The term “real football” is a rather subjective phrase. It suggests that the football you watch on a weekly basis may or may not even exist.
However as transfer fees rise to seemingly unimaginable levels, match-going costs and kits are now costing a small fortune, and shiny new soulless stadiums are erected, elite football feels increasingly like it’s losing its soul – in the Premier League, at least.
However drop one level and you get the whiff of early to late nineties off the Championship. A more innocent, nostalgic time for football fans of a certain vintage.
Maybe it’s the array of clubs with huge reputations down there. Aston Villa, Leeds United, Sunderland, Nottingham Forest, the Sheffield clubs, Wednesday and United, and Middlesbrough – most of which are all still playing at their old grounds.
Villa Park, Elland Road, the City Ground – all cathedrals of football, steeped in history. These clubs may wallow in the tier below which they truly belong, but they somehow feel more ‘real’.
The majority of these clubs’ squads are sustained, generally, by a British and Irish core of players – a hark back to the days when English football wasn’t a playground for foreign super agents.
There’s a sense that they are untainted by the excess of a gargantuan Sky deal that feels like it has swallowed up and spat out what it means to be a football fan and actually attending games is really the only way to follow.
Of course all of these clubs are aiming for that Promised Land. What is a football club if it’s not striving to play at the best and biggest level it can.
For now, though, they remain unshackled by the bourgeois nature of the Premier League, where fans don’t really matter anymore and all sense has left the building a long time ago.
.One can only hope the Championship and its lower league siblings keep their sanity, mostly for its supporters’ sakes.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing