenal
    Spurs
    Everton
    Villa
    Man City
    Pompey
    Blackburn
    Sunderland
    Newcastle
    West Ham
    Boro
    Bolton
    Fulham
    West Brom
    Hull
    Wigan
    Stoke

    My predictions for the championship, probably completely wrong but there u go, thats the excitement of the championship:

    Automatic promotion: Birmingham and Ipswich.

    Playoffs: Southampton, Ipswich, Reading and Palace. Southampton to win in final vs Ipswich.

    Relegation: Doncaster, Barnsley and Blackpool.

  • Comment number 47.

    I am a season ticket at barnsley, and i really think we will do well this season.We have signed darren moore and ian hume.they are good signings for barnsley.i think the ones who will go up is, Birmingham , Crystal palace and plymouth

    i think the ones who will go down will be ,bristol city , sheffield wednesday and blackpool

  • Comment number 48.

    How can Ipswich both be in the Playoffs, and automatic promotion CaleySaints90?

  • Comment number 49.

    ha ha, each comment is so biased to their own team, notably the Southampton fan writing above.... he even tries to undermine his optimism by stating they'll only get promoted via the play-offs.. and even has the audacity to say who they will beat in the final...

    Saints - you'll struggle and if you're near the top or play-offs ocme May, then i'll well and truly eat my hat!!! No chance!... Bristol???????? come on surely!!!!!!

  • Comment number 50.

    i think alot of peeps will underestimate wednesday, the better half of our squad was injured last season, and with the proposed takeover then we could be in the fight for a top 6 finish

  • Comment number 51.

    As a West Brom fan I'm probably in a good position to judge (having our time split between premiership and championship over the last few years).

    The quality gap is clear between the two leagues. For the long term financial health of a club like West Brom (no rich benefactor (yet!) ) spending time in the PL is essential. I see it as a necessary evil. In the Championship we win more, score more and its just more enjoyable. OK in the PL you get to see the big clubs, big names up close, but its not much fun seeing your teams destroyed by a club with vastly superior resources. There's always the odd surprise (e.g. beating Arsenal 2-1 at the Hawthorns) but generally the PL is tough for promoted teams.

    Just hoping Mowbray can break the yo-yo cycle and we can establish ourselves in the PL, but if not a stint in the Championship is not the end of the world.

  • Comment number 52.

    For me, Birmingham should go up - they have decent players and have made decent signings too.

    Wolves will make the top 6 I feel, hennesey, kightly, Ebanks-Blake, Jones, Elokobi etc etc.

    Coventry are my outside bet to do well, Coleman's first full season in charge, good strikeforce in Morrison (have they signed him yet?), Eastwood, Mifsud, Best.

    Reading and Derby have to be mentioned, though I think Derby will take a while to blend with their new signings, they should be capable of a late push to make the play offs.

    Ipswich and Sheffield United should be there or thereabouts.

    As a Southampton fan, I cannot predict anything, we currently possess a good mixture of youth and experience, but I expect most of our experience to be sold in the coming weeks - Rasiak, Skacel, Viafara... we could struggle under this new dutch regime, but we could suprise people all the same. Anything is an improvement on last season anyway (unless we get relegated doh)

    Plymouth, Blackpool, Barnsley to struggle, with Swansea and Doncaster.

    Notts Forest to finish mid table comfortably, with QPR, Palace, Preston, Bristol City etc.

  • Comment number 53.

    Last seasons Championship was a much more interesting competition that the Premiership. I expect the same again for the same reason; it's wide open.

    The state of the Premiership with it's acute lack of genuine competition is largely the fault of the allocation of "Champions" League places. (I quote Champions since the word is entirely inappropriate - most of the teams taking part in the competition are not Champions.)

    Take the Gareth Barry transfer saga as an example - a top player already at a top club with an ambitious chairman and top drawer manager - but its not enough. The player want to move citing the need to play Champions League football. The top four get huge amounts of money from participating in that competition so it just strengthens their hold on a financial front and their ability to cream off any player they fancy with the lure of the top competition.

