by James Riches
This time last year, the Championship welcomed a club on the brink of oblivion in Portsmouth, and two sides in Hull and Burnley who were, for want of a better word, rubbish. Fast forward twelve months, and the Premiership has shed two heavyweights in West Ham and Birmingham, along with Blackpool, lauded by many as being among the most entertaining outfits around last year.
Up from League One come sleeping giants Southampton, a reborn Brighton and an ambitious Peterborough determined to avoid a repeat of their last farcical attempt at this division. Add into the mix two former England managers, and we could be set for one of the most exciting Championship seasons ever.
Of course, we hear that every year, but then again it’s usually true, and this year really does look like improving once again on the offerings of last season.
It is the first of March 2004 and two managers sit in their respective offices. They are pondering a match the day before which had seen Steve McClaren’s Middlesbrough narrowly beating Sam Allardyce’s Bolton Wanderers 2-1 in the League Cup Final. Two of the most promising English managers going head to head. Allardyce, with his focus on scientific methods and dedication to pragmatic, aggressive football, had managed to firmly establish Bolton as a Premier League team since promotion in 2001. McClaren had also steadily improved Middlesbrough, using a mixture of young home-grown talent he found within his new academy and an attacking flair borne of his days as assistant manager at Old Trafford. His team would go on the next season to finish seventh in the Premier League and reach the UEFA Cup final the season after that. How exactly did these two successful, unique and talented coaches end up, seven years later, preparing to face off yet again, this time in the second tier of the English domestic game?
A decision is due in the coming weeks on the future of the Olympic Stadium in Stratford, East London. West Ham United and Tottenham Hotspur Football Clubs have both thrown their respective hats in the ring to be the new proprietors of the magnificent new stadium, following the London 2012 Olympics. For West Ham, a move of less than three miles from Green Street to just off the Romford Road seems like a small step, their supporters seemingly unperturbed by the thought of leaving their beloved Boleyn Ground to the property developers. In fact the Hammers fans you will encounter, on the whole see only positives, financially and logistically from such a transition. Spurs fans today, however, have echoed the sentiments of local Member of Parliament, David Lammy, in loudly and definitively voicing their objections to the Board of Directors and their partners in the Olympic stadium bid, AEG.
Karren Brady’s football diary was designed to be a delightful insight into the inner mechanisms of the beautiful game. Surely, this business woman so schooled in the arts of corporatism and fiscal diplomacy could shed some light on what goes on behind the scenes at one of London’s best supported teams or, we would hope, even the Premier League.
No. Not a bit. Not even a tiny bit.
The fixtures come thick and fast, the players tire quickly and the managers face heading into the second half of the domestic season with their expensively assembled squads decimated by fatigue and niggling injuries. Matches postponed due to poor weather conditions, supporters standing shivering on the terraces and taken an absolute age to get to and from stadiums around the country. When all the major leagues around Europe are breaking for the festive period, the players in Spain, Germany and Italy kicking back and devouring mounds of brussel sprouts, the players from the Premier League are left to toil in frost and snoods, cold, tired and begloved. Cue the campaign for the English winter break: ‘It’ll aid English players in World Cup years’, ‘it’ll cut down on fatigue and injury later in the season’, ‘it’ll give the players a well deserved break’. Valid arguments indeed, but to focus on the moans of players and managers misses the most important points; because it’s what we do, it’s the bulldog spirit, it’s the English way.