The English League Championship is the strongest second-tier league in world football, and for my money, it offers better entertainment and sporting value than the English Premier League.
Here are five reasons why.
1. What's at Stake
The glamour of the Premier League beckons for whichever three teams scramble to the top of the pile, a prize whose pursuit garners more passion than the race for fifth place in the EPL (the highest realistic target for all but "the Big Four"). As the old adage goes, getting there is better than being there.
No one would have predicted that Stoke, Hull, and Bristol City would all finish in the top four places last season, highlighting the genuine openness of the league. All season long, the points margin between the top-half and bottom-half teams was small, and clubs ascended rapidly up the table with a couple of back-to-back wins. This season promises the same thrilling competitiveness.
3. A Melting Pot of Personnel
There is a delightful array of clubs and players in the Championship. Some such as Birmingham are yo-yo clubs, tossed back and forth between the EPL and the Championship. Others such as Nottingham Forest and Sheffield Wednesday are historic giants, passing the time whilst waiting for a return of former fortunes.
Still others, such as Doncaster and Swansea, aren't use to such giddy heights and hope to make a fresh mark for themselves. As for the players, there is a mix of youngsters hoping to "make" it, established players who avoid the worst of the arrogant excesses of the EPL fraternity, and former stars still playing out of a sheer love for the game.
4. Tactical Innovation
The Championship provides the greatest opportunity for managers to vary formations and styles of play. In League One and Two, the players lack the quality to cope with constant adjustments, hence the tendency for 4-4-2 long ball in those divisions.
Contrastingly, it is the extreme pace of play that mediates against tactical innovation in the EPL. With its reduced pace, but decent player quality, managers have the confidence to try new and different approaches, providing welcome innovation for spectators.
5. Real Fans, Lots of Them
In contrast to the swathes of stadia given over to corporate season-ticket holders and glory supporters in the EPL, the vast majority of fans at Championship games are passionate about their clubs.
The healthy attendances at most grounds, combined with this passion, provides an atmosphere superior to that at most EPL clashes. Where would you rather be a fan: The JJB or Carrow Road? Craven Cottage or Ashton Gate?