RR: What would you say are the biggest challenges facing a team coming up from League One after promotion in their first season back?
AHTTC Podcast: It’s been ten years since we got promoted to The Championship at Huddersfield, and to be honest, our experiences are likely to be different to yours.
In League One we were considered a relatively big deal - we had Lee Clark (sorry for mentioning him) bigging us up to the media prior to his sacking, and Keith Hill labelling us as the Manchester Utd of the division.
We got promoted after a ten-year spell away from the second tier (our longest spell out of the top two tiers in our history) and upon our return the Championship was very different for us from when we were last there.
When we were last up there you had a few yo-yo clubs (like yourselves I guess) and the rest was much of a muchness. On our return it was akin to a Premier League graveyard, with a lot more entitlement seeping in at clubs you’d never have expected thus the “We shouldn’t be losing to teams like Huddersfield” slogan was born.
In terms of quality on the pitch it was a struggle for us to bridge the gap between the two divisions, we tended to play ourselves down a lot and bemoaned that we couldn’t compete financially with the big spenders and parachute payments and apathy kicked in with the supporters. I don’t see you doing that, for what it’s worth.
Over the last ten years I think the gap between The Championship and League One has grown, and up to around 2019 I think the gap was the biggest I’ve ever known it, but covid and financial issues have narrowed that since.
I think perhaps the toughest challenge for the Sunderland heirarchy could be managing expectations effectively after the rollercoaster high of last season.
RR: Everyone knows that Sunderland is a massive club, even at this level. How much do you think that counts in the Championship?
AHTTC Podcast: It doesn’t, really. See the contrasting fates of Sheffield Wednesday and Bournemouth over the last few years, for example.
It does make a difference in terms of media, dominating Sky’s coverage, and maybe you’ll draw a player or two in if offers are similar with other clubs, but when it comes down to it it’s all about money, and that’s what matters more.
The working-class game, eh?
RR: What would you say is the hardest thing about the Championship?
AHTTC Podcast: It’s relentless - 46 games with many sat-tues-sat weeks which throws up some funny results every now and then, as not everyone has the squad to cope with the schedule. So, it can be hard to get on that blockbusting run to go towards the top six.
RR: What do you believe it takes for a team to get promoted out of the Championship, and where do you think your club has failed over the years in that respect?
AHTTC Podcast: Spirit. Our playoff runs in 2017 and 2022 were built completely off of the back of a strong togetherness that ran throughout the club.
A bloody good striker can also help of course!
RR: Do you think that there’s a big difference between the clubs in the Championship and the clubs in League One, or not?
AHTTC Podcast: In terms of quality, not as much as a few years ago - and I thought the top 8 or 9 in League One last season were quite comparable with the bottom end of the Championship.
Below that though there is a considerable gap.
In terms of the clubs themselves, to be honest I think there are probably about 40 or so clubs in the EFL that you could fit a cigarette paper between, and it just takes a fair or foul wind for them to be in the Premier League or League Two.
I wouldn’t put Sunderland in that bracket by the way, but I probably would with us.
RR: Why do you think well-established clubs struggle to gain momentum in the Championship, whereas in recent seasons smaller clubs like Luton and Barnsley have successfully broken into the Play-Offs and came close to promotion?
AHTTC Podcast: There are probably a lot of differing reasons. A lot of it is down to good ownership and planning. I can’t emphasise how much planning plays a part.
Forest, Leeds, Derby, Sheff Wed and a few others in the past have been guilty of throwing money around without a real coherent plan.
Short termism often fails in the Championship and with FFP looming, bad planning can then affect you for several years. Take our success in 2017 – it was driven by a plan with funds raised for that season over the previous 2/3 seasons.
Recruitment had a clearly devised plan; specific character traits were sought in players and we had a manager who did things slightly different from the norm. Same again last season. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t but when a club not of the stature of say Leeds like Bristol City tries this and fails people tend not to notice as much.
On the small clubs, I’d say that Bournemouth are one of the smallest clubs in the top two leagues - if not the smallest - but they have a huge financial advantage which allows them to compete at the top table so perhaps they are an anomaly.
For Barnsley and Luton these are clubs that can plan without pressure and so long as they’re pushing upwards then the fans are quite happy.
On the other end of that scale, it was felt at Elland Road in particular that several sides before the Bielsa one crumbled under the expectations of an impatient crowd.
Bigger clubs tend to have bigger expectations and smaller tolerance levels. They also go a bit mad when you win a few games and go full bunny boiler when you lose a few.
I don’t think that is helpful to a lot of clubs.
RR: Figures show that Championship clubs in recent seasons are spending far less on transfer fees than they have in previous years. Why do you think that is?
AHTTC Podcast: I’ve noticed that the gap between the Premier League and Championship is turning into a chasm.
The three sides that come down tend to be up there the following season (unless you’re us) looking for a return, and I’d probably say less sides are able to compete financially with the freshly relegated Premier League sides.
Throw in covid, interest rate increases and FFP sanctions and some chickens are coming home to roost, it seems.
RR: Sunderland fans aren’t quite sure what to expect from the Championship - what would your advice be to any SAFC fans reading this when it comes to expectations?
AHTTC Podcast: Enjoy it, it’s a great league.
I’m sure you’ll have lots of thrills, twists and turns. Stick with your team and who knows what can happen.
Just don’t expect to go walking through the division, it’s a marathon that will both excite you and drain your very existence. Best of luck.