“Yeah, but it’s the best league in the world!” your Liverpool supporting co-worker will tell you on Monday morning as he pours out a lukewarm coffee for you to swallow down. He’s spent the previous Sunday in a local sports bar pointing out the fine nuances of Pep Guardiola’s inverted full backs to anyone willing to listen - no-one wants to listen.
“Did you hear Manchester United are putting in a £100 million bid in for Griezmann?” - he’s read it on a Give Me Sport advert on Facebook. He’s not been to the game this weekend, he wanted to but his girlfriend’s parents were taking them out to lunch on Saturday evening and he couldn’t let them down. You, on the other hand, are sweating bullets awaiting the contactless payments from your trip down to West Bromwich Albion which somehow cost a fortune. Yes, you did pay for six Stellas from the CrossCountry train bar on your card.
Of course we lost, we are Sunderland. We lose every week. It’s the running punchline in the office. You work in a call centre in Tees Valley where everyone seems to support Manchester United, Liverpool, Tottenham or Newcastle and all seemingly have an excuse as to why they don’t attend games. And boy, they love to rub it in when Sunderland lose.
Then there’s Joe in the corner, your team leader. Joe supports Blackburn Rovers. He worked the late shift on Friday so he could have Reading away off on Saturday. They lost 4-0. He’s got the same pained expression as you. He is the one person you talk about football to, you mumble how the match was on Saturday. “It was a mess,” he replies.
You and Joe share the same desire. The desire to support a football team that simply wins football matches every now and then and that is where embracing the Championship comes in. The Premier League is a revered competition across the globe where the world’s richest clubs do battle to grind out boring results in soulless stadiums.
Joe doesn't care for the Premier League, why would he? His team haven't been there for years and he wasn't old enough to remember when Blackburn actually lifted the title. He regales you with tales of rocking up to Sheffield Wednesday and knocking four past them, walloping Derby County and that time they waltzed past Bolton Wanderers. There's that pang of jealousy, the jealousy of winning football matches on a regular basis.
Supporters of all but six Premier League teams know they’re going to win sweet FA in the season, all but seven know they’re not going to Europe and the rest scrabble around pretending finishing 14th is an exciting prospect. If you support Sunderland, it’s even worse. It’s a rare occurrence if they manage to wrack up more than eight victories in a single season and finishing 17th is viewed as an achievement. However, in the Championship, everything is fair game.
The Premier League becomes incredibly tiresome - draining in fact. There is no joy in watching Sunderland scrape to safety only to make the same mistakes all over again and repeat until the end of time. There is no excitement, no real hope and even if there is, it is quickly extinguished in the most embarrassing fashion possible.
Taking away the financial implications, would relegation really be that bad?
“YES, OF COURSE IT WOULD YOU MORON”, I hear you scream in pure outrage, vein protruding from your forehead. We’d miss out on a lot of TV money granted, our debt issue wouldn’t be helped and we’d still be managed by David Moyes. Would it be any worse than what we have to put up with at the moment?
I miss the excitement of watching Sunderland. I miss the feeling of thinking “yeah, we’re going to beat these” and then actually beating them. I miss not being complete cannon fodder for even the poorest Premier League sides. I miss being able to enjoy away games and not leaving in an apoplectic rage. Most of all, I miss winning.
Relegation is a daunting word but you only have to look up the road to see how it has reinvigorated a fanbase (yes, I know loads of money to spend, Benitez etc etc). Dropping to the Championship is a testing time and separates the wheat from the chaff in terms of supporters but it could be the perfect opportunity to start afresh. It’s the opportunity to build a hungry, young squad, breed a winning mentality and give us more momentum should we return.
Let’s not pretend those trips to Barnsley, Sheffield United, Ipswich Town, Preston North End and Nottingham Forest aren’t immense fun. Big allocations, easy trips, good pubs and more than a slim chance that we’ll actually win. That’s what I miss. The Championship can give us all that and more. Yes, we may fall further but then we can look forward to doing it all again in League One.
The Premier League is not the be all and end all and it is certainly “not the best league in the world” if you get slapped off jobbers like Stoke and West Ham every week. So as we teeter towards the trapdoor, we should be positive and embrace the glorious majesty of the Championship.