    The Champions League needs restructuring so that it is a competition for the teams that won their domestic leagues the previous season like it used to be. The other top team can go into the UEFA cup (like they used to do).

    Of course that's not going to happen, is it? Why? G14 - the top cartel teams who dictate to the rest of us and the governing bodies how the future can take shape to preserve their status.

    FIFA, UEFA, the FA, the Premier League - they all claim to have the best interests of the game at heart but the reality is they haven't, they don't and they won't have the best interests of the game at heart whilst the likes of the G14 exist. They are weak, ineffective and absolutely powerless bodies to administer the game for the greater good.

    94-95 season Forest finished 3rd in the Premiership after promotion. Norwich one season finished 3rd (93-94 I think?). Could such a thing happen next season with Stoke, West Brom or Hull? Not a chance.

    There is no point the pyramid structure of the game. The point broke off - the breakaway top 4 might as well start their Euro league - if the situation doesn't return to how it used to be. Maybe then the Premiership might become a more attractive proposition and depose the Championship and the leader in openess and entertainment.

  • Comment number 54.

    Yes, the Championship is unpredictable on a match-by-match basis, but over the season the better, bigger, wealthier clubs are usually there or thereabouts come May - with the exception of those that have well-known problems off the pitch (boardroom or financial).

    Nobody would have been surprised in January by a prediction of WBA and Stoke. The only surprise was how long it took them. Hull just came up on the rails on the back of a decent run, taking advantage of the failure of anyone else in the top 10 to string a consistent run together.

    The individual games are exciting, with the edge that comes from second-division quality, but predictions of swift returns for perm two of Birmingham, Reading and Derby will not be far wide of the mark. With a system of parachute payments that extend over several seasons, the Championship, too, is quickly becoming a league of haves versus have-nots, at least where two of the three promotion spots are concerned, and come to that where two of the three relegation spots are concerned.

  • Comment number 55.

    In terms of Watchability (nod to Dowie), the Premiership is in a much higher league.

    This is why the teams mentioned in the 6th post above such as Middlesbrough, Blackburn, Wigan and Fulham, as well as the Wednesdays, Derbys and Norwichs etc would all have higer attendances in the Prem than in the CCC.

    For the same reason the viewing figures for Match of the Day would plummet if they only showed the Championship.

    I suspect this is due to two reasons:-

    (a) The quality of football - it is more easy to watch without frustration; and

    (b) The prestige - people like to watch the best against the best. This is why most of us only watch track and field every 4 years and also why Man U Chelsea games are more watched than Bolton Fulham games.

    There can of course be exciting individual games in any league and in any sport and I don't think the CCC is any better or worse than the EPL in this regard.

    Where the CCC excels is for fans, who in reality don't really get to chose between the two. Their interest is kept longer because the League is closer, but also because there is more to aim for as a 6th place spot is all you need to get promoted (and bring you millions).

    The UEFA cup isn't really going to change a Premiership team's fortunes significantly (look at Middlesbrough). Therefore the EPL would be better if places 7 - 4 had a play off for the last Champions League place, although I'm sure there would be some high powered opposition to that!



  • Comment number 56.

    Speaking as a Norwich Supporter, (and I note there isn't much mention of them in this article) What is important is that you love a club, follow their fortunes passionately, feel the pain of failure and the joy of success. Then, whatever league your team are in then you will find it exciting. The real problem with football today is that people talk about it as entertainment or an informative news item for the masses "Oh Man U won again" "oh Chelsea played quite well today taking 3 points off some poor team whose players are payed less that the toilet roll budget at Stamford Bridge" but I feel sorry for the peole who just watch football for the fotball, some meaningless champions league match between some czech team and some germans, they should just visit their local team, whatever division they play in and get behind them, then they will see what real football is about.

  • Comment number 57.

    I often feel a bit sorry for Manu U or Chelsea fans. Where's the fun in watching your team beat Fulham or Middlesboro 1-0?

