I am a dogged pessimist and my wife is an eternal optimist. Some would say the ying and yang nature of our characters is exactly how we operate so successfully. But on the rare occasions when we cross swords the same exasperated question will fall wearily from her lips: ‘When did you become so cynical?’
From birth I was dragged to Roker Park by a father born a stone’s throw away from the ground and raised among uncles, cousins, friends and neighbours who’s bitter experiences following SAFC made us all as comfortably pessimistic and cynical as each other - so much so we don’t even notice it until a non-football soul who can afford such delights as optimism comes along and points it out.
I was the Sunderland mascot against Chesterfield in the old 3rd division. I grew up on cynicism.
So for the last number of goodness knows how many seasons I’ve moaned perpetually about the state of our beloved team in the Premier League. I’ve whined consistently with depressing lines such as ‘we don’t belong there,’ ‘we don’t deserve to be there,’ and ‘we offer nothing positive to that league other than the fans.’
But we’re not in the Premier League any more.
For a change, this footballing pessimist is looking upwards even though it appears the trajectory of the club is sliding downwards. Add to the mix that the face of the championship has changed dramatically since out last stint there and for me this is not be the drop some think it is or the footballing black hole others fear it may be.
The race for promotion to the Premier League is a fight on many fronts; Birmingham City’s Harry Redknapp said last week during a live interview on TalkSPORT that up to 16 teams could be in the title race. You couldn’t say that about the Premier League.
Whether you believe that estimation or not, have a quick glance and you’ll see there are at least 10 teams that conceivably remain in the hunt. Every week between the start and the end of the season seems meaningful.
Pundits and fans of Championship clubs have been praising the merits of the second tier for years now. Plastic Geordie and Scouse-mouth Joey Barton suggested that from his experiences in Europe, the Premier League and the Championship that England’s 2nd division is on a par with other top leagues. In an article by Joey, entitled ‘Is the Championship the Best League in the World?', he concludes:
The overall quality of the Championship is less than the other top leagues in Europe, individual displays may not be up there with the likes of Man United and Chelsea, but if you’re willing to see past that, you’ll learn to love a league built on hard-work, in which players fight till their death. For that reason, a league that once was a place for players to see-out their playing days and collect final pay-cheques, could well be the most competitive in the World, and for me, that makes the Championship a league worth indulging in.
As Joey infers the Championship may be viewed by some as the ugly best friend to the Premier League beauty queen, But even in a sport where money and agent fees flow around in a gold plated whirlpool, the Championship holds its own.
The Championship attracts more spectators than Serie A, Italy’s premier division. In fact, the Championship is one of the most popular leagues in the world in any sport. It’s 9th in the top ten supported sports leagues in the world, in the same company of the of NFL, NBA, MLB (Major League Baseball), the Premier League, La Liga and the Bundesliga.
Billionaires and corporations are now investing huge money into the second tier in an attempt to pick the lock of the Premier League treasure chest and all that lies within. Only last week Birmingham and Villa were both willing to pay John Terry £100k per week and Wolves have just splashed out a club record £15.8 million on Portuguese international Ruben Neves from FC Porto – Wolves finished 15th in the Championship last season. They're hardly Real Madrid.
Clubs like Sunderland have the ever-increasing generosity of Premier League parachute payments to gild their lilies - if of course their Billionaire owners would share that wealth. The jury is out on ours.
According to Opta, the average Championship game produces 20.5 shots – more than in any of the big five leagues. I don’t think my children have seen twenty shots in a season! Surely this promises at the very least to be a more attacking game even if the quality is not quite the crème de la crème of Europe.
The best league in the world, then? No - any realist will tell you that. But the nature and thrill of it is turning this old pessimist into something of a believer once again.