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Sheffield United v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship - Bramall Lane

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The football feeling returns

“At the moment though it is all about enjoying good competitive football again after what feels like an age - long may that continue,” writes Dave Holloway.

Photo by Isaac Parkin/PA Images via Getty Images

Sunderland AFC have just started their first season back in The Championship after way too many years at the level below. Just how enjoyable have those first few matches been?

Only now - after merely a taste of what is to come - is it possible to reflect and to remember what it is like to enjoy the football experience again... what it is like to enjoy thinking about our footballers – their strengths and their weaknesses - and how they may do against the opposing team. We didn’t have that in League One and the experience of being a perennial Premier League struggler is just physically and mentally draining.

Four years of trudging through League One after years of the epic Premier League soap opera of failure which we endured in that period now feel like a bad dream rather than a living nightmare.

The ability to enjoy watching competitive football is back, and it feels good.

Like most of us I knew little about the Championship, its current top performers and the levels which are required to succeed - we had just been away too long.

However, after a few games in it is clear that the standard is high - it is on a different planet to that of League One. The pleasing thing is that our players have shown that they can compete, and competing they are.

A look down the table and the clubs who we will be playing against this season also adds to the interest. Proper, traditional football clubs like Sheffield United, Middlesbrough, Burnley, Blackburn and Stoke mean great away days for the travelling fans and a great atmosphere at home.

The Stadium of Light experience in the two games so far has been the best it has been for years – the efforts made by the home fans added to by vocal away followings make the experience feel real again.

Sunderland v Queens Park Rangers - Sky Bet Championship

The football which has been in evidence so far has also been a joy. Each game has been two sides going at each other, searching for, demanding a win. The physical effort applied by each side is thrilling.

There is little evidence so far of time wasting, of feigning injury or of the gamesmanship that is all to evident in the league below, and in the league above where it is all so unnecessary. This is a tough and competitive league where we will have some hard times and some good times - so far there is little not to like about it.

Looking at the Premier League these days and to be fair in our final seasons in it then yes, the big teams coming to the Stadium of Light are a miss. The chance to see the world's best players in our home ground, to have the media attention and the finances – that is what we all crave.

However, like most treats, the thought of the treat is always better than the reality of it.

The drama at Manchester United’s current plight is laughable. They are merely now in the position that they were in for most of the 70’s and 80’s when I started watching football, some introspection and reflection would not go amiss at The Theatre of Dreams.

Manchester United v Sunderland - Capital One Cup Semi-Final: Second Leg Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images

The demand from the other aspirational clubs to spend well beyond their means is quite sickening in these straightened economic times. Who cares if you can’t pay your utility bill as long as the new number 36 comes in for £80million and two hundred grand a week - all paid for by an overseas state or hedge fund. The Premier League is not a proper competition is it, really?

The dramatization of the transfer deadline, the endless links by random agents and journalists touting their wares who we must not forget are human beings. The stockpiling of young talent by the top clubs at the expense of every other club, bloody VAR and the shambles of a programme that Match of the Day has become.

That side of Premier League football I do not miss at all, and I am happy to watch with limited interest from the sidelines.

The signs for our club though are all pretty positive. We have a plan, we would like more but a significant element of the current level of positivity comes from the fact that this is a new league for us. There is a novelty factor which is relieving the pressure and allowing the enjoyment to tip the balance of emotions.

The Championship is a step up from what we have recently endured and therefore our expectations are limited. The dangers come later when we are used to this, when it becomes normal and when we start to want or demand more.

That is human nature and is especially so for the average football fan. We can compete this season for sure, but next, assuming this year is successful, we will want more and we will want more after that. Then the pressure to deliver will increase.

At the moment though it is all about enjoying good competitive football again after what feels like an age - long may that continue.

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