With so much soccer so accessible easily around the world, it’s only natural that second tier leagues don’t get too much attention from the average supporter. The Championship, however, is an exception to that particular rule.
English soccer’s second division can almost stand alone from its big brother, the Premier League. The quality may not compare to plenty of competitions around Europe and the rest of the world, but the Championship has harnessed a reputation for being one of the most entertaining divisions around.
“I love watching the Championship, because in those games, I see true love that people in England have for football,” said former AC Milan and Italy midfielder Gennaro Gattuso about England’s second tier. “They breathe football. I record two Championship matches a night.”
Raw, frantic and feisty, there is certainly no landscape quite like the second tier of English soccer. One of the perils of being one of the three teams relegated from the Premier League may be the pecuniary hit a team has to take, given just how awash with riches the top flight is. But another major problem for sides is that it’s a division that’s devilishly difficult to escape from.
Over the course of the entire season that begins in August and ends in May, the 24 teams in the Championship play each team home and away. The two teams who finish the season with the most number of points (3 points for a win, 1 for a draw and 0 for a loss) are guaranteed a spot in the Premier League (i.e. promotion) for the following season. Those from third to sixth place do give themselves a chance, although they each face other in a playoff format, with the winner, determined in a final at Wembley Stadium, making the step up. The loser stays in the Championship.
While it’s not the most assured method of promotion, making it to the Premier League promised land via the playoffs is the most lucrative. The final between Hull City and Sheffield Wednesday in 2016 was worth an estimated £250 million to the victorious former, a number that seems to rise year upon year.
That motivation, plus the prospect of the playoffs with a top six finish, is what helps make the Championship so competitive. Not to mention the quantity of matches and humbler venues when compared to the Premier League.
In recent seasons teams have made a late surge from the lower reaches of the table, into the playoffs and carried their best form into the post-season competition. There’s so much to play for in the Championship, meaning it’s set up for undiluted drama on the final weekend and in the playoffs, as Watford found out with this iconic moment in 2013:
With three teams relegated at the end of the season to League One (the third tier of English soccer), it’s rare for teams loitering above the drop zone to be totally assured of their safety in the division. For those who are deadlocked on points with another team, goal difference—when the goals scored are offset by the goals against—is used as a tie-breaker.
The standard of the division is on the rise too, as quality continues to trickle down from the Premier League. Indeed, Leicester City were Championship winners in 2014 and a couple of years later, much of the same squad helped secure one of the biggest shocks in the history of English soccer, as they romped to the Premier League title.
The Championship, along with League One and League Two, make up the 72 teams in the Football League. In 2016, the Football League rebranded itself as the English Football League (EFL). Another change made this year was the rebranding of the Capital One Cup to the EFL Cup. The competition features teams from the EFL against sides in the Premier League in an elimination tournament.
It’s a division that’s a breeding ground for rising stars and illustrious players who may have their peak years behind them, but can still show their class in what are so often anarchic fixtures. That makes for a brilliant blend and for managers, a variety of tactical scenarios to pick through.
Even some of the biggest coaches in the world are willing to manage in the division; Rafael Benitez and Roberto di Matteo, both UEFA Champions League winners in previous positions, will oversee the promotion pushes of Newcastle United and Aston Villa, respectively, in 2016-17.
So if you’re a little tired of the glitz and glamor of the Premier League, La Liga or the Bundesliga, where the wages are high and the stakes even higher, the Championship can provide a refreshingly authentic alternative.
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