    -------------------------------------------------------
    Point being missed here. As a United season ticket holder and supporter for 35 years I remember well the pain of relegation, playing second fiddle to Liverpool for 25 years and wondering when the good times would return. Yes , since 1993 being a United fan with SAF has been a joy but who knows what will happen when that ends? Also you do the smaller PL clubs are a great dis-service, on a game-to-game basis United can be beaten by Boro and others (and frequently have) Over a season its another story - but the anticipation of a game and the joy of winning is the same whatever level you are watching and as a fan you are in it for a lifetime. If you are privelged also to be watching some of the best players in the world then you are lucky, but everything that comes around goes around and who knows whats coming next? Losing a PL to Chelsea or Arsenal hurts as does being beaten home and way by City -defeat hurts whoever you support. Good luck to Doncaster in their first 2nd tier season since 1957, people appear to be writing you off already, we will see...

  • Comment number 58.

    I've been a QPR fan since a small boy, and I don't understand why we're favourites either. We have little or no chance this year with the lack of new signings - world's richest club, don't make me laugh.

    I'm embarrassed to say I abandoned the superhoops for ten years in the 90s as they declined in footballing terms, and I haven't renewed my season ticket for the last two years. I'll probably support Reading from now on, although my partner is more interested in Scottish football.

    My tip for promotion ? Nottm Forest.

  • Comment number 59.

    I think the Championship and all lower divisions should divorce from the Premier League totally and apply for inclusion in UEFA competitions directly for the Championship winners.

    The Premiership is a bloated marketing machine where fans are customers and players are commodities. English players on the pitch are rarer than the dodo and consequently the national side suffers. OK so Man U won the Champion's League, but how many Englishmen participated in the tournament from our 4 teams? Not many.

    It would have given the country so much more to shout about if a team of mostly Englishmen won something for a change. Instead all we got was a business franchise investing enough revenue in commodities that performed better than the European based counterparts to lift silverware.

    The Championship is where the heart of England is, definitely. Vive la revolution and let's see some Englishmen in Europe for a change, instead of them all over here.

  • Comment number 60.

    I'm a Plymouth Argyle fan and after a successful season last year, I believe we face a much tougher time of it this time around.
    In the last 7 months we've sold Ebanks-Blake, Norris, Gosling and now Halmosi, to name just a few. Unfortunately for a club of our size and means, this is almost unavoidable due to the higher wages other clubs can offer - we just can't compete with other clubs on crowds of around 13,000 a week. Our geographical location doesn't help either, although it makes our away support the most loyal, vociferous and well travelled in the country!
    I love watching Championship football - ok, sometimes it's not the most aesthetically pleasing, but passion, loyalty, and fierce competition between all teams (unlike 90% of the Premiership season) make it my favourite league to watch. If Argyle were to get promoted (you can dream!) I think the whole Green Army would take the £30 million and then come straight back down again! We are pretty much debt-free, have a board who are all fans of the club, and have a youth set up that keeps bringing the youngters into the first team. Oh, and watch out for a young Mr Mackie this season - he's deadly in front of goal! COYG!

  • Comment number 61.

    Hell even Leicester and Leeds in League One get bigger crowds than some Premiership and most Championship crowds!

  • Comment number 62.

    If the BBC and Sky had their way Football in Britain would consist of Liverpool , Manchester United , Arsenal and Chelesa p0laying each other every week because no one is interested and any other football team.

    If you watch football from a partisan point of view you want your team to walk it evry week, but from a neutral point of view the Championship (and League and 2 and Conference) are far more interesting because , generally, no one walks away wih it.

    If you watch a horse race do you want a horse to win by 10 lengths each time or would you prefer to see a photo finish between 5 or six horses?

    The lower divisions are more entertaing thatn the Premiership because of the even playing field.

    And remember Chelsea fans , if Roman goes missing, you WILL be playing and Championship level or below very soon

  • Comment number 63.

    I had a vision come to me in a dream. And it told me that the winners of this year's Championship winners will be...Plymouth Argyle.

