The Greater Championship
Leeds United’s thrilling 1-0 win at Old Trafford in the FA Cup only serves to underline that the Peacocks will be joining our party from August. Although I hold no truck with the claims of some to be massive clubs when that supposed vastness is unsupported by silverware, it’s a fair wager that the Elland Roaders stay amongst us could be a short one. Appearances in the European Cup final in 1975, the collection of our trophy in 1992 (albeit in superior company) and that 2001 jaunt to the Mestalla all underline the fact that Leeds’ natural habitat is the top one — and that’s leaving aside the infrastructure provided by large regional city status.
But the Championship as a concept bleeds beyond the boundary of its current twenty four occupants. Lingering above and below are a host of teams who are contesting in a ring with which they are unaccustomed. Fans either look shiftily over their shoulders as they exit the portals of the Emirates or Old Trafford, ever expecting to be detained for trespass or fraud; or else they strut arrogantly along the streets of Stockport or Wycombe, like business class travellers pretending their company hasn’t footed the bill.
The Premier League is currently chocker with clubs merely on loan to that flight. Those whose undeniable natural constituency is the Championship include Portsmouth, Burnley, Stoke, Birmingham and Blackburn. The latter may have been crowned across the nation following the injection of the Walker millions, but they have fooled nobody as to their true standing. Those with only an arguable claim to be among the primary 20 include West Ham and Sunderland — the latter perhaps the most regularly dusted with that massive label (funny how you never hear anyone use that adjective to describe Liverpool or Arsenal). Perhaps most controversially, Chelsea’s natural claim to their current status is far from a hundred percent watertight, with crowds of less than 10,000 in the early eighties still a strong memory. As for Hull, Fulham and Wigan in particular, they would all struggle to present a truly convincing case to be among the top 50 in the land ceteris paribus.
Down a notch, and aside from Leeds, one could back calls from Charlton, Norwich, Southampton and Huddersfield to be Championship in spirit. Oldham’s thirty year avoidance of the Auto-Windscreen zone and the late century prominence of Millwall and Brighton might allow them both a hearing, but the cases would likely be rejected. Below that, only Notts County and non-league Luton have the traditional standing to be included in this idea of a Greater Championship, so totting things up, how many can be counted as second division in every bone of their bodies?
Unilaterally axing the bevy of current residents who have spent the majority of their time outside this division would see the eviction of Newcastle for sure and Nottingham Forest at a push, although the Sheffield duo are now so indissolubly linked to football in these parts that they must remain. Reading, Blackpool, Doncaster, Swansea, Scunthorpe and Peterborough all face exile from this survey due to extended spells in the lower leagues at various points in their history.
So this wider Championship would encompass a body of 27: Portsmouth, Burnley, Stoke, Birmingham , Blackburn, West Ham, Cardiff, Leicester, Sheffield United, Crystal Palace, QPR, Middlesbrough, Bristol City, Watford, Barnsley, Preston, Coventry, Derby, Ipswich, Plymouth, Sheffield Wednesday, Charlton, Norwich, Southampton, Huddersfield, Notts County and Luton. There may be league title winners in there, but Derby fans should bear in mind that Manish and Steve will be swatting up in their players irrespective of what division they are in. I once advertised for a new flatmate and discussed with a friend as to the best method of ensuring the application of someone infatuated with soccer outside the Premier League: Pin a picture of Neil Warnock to the door and quiz the arrivals as to his identity was the answer. I failed to do so and my fellow blogger Frank Heaven ended up rejected by my housemates in my absence. A sense of what it means to be Championship through and through is still strong.