Like Bowie’s ‘Jean Genie’ in 1973 and Ultravox’s ‘Vienna’ in 1981, quality doesn’t always get to the top. A league table of European attendances was published recently and nestling third behind Germany and the English Premiership sat the English Championship, hardly lifting its head to notice, but just getting on with keeping its hand on the tiller and maintaining the course of British football tradition. This is no slight on the fans or clubs in the Premiership who are not short in this area by any means, but for those in the Championship who continue to attend in such numbers where hype and razzle-dazzle loom less, some sort of recognition is due here. Perhaps it is just that which is causal.We should also notice League One who came inside the top ten as well.
Straight off before we put a knife to the skin on the matter what is it that does this? Well, the English nation loves its football, with or without hype. Simple fact. As they probably should, having invented the game, but then again as a nation, tradition looms large in these islands and especially in football. For the clubs in the Championship are full of this sort of stuff – the sort of stuff that you can’t get out of an app and the sort of stuff that an agent’s cut can’t always cut through.
For the Premiership clubs that are at present the meritocratic top dogs in England, there are certainly plenty of Championship clubs who can walk beside those strutting peacocks as far as history and tradition goes. Some of the clubs just scream it at you and the ownership of these two totems will always enclose support, no matter how tough things become. It is a sort of quasi-replica of the British regimental system that maintains esprit de corps.
So many of the clubs have various pieces of substance and armour that maintain support. Forest and Villa,- ex European Champions and along with Derby and Leeds, well familiar with being Champions of England in the last forty plus odd years.
Some have history that have longer roots. Wolves – a massive club in the fifties and one of the first to play under floodlights. Since we are in that period don’t forget Preston and Bolton who were the powerhouses of Lancashire before transport links amongst other things diminished them against the present Mancunian giants. More recently than that let nobody forget the marvellous Ipswich Town sides of Bobby Robson that brightened up the late seventies and early eighties.
The two Sheffield clubs have a huge story and are part of big urban conurbations which of course is a contributor and in this aspect Sunderland, Middlesborough, Birmingham City and Bristol City fall in behind.. Other clubs have had recent sojourns in the Premiership and along with parachute money, each visit there brings along new fans and aspiration having enjoyed that dubious nirvana. Hull, Reading, Fulham, Norwich, Cardiff and QPR might put their hands up here. The fans of these clubs have had recent or previous residence in England’s top flight and with some justification feel that they are only on extended leave in the Championship. This is the sort of stuff that fuels football fans and forces them out of the pubs and off their settees.
In fact one might argue that only Barnsley, Burton, Brentford and Millwall suffer (if that is the right word) in that they might struggle to strongly argue for inclusion in these ‘groups’. Not that this is holding them back. No, Sir.
Don’t forget either that this is perhaps the most aspirational league about in which to hold membership. To that end, especially if you are successful it is the chase towards glory that can be intoxicating in the same way that blokes love the chase of a girl. A victorious campaign will stick with a fan forever. Any Leicester City fan will be able to give you details of every match in the 2015/16 season without pausing for thought. To have a chance of getting to the Premiership is a hell of a thing to chase and with play offs to aim for, this can keep quite a few clubs bubbling at a fairly high temperature all season.
All season, and let’s remember this is a forty- six game yomp through August to May without Chinooks for help. So there is no time for stopping for breath – once you are on you are on and it really a case of strap yourself in for the ride. Are we feeling competitive yet for this is what all this throws up and on a more financially level football pitch. ‘Competitive’ brings crowds.
There are other things too of course that are not mutually exclusive to the Championship or indeed England. Local derbies are plentiful due to the amount of clubs and yes, plenty of grounds are easy and comfortable to visit and indeed clubs themselves help the fans out now on away travel. But away travel is a particularly English thing and there is no dilution of it one level down. There is even a Saturday night show to boot ahead of MOTD to champion the cause.
Many of these clubs were absolute brick and concrete of the top flight in my day and there are plenty there that I hope to see back. I think that their bronze medal in this recently published attendance league show that they are still every much as brick and concrete as those a tier above them.