    And, well, I wouldn't completely bet against it. Plymouth, on most occasions, are a good side although they don't help themselves by ridding of their better players. Realistically they aren't going to win the Championship but a play-off place is not beyond them.

    Also I envisioned the accompanying promotions of Reading and Bristol City. Reading I think were unlucky and could have established themselves in the Premier League if they'd just managed to cling onto survival, and gave a lot of good performances throughout the season (notably the goalless draw at Old Trafford and the win against Liverpool, and the fact that they scored four goals away from home twice if you kinda blot out the goals against part).

    I also reckon Bristol City will do well again. Most people think they will be in a fight for relegation, and that's plausible, but why Bristol City would suddenly become a struggling team eludes me. The only problem I guess is that there will be a lower suprise factor over them. They did suffer some heavy defeats. But then again, so did Stoke and so did Hull (before they transformed themselves, such as beating Southampton 5-0 after losing to them 4-0 earlier in the season). Even West Brom suffered a humiliating defeat at home to relegated Leicester. To me that match sums up the Championship to a tee.

    Other promotion contenders? Birmingham, Charlton and Palace would probably be there. Last year's dark horse for me was Burnley, but they didn't do too great (although not badly either). I would say this year's dark horse is good old Nottingham Forest. No one knows quite how well (or badly) they will do, but I'm gonna give them an outside tip to suprise many observers.

  • Comment number 64.

    i can see the point about it being exciting, but the premier league title and relegation was solved on the last day last season so i guess thats exciting for clubs involved. only REAL predictable thing about the premiership is the top 4..but i think this could change soon with spurs, villa and everton looking strong not to mention portsmouth and man city. the championship is more exiciting because all the teams are similar in abililty, this season will be EVEN closer. there are no scunthorpe or colchesters its a league full of big clubs - blackpool and plymouth maybe

  • Comment number 65.

    Now then,

    Thanks for all your comments. There have been a lot of interesting points made as well as some interesting and strange ideas.

    Reading through the comments I think it is clear how much enthusiasm there is for the division and how fans really enjoy the intense and open competition.

    I'm also delighted to see that lots of other people have no idea who is going to win - not just me then!

  • Comment number 66.

    There are too many teams this year with a shot at winning the Championship. It's almost impossible to definitely say who will be promoted at the end of the season.
    Compared with the Premier League (Man U or Chelsea for the title yet again....zzzzz...zzzz...), it's far a more exciting prospect for fans.

    Birmingham have got a great chance of going back up, and I think Wolves, Palace and the two Sheffield teams will be in with a shout of a top 6 place. I can also see Forest and Norwich being good dark horse bets this year, although I think Bristol City will find it hard to repeat their achievements last year.
    As an embittered Coventry fan who can remember the days when there were no parachute payments for relegated teams, I hope at least two of the clubs who came down from the Premiership end up toiling in the league this year. I find it ridiculous that clubs who overspend in the face of relegation have this back-up system in place to spare their blushes when they fail to survive in the big league.
    However, with Coleman getting his first full season in charge and with a team of good young players I reckon we can make a push for a play-off spot this year. Unless we do what we've done for the past eight years and sack our manager before the end of the season...

  • Comment number 67.

    well. some pretty varied views going on here. most of them uninformed. anyhow. ipswich are live on sky 5 times before you even start opening your advent calenders. thats more than most prem teams. i guess the guys in the studio have been begging to watch some good football rather than having to put up with the crappy teams that went up last season (except W.B.A ), and other ugly prem survivers like bolton and wigan. the championship does have more quality than it is given credit for, but generally not the consistency that is associated with the premierleagues top 4. (oh, they don't always win 1-0. spurs 4-4 chelsea last season was a game that would of graced the championship.) i for one will be sad not to be in the championship next season after ipswich get promoted. but i'll also look forward to banging in 4 past chelsea's team of weightlifters!

  • Comment number 68.

    oh......20/1 at ladbrokes if you want to make some cash too

  • Comment number 69.

