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Roker Ramble: Don't Just Watch The Premier League This Season

Ian Holloway's Blackpool are just one of a number of sides fighting for promotion in a Championship filled with quality.  (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
Ian Holloway's Blackpool are just one of a number of sides fighting for promotion in a Championship filled with quality. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
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The Premier League, since its inception two decades ago, is seen the world over as English football's holy grail. Indeed for much of the watching world, and plenty within the land of St. George, it is the only league that matters on these shores.

Given its culmination last time around, it is not hard to see why. Edin Dzeko and then Sergio Aguero's strikes deep into last-day stoppage time sealed a famous league title for the blue half of Manchester, and left a certain Scotsman more cantankerous than usual. In a season fraught with late drama and scintillating matches, it was a fitting end.

Yet, the overbearing influence of the Premier League masks the quality and entertainment on show further down the English ladder.

Non-league football has its considerable merits in England. So too do the bottom rungs of the league, where fallen clubs such as Bradford City, Portsmouth and MK Dons - the club formerly known as Wimbledon - all currently reside.

But it is between the Premier League and those lower rungs that arguably the most encapsulating spectacle lies. The Championship, renamed in 2004 in an upheaval that was unashamedly commercial, has consistently churned out breathtaking excitement, season after season.

Last year, the league found itself with the tenth highest average attendance in world football. To put that in perspective, the nine leagues that bettered its 17,738 were all the top division in their respective nation. The Championship is, probably, the best second division in the world.

And this coming season looks unlikely to tarnish that image.

As ever, the initial focus is on those sides who have dropped down from the Premier League. The current unfortunate crop is a particular strong one. Made up of Wolves, Blackburn Rovers and Bolton Wanderers, last season was the first in ten years where all three promoted sides avoided being relegated and falling at the first hurdle.

Hence, an already strong league gets stronger. Reading's surge to the title last spring left many a suitable candidate in their wake - Birmingham City, Blackpool and Middlesbrough are just three of a number who could feasibly push for promotion over the coming year.

They will, of course, be joined along the way by the three aforementioned relegated sides. Wolves, with a new stand recently built at Molineux, show no signs of dropping lightly into mid-table anonymity. Three seasons of dogged resistance ended in May, the removal of Mick McCarthy from the manager's seat sealing their fate, with the hapless Terry Connor unable to stem the tide.

Now though, under new supremo Stale Solbakken, the men from the Black Country are determined to bounce back at the first attempt. Local press today reports that Sunderland's £10m bid for Steven Fletcher has been turned down. Fletcher has been top scorer in each of his two seasons at the club (and was in the season before his transfer, at Burnley) - Wolves' will to hold onto him, or at least eke out the highest possible transfer fee, is a sign that promotion is firmly at the top of their agenda.

Bolton, too, have similar aspirations. Owen Coyle, lauded as the next up and coming manager, has seen a dramatic fall from grace. Leaving Burnley for the supposedly bright lights of the Reebok Stadium, Coyle's initial promise faltered and, unable to hold onto a lead at Stoke City, he saw his side relegated on the last day of the season.

The acquisitions of Andy Lonergan and Keith Andrews represent astute moves from Coyle, while the retention of captain Kevin Davies is undoubtedly Wanderers' best deal of the summer.

It is the third relegated side, Blackburn, who look in the most peril. With Steve Kean still much reviled by the fanbase, he sought to appease his detractors with the signing of Leon Best from Newcastle United. Cue groans all round when, less than a month after his £3.34m move was sealed, Best picked up a knee injury that will rule him out for six months. With star men David Hoilett and Yakubu having departed, Rovers look decidedly low on firepower.

At the other end of the table, League One's promoted sides look strong too. Charlton Athletic and Sheffield Wednesday both represent relative fallen giants - each having spent considerable amounts of time in the top division over the past twenty years or so - while Huddersfield Town will look to Jordan Rhodes to fire them to safety, and hopefully more.

Of course, the division already boasts a wealth of potential challengers. As mentioned, Birmingham, Blackpool and Middlesbrough all pose a considerable threat. The Blues are now headed by Lee Clark, a man who made many sit up and take notice before his unexpected sacking by Huddersfield. At Blackpool, the enigmatic Ian Holloway will look to improve on last season's devastating play-off final loss.

Meanwhile, on Teeside, Tony Mowbray has added Jonathan Woodgate and Grant Leadbitter to his squad in a bid to build on last season's seventh-placed finish. Woodgate returns to the club for a second spell and, should he remain fit, will offer undoubted quality. Leadbitter has already tasted the glory of promotion with Sunderland in 2007, and has the drive and hunger to push for a repeat.

Elsewhere, who performs well is anyone's guess. Nottingham Forest's flirtation with relegation in 2012 came after securing a play-off spot in 2011; Leeds United were mired in mediocrity last year but remain a potent force; Derby County, under Nigel Clough, must never be ruled out.

In truth, the Championship is the most unpredictable league in England - and perhaps much further afield.

What is certain, though, is that the Premier League should not be the only division upon which eyes are fixed over the next ten months.

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