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Today’s appointment between “Il Cambio” and football takes place in England. We meet what, according to many fans, is the most fascinating championship in the world: The Championship. Why is the Sky Bet Championship one of the most admired club tournaments in the world? Why does the attractiveness of the English Second Division leave no football fans indifferent? Why are sponsors and broadcasters willing to pay hundreds of millions of pounds in television rights?
To answer these questions, we have to start with the format of the competition. Twenty-four teams participate in the Championship, far more than one would expect if one were to assess the ratio of the number of teams to the level of the game. For example, there are 20 clubs in the Italian Serie A and at least three of them are not at the level of the others. The second intriguing aspect is the date on which the Championship was founded: 1892. The game of football was only institutionalised 29 years earlier and the English Championship is one of the oldest competitions in history. Over the years, names have changed but the essence has remained the same. Even today, this tournament represents the highest level of the Football League (as the Premier League is part of a different association).
The last element that brings fans closer to this championship is the promotion of the various teams: whoever manages to beat the competition by reaching first or second place, or by passing through the play-offs, gets the right to participate in the “richest” championship in the world, the Premier League.
The league of surprises and bombers
As already mentioned, there are 24 clubs in the starting line-up and bookmakers try hard to draw up a hypothetical final ranking. Unfortunately, or fortunately, however, what the Championship has taught us is that making calculations is wrong. Even though some teams are favoured, the season is never-ending (46 league games, plus the National Cup) and difficulties are always around the corner. The teams that are relegated from the Premier League know something about it: they believe their level to be higher compared to the others’, but they always find themselves in trouble. It is not unusual to see the collapse of some of these teams (see Hull City a couple of seasons ago). Of the three relegated teams this year, only Norwich have pulled away from their rivals: Bournemouth and Watford are struggling to get back into Premier League.
The further beauty of the Championship is inextricably linked to the strikers who populate it and who make it a real training ground for life. The most striking cases are those of Jamie Vardy, Ricky Lambert, and Billy Sharp. The first one, who started from Fleetwood Town and was bought by Leicester, after struggling for two seasons in the Championship, first reached the Premier League at the age of 27, and then won the championship, gaining access to the Champions League and being called up for the World Cup in Russia. The other two youngsters, who started from nothing, have made their club’s fortunes in the Championship, setting goalscoring records in Football League categories. Lambert even managed to make the famous ‘double jump’ with his Southampton team: from League One to Premier League. Sharp, on the other hand, at the age of 33, became the most prolific minor league striker in the 21st century with 227 goals.
That is why the Championship is seen as the most fascinating competition in the world: here everyone can have a second chance, every footballer can dream of living his second youth and break through into elite football.
How much money is there in the Championship?
According to a UEFA report, in 2018 the English Championship is the third most popular league in the world, behind the Premier League and the Bundesliga. The reasons are varied, fascinating and, in some ways, even romantic. The first concerns the stadiums. Every English club, from the smallest to the most important, has its own facility and does not have to share it with anyone else. This is seen as an act of love that the club dedicates to its fans. Walking into Loftus Road, Hillsborough, or Vicarage Road, for QPR, Sheffield Wednesday, and Watford fans, is a unique and unrepeatable experience. This seems to be a purely ‘sentimental’ issue, but having your own recognisable home also helps tycoons who are planning to invest in this important business. From abroad there are countless companies that decide to become shareholders in a particular club. In the Championship there are 13 properties with different nationalities. This generates a lot of money and an incredible desire to achieve great results, which greatly raises the level of the competition.
To translate what may seem to be just well-formulated words into numbers, a study was conducted regarding the 2019-20 season. The value of the players who played in this league reached € 1.13 billion. The Italian Serie B, in the same period, did not manage to go beyond € 309 million. If we were asked to think about the richest match in the world, we all would think about a Champions League or World Cup final. However, the match with the biggest prize money is the Championship play-off final. Last year’s match between Brentford and Fulham, for example, raised 170 million pounds.
The last aspect to consider when comparing the Italian and English second leagues is the emotional involvement of the footballing population, the beating heart of the sport. In Serie B the average number of spectators is around 5900 per game. In the Championship, on the other hand, the fans fill the stands, and the figure is around 18,700, well over three times as many.
The Championship really is the best league in the world
The latter is not just a number, it explains why there is a huge gap between Serie B and the Championship, which is ranked in the top 10 leagues with the largest investment from broadcasters. Football is the sport of the people, of strong and suggestive emotions, of history and memories, of the glorious past and the future to be written (and lived).
English fans know this well and every time they go to the stadium, their own stadium, they know how noble their club’s past is. Those who play in the Championship have already won at least one trophy (be it an FA Cup or a National Cup) and dream of being able to play, again, at Wembley, the final act of another event. In Italy, anyone born in the suburbs or far from the big cities feels they belong to the provincial club. But in England, everyone cheers for the team of their neighbourhood. London is home to countless clubs, each with its own story to tell, its own colours and its own facilities.
Entering the stadium and heading to the game reminds the older fan of the glorious times when his team was at the top of the English football movement. Ultimately, the Championship is the most beautiful league in the world because it is passionate and because it mirrors the society that surrounds it. It is the cheering that is the very essence of this wonderful sport.