    I'm not sure it all went downhill from the Premier League era, as in the first two or three years there were a variety of names up near the top, such as Norwich, Blackburn QPR and Villa in finished top 5 in 92-93, and Wimbledon and Sheff Wed were top 6 the year after. It really was a case that most teams could finish anywhere in that league and it was only really in the mid- to late 1990s that the Premier League became dominated by the big four, largely I feel due to the expansion of the Champions League. That created alot more money for the top teams who were competing in it year-in year-out and widened the gap on those below.

    The quality of football some may argue isn't as good as in the Premier League, but I, as a supporter of a Premier League club, still enjoy watching Championship games as you never know who is going to win.

  • Comment number 70.

    I'm a celtic fan but I was at the Plymouth v Sheffield Wed game last season and have to say I really enjoyed it, really good atmosphere, big (ish) crowd (think there was 14000 or so there) great match (owls won 2-1) all in all had a really good day out.

    I was also at Arsenal v Boro game a few months back and apart from the stadium (which is awesome) I found the game boring (Boro scored early and stuck 10 behind the ball the rest of the game) and there wasn't much atmosphere until Arsenal equalised near the end. came away a little dissapointed.

    I'm off to London again soon and instead of looking for Arsenal/Spurs for a match to go to I reckon I'll be looking for a championship match to go see that weekend, much more entertaining....

  • Comment number 71.

    In my opinion it's up to the "smaller" teams to prove the doubters wrong by putting up a fight, and being both tactically clever and highly motivated, which often throws up a few surprise results (as Wigan and Fulham proved at the back end of last season!).
    As much as I agree that it's close and exciting between the teams in the Championship, I love watching the skill and flair of the top teams in the Premiership and that's what I pay my money for. I'd prefer to fork out to be entertained by great interplay and incredible goals from an all-star cast rather than a bunch of unfit misfits hoofing a long ball and scoring from dead ball situations.

  • Comment number 72.

    Bit disappointed in the negative feeling from the QPR fans. OK, so we didn't sign Figo, and Zidane wasn't the mystery new manager the board was so excited about unveiling. Last season the R's were the last team in England to win a game, in OCTOBER. Then, from bottom of the table, with the new crop of players, such as Buzsaky, Agyemang, Hall, and Vine; all good quality players for the division, the team put together a run of promotion form. And that's not an exaggeration, it's a fact. We were averaging 2 points a game between mid-December and March, which is generally enough to win a league. OK, the Prem relegated teams, along with the usual playoff crowd will make it a tight top half, but I fairly confidently predict a top 6 finish.
    Reading for the title, Blackpool for the drop.

  • Comment number 73.

    i'm a Cardiff fan and was a little disappointed Leeds didn't make it to our league this year. Swansea, Forest and Leeds would have been three big big games against clubs coming UP into our league.

    I totally agree with Fletch in that the Championship is a great league to be in. Everyone has a chance to do well - even Colchester - who had an excellent season as the probably the smallest club ever to be in the Championship. You could argue that the position of any Championship club is better right now than Hull or Stoke.

    Although they will get some glamour games they will have plenty of games against the likes of Fulham, Wigan and West Brom where they will be scrapping over the odd point.

    When we missed out on promotion after being 5 points clear a couple of years ago - some of my fellow Bluebirds were comforted by Southampton fans who said that they much prefered Championship football and the banter with Championship fans. So much so they were glad they'd been relegated.

    I can see the sense in this. As there is little Championship football on TV you don't really get armchair fans. I'm far more interested in what an Ipswich fan has to say than what a Man United fan has picked up from the back page of The Sun. (Please don't take this as a criticism real Man U fans - i'm sure your legion of never attending fans annoys you too.)

    On a final point, the mass importation of foreign players to the Premiership means more British players have to find work in a lower division - our's. This means the quality of players in our league is higher than it has ever been.

    The Championship is the 4th best supported league in Europe - it's not hard to see why.

    (The tickets could be cheaper though)

  • Comment number 74.

