Life In The Second Division Is A Killer For Supporters Abroad
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There is nothing worse from a football supporters’ perspective than not knowing how to find your side’s game on television. Perhaps it’s a sign of the times that with a click of the remote or a flick of one’s fingers on the keyboard, you’re immediately given access to a global range of football matches.
Long gone are the days of pouring through websites in Russian or staying up until the early hours of the morning to catch a game on tape delay. Soccer has truly arrived — unless of course you’re a Newcastle United supporter and want to watch the English League Championship.
That may sound like sour grapes, but it’s true. Unless one has beINSPORT Connect, the chances of watching Newcastle United this season are slim to none. It’s a small, sobering reminder for Newcastle supporters that life is very different for clubs outside of the Premier League.
After getting booted out of the Premier League last season, Newcastle United find themselves in the Championship with an uncertain present and an uncertain future.
At least here in the United States there seems to be some line of thought that is perpetuated about the Championship. There is this notion that there is something glamorous about playing in the second division, that it is kitschy or hipster watching matches on Friday night or supporting your team in a lower division.
Perhaps it is a glass half-full theory — it’s nice to watch matches at the bottom where one can enjoy the game and not worry about the greater implications. There does seem to be this yearning for the football of yesteryear, whatever that might be.
— Newcastle United FC (@NUFC) September 29, 2016
Let’s put some cold water on this line of thinking: there is nothing glamorous about playing in the English Championship. It is the second division of English football.
It’s a very fine league, for sure, but it’s a drop from the Premier League, that goes without question. Going from the Premier League to the Championship is like going from burger bistro Five Guys to the chain restaurant Hardees.
Sure, there might be one or two things on the menu worth eating but, by and large, it’s a terrible alternative.
That is the situation that Newcastle United find themselves in this season. After six seasons in the Premier League, a solid top-five finish in 2011-12 and a Europa League quarterfinal appearance in 2012-13, the Magpies are back in the old Second Division.
After bombing out of the Premier League last year with a 9-10-19 record. For the second time in a decade, the Magpies found themselves outside of the EPL and looking in.
Although Newcastle haven’t captured a major trophy their 1955 FA Cup triumph, gaining promotion is currently the club’s first, second and third priority.
The side were somehow able to keep Rafa Benitez on as manager and made several shrewd moves to pick up Premier League-caliber players. Newcastle’s signings have been funded by the Premier League’s relegation ‘parachute payments’ and the selling of under-performing players like Moussa Sissoko and Georginio Wijnaldum.
Having that extra bit of cap flexibility helped the side keep JonJo Shelvey and sign Dwight Gayle and Matt Ritchie. The club were even able to give their old foes Sunderland a slap in the face by snapping up the talented American defender DeAndre Yedlin.
Everything seems to be pointing towards a brief stay in the EFL for Newcastle. With a world-class coach, big signings and some good pieces to build around, the Magpies do not seem long for the league. So why is there such discomfort at St. James Park?
What does make the Championship such a fascinating league is that it feels like the truck stop of professional football. It catches some teams on the rise (read: Southampton and Leicester City), others on their way down (read: Fulham, Portsmouth and Wimbledon) and others who are just stuck in neutral (Derby County and Nottingham Forest). Just look at Leeds United for an example of a stay that has gone on for a very long time and does not look like it will be ending anytime soon.
Every Newcastle United supporter fears being Leeds. The reason for this is simple: there are too many similarities.
Although Newcastle have not had the financial issues of Leeds, they are a side that, like Leeds, still rests on glories that occurred decades prior.
— Premier League (@premierleague) October 3, 2016
Players have come and gone as have can’t miss managers and international legends. Newcastle owner Mike Ashley is not exactly on par with the Leeds ownership in terms of evil corporate shenanigans, but he hasn’t warmed up to the Toon Army in recent years either.
If there’s one great thing about the EFL that Newcastle supporters have witnessed this season it’s that it is a great place for tinkering. Benitez has spent the better part of the last seven matches throwing caution to the wind, putting in different players in each match, working on different formations and giving players that would not necessarily have a chance to shine the opportunity to prove themselves.
This ‘anything goes’ philosophy has at least, in the interim, paid off. The Magpies didn’t exactly start on the right foot, losing to Fulham and Huddersfield in consecutive matches, but their form has steadily improved with Benitez’s side going on to win seven of their last nine matches.
— Newcastle United FC (@NUFC) October 1, 2016
Even their recent 2-0 loss to Wolverhampton wasn’t too bad — they went on to defeat Wolves in the EFL Cup only three days later. During one five game stretch, they managed to outscore their opposition 15-1.
So, can Newcastle make it out of the Championship at the first attempt? Certainly, but it is not going to be easy. Teams are not just picking the leftovers from the Premier League but also getting quality players from places like Germany, Spain and Italy.
The increased competition should help the Magpies, in theory, if they make it back to the EPL — they’re not spending a year playing in a glorified Sunday league.
No matter what happens to Newcastle United this season, it will certainly be interesting to watch on some strange international stream while waiting patiently for the buffering to stop.