The return of Football League fan power?
There have been many high-profile additions to the second tier this summer. But while David James and Edgar Davids are seemingly winding down their careers outside of the top flight, Craig Bellamy is arguably still at his peak. Japanese international midfielder Yuki Abe, now of Leicester City, is 28 and enjoyed a decent tournament in South Africa.
Record Scottish Premier League goalscorer Kris Boyd should be in the prime of his career having moved to Middlesbrough. Adel Taarabt is an outrageously gifted footballer who has recently moved from Tottenham Hotspur to Queen’s Park Rangers.
Why is the Championship suddenly no longer a dirty word?
There were obviously unique factors that played very separate parts in each of these moves, but there was a time not so long ago when no player of repute would settle for playing outside of the big time. The Premier League was the place to be and not even the division below was considered an option.
Let’s go back thirteen years in time to 1997, when Wigan Athletic and Fulham were both promoted out of the bottom division of the Football League. It was the beginning of an inexorable rise for both clubs, to the point where they are now, 6-0 defeats and manager departures aside, well-established in the Premier League. Bankrolled onto the top table by Dave Whelan and Mohammed Al-Fayed respectively, Wigan and Fulham have accounted for ten per cent of the elite for many years now.
They have recently been joined by the likes of Blackpool and Stoke City, and previously Burnley and Hull City. Clubs with far bigger fanbases, the likes of Leeds United, Nottingham Forest and Sheffield Wednesday, have become stuck in the Football League in the meantime.
However, it is not as simple as suggesting that high-profile players are equally willing to join bigger clubs in a lower division as to join smaller ones that are currently rubbing shoulders with the elite. For a start, none of the players listed above have joined Leeds or Forest. Both have indeed struggled to attract new personnel this summer.
The current rise in the Championship’s popularity with players, if not supporters, suggests instead that those on the field are beginning to think they can lead their new clubs to the same fate enjoyed by the Cottagers, Latics or Potters. They can lead their new clubs to the promised land, because being a big club is less important than ever. Being a rich club is something else entirely.
In many ways, the role of the supporter in all of this has come full circle. In the past, it was far more clear cut. The more fans a club had, the more money it would make and the better players it would attract. This is no longer the case.
But with regard to the motives of Davids and Bellamy in moving to Championship clubs, a desire to give something back to the fans has seemingly been a central cause. The Dutchman was answering a supporter’s plea on Twitter, while the Welshman was “going home” to the challenge of levering a club from his homeland into the Premier League.
And although Bellamy’s return to his birthplace sparked a certain amount of outrage, there has been an underlying feeling of excitement generated across the entire division by the high-profile signings made by a handful of clubs. Scunthorpe United’s home support at the modest surroundings of Glanford Park were among the first to see Edgar Davids play following his move to the Eagles.
Retention of players is also an asset to any division and there have been less Championship clubs selling off their key performers to the Premier League than in previous years. The final few days of the transfer window are well behind us and the likes of David Wheater, Jay Bothroyd and Darren Pratley have all remained with their second-tier clubs.
It is a trend which continues down the divisions. Peterborough United have managed to hang onto their holy trinity of George Boyd, Aaron MacLean and Craig Mackail-Smith despite relegation to League One and Rotherham United have retained top goalscorer Adam Le Fondre in League Two.
It would probably be naive to suggest that the hopes and dreams of fans come into the consideration of professional footballers on a regular basis. But that is perhaps the impression given by recent events in the Football League. Long may it continue.