    When SWFC were relegated from the top flight 8 years or so ago, I thought life couldn't get any worse. Another relegation followed soon after and being an Owls fan became more and more miserable. But now, after a play-off final win, watching the development of some great young players coming through the ranks and a chance of a play-off place or better next season, I'd opt to watch a team of loyal young locals (with only one or two coming from abroad) trying their best in the Championship ahead of a bunch of disloyal mouthy Di Canios, Jonks and Carbones being overpaid by us in the PL. The day's of UK based players ruling the roost in the PL are over but it's great to see young lads getting a chance at Championship level and staking their claim for a position in a PL team in the future.

  • Comment number 75.

    The Championship is unpredictable, you got that right. One seaosn Saint were in playoffs, next thing they knew, they were in a relegation battle, where there was a pitch invasion :p

    The quality isn't as good, and its very difficult for a team getting promoted to the Prem to stay up because of the money involved and you have to buy tons of players, which Hull are trying to do.

    If you like to bet, then its going to be really hard in the Championship. I think Wolves missed out a play off place by a goal to Watford?

  • Comment number 76.

    Not being funny, but a child of 10 could have written this article and would not have placed QPR as favourites to go up!

    The fact is, us real Rangers fans who have been through the bad days will tell you that whilst confidence is high, its more due to the expectation that our woes are behind us, we won't be mired in a relegation dog fight this season and yes, we do seem to be planning for a better future.

    Something Briartore has acknowledged will take a few years to achieve.

    I think if you offered Rangers fans a top 10 finish for 2008/9 with some good footy on the pitch, no nonsense off of it and heaven's above maybe a cup run, we would bite your hand off now.

    Dowie managed Rangers once before and those of us at Molyneux the night of his first game saw more out of a Rangers team in that one game then we had in a year under the late Ray Harford...lost the next game mind and Gerry Francis came in after that, but he knows what needs to be done and how to do it and after his last two clubs, he needs to prove it to himself.

    Good luck to one and all and see you in the Champions League in 2010....only joking!!

  • Comment number 77.

    QPR as favourites, probably not you'd have to put Birmingham, Reading, Derby above us at least.
    However I don't share the thoughts of a lot on here about our chances, we were in the top 4 or 5 form teams of the division for the second half of the season, easily play-off spot material. We brought in a lot of good Championship players last year who are still there. With probably another couple of signings in the next week or two, i suspect that if we are anywhere near the top come January the money will be splashed for a serious promotion push.

  • Comment number 78.

    #39
    Igor_Stimac said ".... why's that?... that's because exposure to the best brand of football i.e. the premiership, makes these teams better. I'd take premiership any day of the week.... and that's despite our 11 point total still fresh in my thoughts!"

    No, that's not the reason. Exposure to premiership football does not prepare a team for the championship. In fact it can take relegated Premiership teams some time to adjust to the championship. They usually lose some key players and have to rebuild. The reason why these teams are strong is money. They have millions in parachute payments that give them a financial advantage over the rest of the teams.

  • Comment number 79.

    GREEN ARMY to beat Wolves in play-off final next May. I think the Championship is a great leauge and very exciting, but as in all football sometimes you do get rubbish games. The thing is when you get rubbish football you appreciate the good football even more. If it was always great it would become tedious after a while. As with the weather if it was always hot people would moan but as it's now and then people appreciate it more. That's human nature !!!!

  • Comment number 80.

    Phew. If it wasn't for the BBC I wouldn't have noticed the Championship existed.

    Or not. Your coverage of the Football League is poor at best, your reporters make simple mistakes, incorrectly attributing goals to players who weren't on the pitch, crosses by players who left the pitch moments before, then a one-line interview with the manager.

    But now you have the rights to shove the highlights down our throats at every opportunity, I guess that the Championship will be a big deal on the Beeb.

    Good-o.

  • Comment number 81.

    The standard of refereeing in the championship is pretty poor compared to the premier league. And this effects the quality of teams that get promoted.

    If you have a team that just kicks the other teams then they have a good chance of promotion. It's teams that play a good passing game that suffer. West Brom should have won promotion years ago.

