So some fans of the newly promoted teams aren’t so keen on the Premiership. Theyâ€™d rather the reality and passion of the Football League than the delusional shallowness of the top flight. Now, they do have a point. The Premiership is killing something that those of us who remember football before the 1990s rightly miss, and football down in the League is in some ways more authentic. When West Ham got relegated last time, I didnâ€™t know that. I hated the Championship and it took me a month just to bother with which other teams were in the division and another to start picking up on the results that affected us.
But by the time, 21 miserable months later, that it was all over, I had come to respect the Football League. Without the big money, the all-consuming media obsession, and the corporate-hospitality spectators, football in these divisions does have soul, and it is an English soul that keeps alive something that the generations of football fans who came before us would have recognised as their game and their passion. When West Ham made it back to the Premiership, I vowed never again to get out of touch with the lower echelons of English football.
But football is about something else too and getting the hump because your teamâ€™s in the Premiership misses that. On the train back to London from the 2004 play-off final, I got chatting to a Palace fan who had given me his seat. When he got off he said to me, â€˜Iâ€™m sorry. You know I really like being in this division. I am not happy.â€™ How weâ€™d be on the same planet for the previous few hours let alone the same stadium supposedly in conflict in the same experience was beyond my now raging comprehension. Itâ€™s just insane putting yourself through the ultimate emotional wringer of play-off football to end up feeling like that.
Sure all the accompanying stuff about football matters, not least the people with whom we do it. But if you canâ€™t get excited about your team playing, and one day beating, the best there is around, then youâ€™ve missed the ultimate promise of football: the possibility of glory. Itâ€™s because it can take us so far beyond the mundane and compress it into such an intense timeframe, such that sometimes you feel it will break you, that footballâ€™s worth the amount of our lives that we give it. Sacrifice that to whatâ€™s comfortable and predictable and youâ€™ve sacrificed as much as the Premiership has to hype and money.