By Paula Marcus
Two months into the season and the excitement at the return of football has settled, the table is starting to take shape and the first manager has already been sacked. For the last few years the Championship has been far from boring, whether it’s on or off the field, and this year is shaping up to be much of the same.
Fit and Proper
Over the past few seasons, questions have been raised about just how the League’s Fit and Proper person test is implemented. Concerned fans of clubs such as Bolton Wanderers, Leyton Orient and Charlton Athletic have recently protested against owners that they saw as unfit (a charge few would argue with) and asked the League to step in. According to the Football League’s chief executive Shaun Harvey, apparently we don’t know how lucky we are.
He stated that over the last year, the number of people prevented from buying League clubs was ‘quite significant’, although he doesn’t go into more details. He also states that just having the rules there deters many more from applying (although I’m not sure how true that is considering awaiting trial for fraud didn’t seem to stop Cellino purchasing Leeds United).
The main issue with the current regulations is that once an owner buys a club, the League can do nothing should mismanagement arise. In June last year, the clubs agreed to increase testing before purchase. Most notably, the discussion has also begun about a mechanism to remove unfit owners after buying a club, although I really doubt League owners will ever push this through.
Twenty Apparently Isn’t Plenty
As a fan of a club, you always hope that they will behave on and off the pitch in a way that fills you with pride. Last year Reading certainly did just that by introducing a number of promotions and schemes designed to put the fans first. At the forefront of this was their decision to be the first club in the county to adhere to the Football Supporters Federations pledge of twenty’s plenty. This means that away fans at the Madejski pay just £20 (as will home fans in the opposite stand).
The hope had been that other clubs would follow in their footsteps or, at the very least, offer reciprocal pricing for fans on away days. Despite writing to every club to ask for reduced prices for Reading fans, just two clubs, Aston Villa and Cardiff City, agreed last season. This season things haven’t got much better, with just Birmingham City and Derby County now joining Cardiff in offering reciprocal pricing.
That means three quarters of the Championship clubs are unwilling to lower ticket prices for just one game. A special shout out to Leeds United charging an impressive £39 for Reading fans. There is a slight sign that the message might be getting through though. Whilst Ipswich Town might not have agreed to the full scheme, they have lowered away prices to £25 for the season which is certainly a step in the right direction (especially as they had some of the highest prices last season). Whilst change is often slow this really is impressive and at this rate all clubs should have signed up by around 2050.
A Less Than Perfect Start
Not everyone can start the season like Wolverhampton Wanderers and Cardiff City with unbeaten runs and fights at the top. For Bolton Wanderers the start to the season has been far worse than probably their worst fears, as they currently sit bottom of the table with zero wins and the games lost column fast approaching double digits. If things don’t change fast they will be making a far quicker return to League One than they would have liked.
Another team that is maybe not adjusting as well as fans hoped is Sunderland, who currently sit one place higher in the table. The relegation hangover seems to have struck in much the same way as Aston Villa 12 months ago, yet again proving that it isn’t easy to overcome years of struggle in the Premier League.
All Aboard the Merry-go-round
We might be just two months into the season, but the managerial merry-go-round is already in full swing in the Football League. Last month Birmingham City became the first club in the Championship to switch managers, sacking Harry Redknapp after just eight league games and six defeats. In the latest case of short term memory loss for those in charge, last season Redknapp used his three games in charge to keep City in the Football League after a season to forget.
This is yet another of those strange decisions. Having brought in 14 new players over the close season, it could be argued that one month wasn’t necessarily enough time to really get the team working together. And new manager Cotterill may well have his work cut out to prevent another relegation battle this season after a not so impressive 6-1 loss to Hull last week.
Finally another good news story for Championship fans. Next time you are asked about the greatest players, you can add Reading’s Chris Gunter to that list. In this week’s Welsh players of the year awards, Gunter beat the world’s most expensive player to the top honour, ending Bale’s four year run. So apparently Championship players are better than Gareth Bale.