Is it just me or has there suddenly been an increase in media attention for English football’s third tier asks Saddlers blogger Mark Jones. Maybe it’s just a local thing?
As someone who has seen football at this level for well over 30 years, I reckon I know a little bit about it, so here are some handy hints about our division:
Crawley and Stevenage
Both (along with Shrewsbury) are former Conference sides. Both have had rapid rises from non-league and, without trying to be patronising, playing someone like say Swindon for example, must be quite a big deal for them.
Both have grounds with limited capacity, so they will often see sold out away ends. For example Oldham (on their third league visit there) packed out Stevenage on the opening day. Many of their games could be classed as ‘big’. They are enjoying the ride, fair play to them.
Shrewsbury, Carlisle and Orient
All three are typical lower league clubs, but all had spells in the old Second Division in the 70s and 80s. Carlisle famously even topped the old First Division for a week in 1974.
Brentford, MK Dons
The ‘throw money at it’ brigade. When they first took Wimbledon’s identity, the Dons were actually in the second tier. So that just makes the project just look like an even bigger waste of time to me.
Brentford have only had one season out of the bottom two leagues in over half a century and are perennial play-off chokers. You suspect they will need a quality goalscorer (and penalty taker) this season if they are to escape. Let’s hope they cough up for one.
A big stat that is banded about is how many former Premier League clubs there are currently at the second level but in the same era 19 out of the 24 clubs (nearly 80 per cent) in this year’s division have played in what is now the Championship. There are six former Premier League teams down here as well, although only one have the unfair advantage of parachute payments.
Nottingham Forest, Leeds United, Leicester City, Charlton Athletic, Norwich City, Southampton, Sheffield Wednesday, Sheffield United, Portsmouth and Coventry City are all ‘bigger’ clubs who have played league fixtures against the Saddlers since we returned to this level six years ago.
In that list you’ve got former double European Champions, the last champions of the old First Division, two FA Cup Winners from the 70s, one from 80s and one from just five years ago. These teams have nine League Cups between them and seven have been in major cup finals in the last 30 years.
Most have played in Europe, or would’ve done but for the post-Heysal ban - Leeds played in League One six years after they were Champions League semi-finalists. Whilst all but Sheffield United have had sustained spells in the Premier League where they weren’t just relegation fodder.
Most have got (or did have in Coventry’s case) decent stadiums and nearly all have had sizeable followings (or did have in Coventry’s case). Yet tellingly only two of the esteemed list got out of this league at the first attempt – at the right end at least. There are few pushovers at our level.
And I must not forget to give a special mention to our old friends Manchester City, who graced the third tier in 1998/99. Along with Leeds they are by far and away the biggest club ever to play in our league.
By the second Saturday of that particular season City were behind the mighty Saddlers, which is where they stayed for the remainder of the season as they finished a mere third. Happy days.
Three of the above-mentioned teams play in stadiums that were used for Euro 96 (Forest, Leeds and Sheffield Wednesday), three (Elland Road, the Walkers and St Marys) have hosted actual England games in the modern era and one was an Olympic venue in 2012.
Squad sizes vary from club to club. If you can get yourself a special one as manager you can have your biggest one for years with plenty of quality in reserve even if you have a shoestring budget.
Alternatively if you’ve been in the Premier League recently you can have loads of wasters earning an obscene amount of money sitting around doing nothing. Opinions vary as to which approach is best. I know which is funniest though.
It may surprise some but teams in League One play 46 league games in a season, two rounds of cup matches have taken place (one for some) and the Johnstone's Paint Trophy starts this week for us lower division clubs. Some games are bigger than others but technically none are ‘cup finals.’
Most teams have had play-off wins, promotion campaigns or successful relegation battles at some time. Of course Bradford actually played in an actual, proper Cup Final last year (and they beat Aston Villa over two legs in the semi-final). Another good example are Oldham who must hark back to the days when they challenged for cup honours in the early 90s.
We’ve had some great days ourselves - winning promotions, in the play-offs, and winning relegation battles. How good did the final whistle at Southampton feel in 2011?
I’m sure we’ll all manage to cope with the odd derby game again this season.
Dedicated to Paul