Now I love the English Football League; the Championship in particular. I’m one of those crazy people who thinks that the Championship is actually the best league in the world — thanks to its fierce competition, relentless pace, even teams, shock results and dynamism that removes the dominators every season to keep the league fresh. I know that few will agree with me, especially with the powerhouses of La Liga and the Premier League, but that’s the magic of opinions.
Where it began
My love affair started in 2005. My side – Southampton – were relegated to the Championship for the first time in the Premier League era. At the tender age of 10, I couldn’t bear the thought. My beloved Southampton, slumming it in the second tier with the rest of the also-rans that weren’t good enough for the top tier. How wrong I was.
I quickly fell in love with the Championship. And with our descent in to League One, the opportunity presented its self to see football closer to the bone. Aside from the obvious concerns over the threat of liquidation back in 2009, the secondary fear was once more that Southampton were dropping into another poor quality division far below our standing. And yet again, I was quickly converted. Charlton, Norwich, Leeds, Huddersfield, Peterborough and the MK Dons were just some of the names that dwelled within the division that year, and the football was, nearly always, far more enterprising than you may have expected.Embed from Getty Images
Ever since then, I’ve been a lover of lower league football. And with broadcasters Sky adopting more and more EFL action thanks to their rivals’ domination over European football, a whole new audience has been able to enjoy the Championship on a weekly basis. Unsurprisingly, many of those who carried the same naïve opinion as I, all those years ago, have been quickly converted by the charm and passion of the EFL.
Despite my love for the divisions, I’ve been unable to enjoy live football from England’s forgotten leagues the last few years, thanks predominantly to my time at university. But two weeks ago, I threw precedent to the wind and took a trip the Stadium:MK for the League One clash between MK Dons and Oxford, who I had spoken highly of in this parish a few weeks prior.
Aside from my own personal love of Stadium:MK (I’d never known padded seats in a football stadium before), the game itself provided brilliant entertainment. Oxford took the lead through ex-Dons midfielder Rob Hall, who played the role of pantomime villain all afternoon long. His curling effort in the first half was a delightful way to open to scoring, and the heat from the home crowd was nuclear.
A star was born in the second half, too, when Callum Britain cut in from the far side and drilled a lovely low shot in to the back of the Oxford net to score his first professional goal for the Dons – and on his debut no less. The Dons boss Robbie Nielson even found himself sent to the stands for apparently kicking a water bottle at the assistant referee – though how he could’ve been accused of such an action was anyone’s guess.Embed from Getty Images
Not every EFL fixture will be as entertaining of course, that’s a risk any sports fan takes when they buy their tickets, but my afternoon in Bletchley revived glorious memories of the days of League One football at St. Mary’s, and reinforced my love of the EFL. I will be venturing to more grounds in the future, and I encourage you to do the same. When next your side is subject to an international break, or whenever else the opportunity arises, keep the EFL in mind. Don’t judge this book by its cover. The excitement and pageantry of the EFL may not always win the headlines, but it is indeed closest to the bone where we find the sweetest meat.
Follow Ross on Twitter at @rossbramble