3465: Who’ll win the Championship? S
by : Jeff Gold
Ah, the football season is with us once more and, on Saturday, the teams in the Championship - or Division Two, as I rather quaintly insist on calling it - begin their festival of the desperate, their annual scramble for the land of silk and money. It is therefore time for some bold and inspired predictions.
But not from me. This is not the Premiership, where most matters of any importance are settled by, well, opening day really, and all that remains is to consider whether Spurs will hilariously pip Manchester United to the fourth Champions League spot. No, this is a vaguely competitive division, where predicting the outcome of anything is harder than Duncan Ferguson and just as likely to disappoint.
This time last year, it was widely accepted that Reading were going backwards and Watford were going down. Sheffield United, meanwhile, were clearly going for broke, and going broke appeared to be the most likely fate to befall them. But up they all went.
The other received wisdom was that the big boys would dominate. Like giant-striding behemoths, they would visit fleeting terror upon their lowly cowering neighbours. They would wreak havoc, lay waste and generally rend asunder before marching triumphantly to the palace of the Premiership, the kingdom of the gods whence they came.
Instead, they surprised us with their ineptitude. Just like they do every year. For despite only three teams bouncing straight back to the Premiership in the last six years, they’re invariably installed as pre-race favourites and we’re always amazed when they turn out to be dross. It’s the same story at the other end of the table. The fresh-faced arrivistes from Division Three are habitually discounted as relegation fodder. In fact, in that same six-year period, only Brighton have been forced to return to a life of laughing at Bristol City and visiting Vale Park.
OK, so our assumptions are understandable. While, underneath it all, you can almost smell their fear, Birmingham City are bullish about their chances and seem well equipped for success. And you’ve got to worry about Colchester United who admirably, and somewhat recklessly, have ignored the tried and tested survival method of retaining your manager and most of your best players.
But you just never can tell. The great thing about Division Two, and all of the Football League for that matter, is that most clubs will fancy their chances well into the autumn. Even those eventually relegated will win a match in mid-October and start sniffing a chance of glory. “Hmmm” they’ll think. “One more victory and we’re three points from the play-offs”. Admittedly, when that win arrives, possibly some time in February, their dream will long be over, but some teams will make it well past Christmas before sixth place becomes but a speck on the horizon and the focus of their attention shifts over their shoulder.
Others will delude themselves right into spring. And, ultimately, three of them will triumph, winning the right to compete in the big league and cripple themselves financially. As for who they might be, well your guess is as good as mine. Although, I think we can safely say that it won’t be Sheffield Wednesday.