12th May 2013: The play-off semi-final between Watford and Leicester City at Vicarage Road. Leicester City miss a penalty in the 6th minute of injury time, had they scored they would go to the play off final. Extra time loomed but Watford go down the other end to snatch the winner and a place at Wembley. Truly unbelievable. It is such moments like this which support my view that The Championship really is, the best league in the world.
Since the rebranding of the Football League in 2004, from the old First Division, Second Division and Third Division, to the current form of the Championship, League 1 and League 2 the interest in the lower levels of the English professional game have sky rocketed.
The 24 team structure of the Championship was introduced to the second tier in 1988 and alongside the play offs which found their current format in 1990 the Football League has maintained this format and why would they change a successful formula. The 2012/13 season saw 552 games take place as with every Championship season, with 1494 goals at an average of 2.71 goals per game the 3rd highest since the 24 team structure began. Last season’s average goals per game were in line with the four major European leagues even though almost double the amount of games took place. This does not just underline the high standard of attacking football found in the Championship, but also the consistency that teams maintain along a gruelling ten month schedule.
Last season the difference between relegation and the chance of play off glory was only 14 points. No other league consistently year after year produces a final table like the Championship with over half the league feeling they have got what it takes to finish at the top end of the table. This is supported by the bookmakers, official betting partners Sky Bet stretch as far as 20/1 for Yeovil to finish in the top 6. Comparatively the same odds in the Premier League only include 11 of the top flight clubs with new boys Crystal Palace at 150/1 to achieve a top 6 finish.
Championship attendances have remained above or around the 9.5 million total mark since its initiation in the 04/05 season, peaking at 10.03 million in the 06/07 season. Last season the Championship had an average attendance of 17,493 which is roughly three times greater than the second tier of Spanish football (6,756) and greater than the equivalent German league (17,242). This is particularly relevant as the Bundesliga is known for having much larger attendances than the Premier League, around 7,000 higher average attendance across the season. The depth of the English game stretches past the top division and continually draws fans to come and watch Championship football unlike any other country in the world.
The success of the Championship is supported by the continued increase in television coverage. This coming season Sky Sports have increased their coverage of the Football League to 90 games, the most ever in a single season. Sky also televise the highlight of the championship season with every single minute of Play Off football covered live including the “richest game in football”. The match is worth an estimated £145m to the victor and with the game having such high stakes it is a fitting climax to the drama of any Championship season.
Critics argue that the Championship can never provide the excitement or drama of the top leagues across Europe. However, after spending a short time reviewing the facts, there is no getting away from the fact that the Championship provides the best value to the football fan. From the competitive nature, financial implications and the simple fact that anyone literally can beat anyone.