At Calvin Ayre, we love a thrilling league to bet on, and we know a lot of you do, too. While we often give you some advice on which teams to bet on, we largely focus on the Premier League, but this isn’t only because it’s most popular league in the world.
If we were to include The EFL (English Football League) Championship in our tips, the nest league down, we’d struggle to pick a winner in terms of singles, goalscorers and future markets too. That’s because the Championship is a legendarily difficult division to predict and has made fools of wiser pundits than ourselves.
One pro who knows all about it, however, is The Secret Coach. We spoke to TSC this week on the brink of another round of Championship fixtures this coming weekend. The action in midweek was as unpredictable as ever, with the 97th-minute winner at the City Ground in Nottingham just one example of how impossible The Championship is to predict.
So what does it take to survive in the toughest division of them all? The Secret Coach is a current professional at one of the Football League’s 92 clubs, and while they are remaining anonymous, their answers come from being there at the side of the pitch in game we watch on the small screen. They are certain that The Championship is as tough as we suspect.
“The Championship is the most difficult division to get out of,” says The Secret Coach. “You need to be almost perfect every game to stand a chance as every team is capable of beating each other. Games come thick and fast with a style that’s quick, physical and can range from being good and entertaining to watch to – unfortunately – some poor quality games.”
Teams who are relegated from the Premier League seem to find it hardest of all. But why is that?
“Teams dropping from the Premier League – especially those who were established for a few seasons – have got used to the money and how they are set up as a club off the pitch. When they drop, it’s more the off-field issues that can derail them. Premiership-calibre players should be able to adapt but some have to leave for financial reasons and others go because they want to and those left are not always ready to go to war due to the luxury that they have experienced in the Premier League.”
It’s not just the style of football, it is the whole club that needs to change when a team gets relegated to The Championship.
“So much restructuring needs to be done and sometimes so many changes all at once are not good for managers and players. The clubs that come up and then go down are potentially best suited as they have not been tricked into going crazy with new money. When they come down, they are being run similarly to how they were in The Championship. Take West Brom, Norwich and Fulham. Up, down, up, down and now might be back at the first time of asking.”
Where does the support need to come from, the fans or the board?
“It’s tough! But if you have a chairman who believes in you – and buys into your project – then if you have belief in yourself and work hard, it’s very rewarding. But when you don’t get that support from above in terms of finances and player transfers can be forced to compromise your project and even your values. That’s when things can go badly.”
What does it take to escape The Championship, not by being relegated twice in a ‘double-dip’ manner like clubs as Manchester City and Sheffield Wednesday have experienced, but being promoted to the Premier League?
“The top of The Championship and the bottom half of the Premier League are – in my opinion – that different in terms of standard. You need to have at least two proven goalscorers and a solid experienced ‘keeper that you can rely on. Freshen up where you can in other areas, but goals win you games and a goalkeeper can win you points when you might not deserve them! That said, those sorts of players don’t come cheap! You need support from above.”
It comes back to that, doesn’t it? If the club work together, then glory awaits. If they don’t, it might be League One.
“The sports scientists and medical team are huge in The Championship to keep. Keeping the best players on the pitch – without the luxury of being a Liverpool or City with two internationals for every position – it’s vital. Cup competitions are great, they’re a distraction from the league and a chance to build or maintain momentum. A bad league run and a great cup run or win can galvanise and re-energise a team and give them some belief. I’ve always loved a cup game – there’s so much more on it than three points. Players love them too especially the F.A. Cup, which still has magic for me – I’ve so many good memories of the competition.”
Who will be promoted to the Premier League from The Championship this season? The Secret Coach has picked the three he thinks might go up, as well as one side who might be doomed.
“I do feel it will be between the Premier League old boys of last season, Norwich, Watford and Bournemouth, but I like how Brentford and Reading are shaping up. Going down, sad as it is to say, because they are punching way above their weight, it’s Wycombe, but it’s too early to call any others due to the nature of the league. One minute you win two games and you’re on the fringes of the play offs. Lose two and you’re in the bottom three. The team who is most inconsistent after Christmas is the team who need to watch their backs!”
We’ll be back next week and so too will The Secret Coach, who as always, will return here on Calvin Ayre.com.