Anyone looking at the Premier League table for the 2009/2010 Premier League season would find clubs like Sunderland AFC, Bolton Wanderers, Wigan Athletic and Portsmouth (albeit an unsuccessful season resulting in relegation) making up one fifth of the top-flight. Nowadays, these four well-known, historic clubs are battling it out in England’s third tier: Sky Bet League One.
These four teams are not the only ‘big’ (being defined as having played in the Premier League and having significant fanbases) clubs in the league; ex-Premier League clubs such as Charlton, Ipswich, Sheffield Wednesday, and AFC Wimbledon as well as MK Dons who were formerly ‘Wimbledon FC’ in the top-flight also feature in League One, which sets up a fascinating season.
With 36 league games to play for each team, there is still a long way to go. Yet, after the opening ten games, it is already shaping up to be a classic season of lower league football. Wigan Athletic and Sunderland AFC occupy the top two spots, only split on goal difference. Bolton, Portsmouth and Sheffield Wednesday are all within four points of the play off spots, with Ipswich surprisingly struggling towards the foot of the table. However, no one can be counted out at this early point of such a long, gruelling season.
However, even though there are big clubs in League One, does this mean it warrants attention while global superstars such as Cristiano Ronaldo and Mark Noble light up the Premier League?
Well, although the quality of football is not always as high and the stadiums lack the operatic glamour of the Manchester United’s ‘Theatre of Dreams’ or Liverpool’s historic Anfield, there is beauty in the authenticity of League One. In what other country does a third-tier league feature a team like Sunderland, who have a 49,000-seat stadium and attract crowds of over 30,000 on a weekly basis, playing against teams such as Accrington Stanley with ground holding just shy of 5,500 spectators? Usually, these kind of mismatches only occur in the early rounds of cup competitions – yet both these teams are competing towards the top end of the table in League One.
Also, the big clubs do not walk all over the league’s smaller clubs. There is no better evidence for this than the fact that a club like Sunderland who are in their fourth season in the division have yet to make play-offs any of these years.
Finally, another reason to follow League One this year is the unique passion of its clubs’ supporters. Sure, Old Trafford has a large section of passionate fans who support their team through thick and thin. However, when they complain about their owners, they are complaining in the midst of signing top class talent such as Cristiano Ronaldo, and the very expensive Jadon Sancho. Some of the clubs that have fallen from grace into the third tier have not had nearly as supportive owners, and in the case of Bolton, Sunderland and Portsmouth, have been pushed very close to the brink of liquidation. In spite of these hurdles, there remains the same passion and enthusiasm among these fan-bases to follow their club across the country, and a mutual respect for the hardships they have faced.
So, if you are looking to follow an exciting league, which may lack the glamour of the Premier League but provide more character and authenticity, then the third tier is the place to look.