    You only have to look at Derby kicking their way to promotion and then finding out in the Premiership that they can't get away from doing that from better refs. In the end they had to rely on football and then their quality showed.

  • Comment number 82.

    I dont know why people write off Wolves?

    I know that Wolves badly underperformed and didn't meet expectations, but Wolves still have one of the best and diverse squads in the CCC.

    I tip Birmingham and QPR, next season they will have a quality team who will push them through.

    Playoffs - Wolves, Southhampton, Bristol City and Reading

    Relegation - I really dont know but i think that Nottingham Forest dont have the quality to keep them in the CCC

  • Comment number 83.

    If I'm honest, Saints are under too much financial pressure to make a genuine push for the PL this year. Having said that, I think our youngsters will do well, and Im probably being realistic at hoping for a mid table finish. Much above that and I will be ecstatic!
    Like many I have lost interest in the PL. It’s all just a bit dull these days. Yes the quality is there, but the results just follow the expected outcome.
    I'd personally rather be a neutral fan watching Birmingham v Bristol city than Arsenal vs Fulham.
    If the Championship is truly lowering the quality of the English game, then maybe someone should consider finding new ways of pumping money into it. Even well supported clubs just cant seem to find the cash to get promoted and stay up. Lets see some more TV action please SKy and the like!

  • Comment number 84.

    Stoke City will be Champions 09/10...
    Of The Championship

  • Comment number 85.

    I much prefer the CCC to the Prem, it reminds me of Div 1 when i was a boy. Good manager, shrewd purchases, bit of luck and who knows. I get angry when i'm told the Prem is so great, it's not! Some games are but most are one sided affairs that are plain dull.

  • Comment number 86.

    in a way i wish i supported a championship team. a palace fan put up a good comment about watching his team battle for 3 points at barnsley, theres more excitement and drama, more true fans, not to mention cheaper tickets. i would never consider supporting any other team though so im sorta stuck with the PL and all its downsides.

  • Comment number 87.

    A lot of people backing Ipswich, Birmigham, Sheffield United, Palace and QPR. But no one seems too confident about Reading or Derby?

    Trouble is theres about 15 teams who think they should be reaching the play-offs, and considering Bristol City and Colchester United's 1st season sucess no one feels there team will get relegated.

    My prediction
    1.Birmigham
    2.Palace
    3.Reading
    4.Sheffield United
    5.Watford
    6.Wolves
    7.QPR
    8.Ipswich
    9.Forrest
    10.Bristol City

  • Comment number 88.

    I am so confused.

    Somer people are saying tha Forest will finish mid-table, while at the same time saying Swansea will struggle.

    For the record, Swansea is by far the strongest team to come out of League One for decades.

    Watching the Welsh play last season was out of this world, its never nice seeing teams humiliated no matter which team it is but regardless of this you can't help but admire at what was unfolding before your eyes.

    If the Swans have bought right, and considering this Martinez is looking the real deal, then Swansea will certainly be no pushover.

  • Comment number 89.

    Hi all,

    Being truthfully honest can anyone really see anyone else but birmingham winning the league??

    I look at all the other teams and apart from maybe reading, they all look very very poor to me!

    I mean sheff utd are the 4th favourites to go up in the bookies! So I think I rest my case and as for QPR i honestly don't believe they have made any outstanding signings that will make a difference to a very very average team.

    Birmingham this year are in a league of thier own.

  • Comment number 90.

    It looks like the Championship is starting to get the recognition it deserves. Already there are 2 fantasy football games on the market dedicated to the Championship. One of them is fantasy.football-league.co.uk

    I hope through stuff like this it is highlighted that the Championship has top quality football with great teams. It may lack the superstars of the premiership but at least it has grit, determination, and is fun to watch.

  • Comment number 91.

    I am an open-mineded single girl and I love sports.
    I want to end my single life by meeting a guy who likes sports too. Let's mingle at the club
    (((((==== Mixed mingle.c o m====))))where love is color blind.(sexysophia there)

 

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