RR: What would you say are the biggest challenges facing a team coming up from League One after promotion in their first season back?
Anthony: Finding the consistency needed to avoid being dragged into the relegation fight, definitely.
The Championship’s an unforgiving League, and the standard between League One and the Championship is widening also, so sometimes you can end up on a bad run of results that’s hard to halt.
RR: Everyone knows that Sunderland are a massive club, even at this level. How much do you think that counts in the Championship?
Anthony: I’m not sure really, because sometimes being a bigger club means sides up their game to beat you, so it could be a hindrance too.
Obviously having a large amount of fans backing your team is always going to be beneficial to on the pitch performances, so I guess it depends on the quality of the manager and players to deal with the occasion.
I suppose it helps in recruiting players too, as it could give you an edge in convincing a player to sign for you rather than a direct Championship rival.
RR: What would you say is the hardest thing about the Championship?
Anthony: Parachute payments. It’s so hard to build a team of a competitive level when the sides relegated from the Premier League have the money to take some of the League’s best talent and still be able to afford to pay the ludicrously high wages of some top quality players from the previous season.
There’s obviously exceptions, such as Luton Town finishing in the top six on a shoe string budget and Blackpool staying away from relegation easily but they’re certainly exceptions rather than the trend.
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?
Anthony: Ambition. Well, that and a level headed approach to recruitment/selling players.
Brentford are a great example to use, and maybe Nottingham Forest to an extent. Selling players for large sums, but reinvesting that money into a bunch of players that will all become just as valuable and recycling that approach until you end up with a full eleven of top players.
Being able to lose your best players but still recruit ones just as good, if not better is an enviable system (take Brentford swapping Watkins for Toney for example).
Forest replaced their manager with one that matched their ambition in Steve Cooper, and that’s just as important as player recruitment.
RR: Do you think that there’s a big difference between the clubs in the Championship and the clubs in League One, or not?
Anthony: To an extent, yes.
The sides that go down tend to “yo-yo” between League One and the Championship (think Barnsley, Rotherham etc), and tend to be the only ones you see constantly swapping leagues, whereas other sides in League One really struggle to come up and make an impact.
Some sides go down and struggle to come straight back however, so maybe there’s an element of improvement from League One in that sense.
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?
Anthony: The burden of expectation perhaps. Smaller clubs don’t have the same pressure that others have in the sense that their fans (and usually their owners) reaction to bad runs or just defeats in general is less over the top and more realistic.
The majority of sides in the Championship have been in the Premier League, and their fan bases have more elevated expectations as opposed to the smaller clubs.
This less pressurised atmosphere maybe helps unexpected sides mount surprising runs as the players enjoy themselves more.
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?
Anthony: FFP maybe, but it must be because of the COVID Pandemic.
A lot of clubs struggled with the drop in income, and have less wiggle room when it comes to spending money on players and wages as the Football League recovers.
There have been a few recent examples of clubs hitting administration too, like Bury and Derby, whereas EFL sanctions on clubs such as Birmingham City and Reading have maybe forced some owners into being a bit more conservative with their finances.
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?
Anthony: Expect terrible refereeing and lots of fans using the word “tinpot” to describe everything.
Oh, it’s a barrel of fun!
On a serious note, it’s such an entertaining League, as any side is capable of beating each other. Sides you tip for the bottom three can finish in the Play Offs for example; it all comes down to consistency.
You can go without winning for six weeks and then go unbeaten for two months, so it’s a complete roller coaster, but that’s when football is at its best!