Sky Bet Replaces nPower As Main Sponsor

The official announcement is here, but after three seasons of the competition being called the nPower Football league, Sky Bet have taken over the role of title sponsor.

I’m trying hard not to be too cynical here, but this decision is based on two factors. Firstly, with Sky Sports monopoly of televised football being ended with the deal that gives BT Sport a handful of Premier League matches but all of the rights to Aviva Premiership rugby union games, Sky’s football coverage needs to expand.

Secondly – as is demonstrated in the first couple of paragraphs of the press release – this decision is about increasing brand awareness and use of Sky Bet, which is another way of saying that Rupert Murdoch wants your money.

Sky Bet’s managing director Richard Flint’s comment that ‘…in the past fans would go into a betting shop on the way to the ground’ was probably true as recently as the late 1990s, but the arrival of Betfair changed the betting landscape forever. The emphasis on mobile apps is basically an acknowledgement that Sky Bet are targetting younger, tech savvy users rather than ‘traditional’ punters.

Although I’m happy to welcome any move that increases the promotion of the Football League as an alternative to the rich man’s playground that the Premier League has become, I’d also like to point out that other betting companies are available and that Sky Bet’s prices are not always the best – it’s always worth remembering that if you want to buy a pair of shoes, you’re not limited to just one shop.

All that remains is the inevitable embarrasing advertising campaign, which will probably emerge over the next couple of weeks. However, more exciting than that is the news that next week I’ll be publishing the first part of the season preview!

Hornets Sting Rangers: Blades Cut Ties With Gary Speed

Two big stories in the nPower Championship this week: QPR lost for the first time on Friday and Gary Speed left Sheffield United.

As I wrote last week, it was a case of when rather than if QPR suffered their first defeat and they were comprehensively outplayed by Watford, who were 3-0 up before the hour thanks to goals from Danny Graham (2) and on loan Birmingham City midfielder Jordon Mutch.

Despite Watford’s unexpected win, the situation at the top of the table remained pretty much the same on Saturday evening. Once again Cardiff and Swansea failed to take advantage of the leaders dropping points. Swansea were lucky to earn a point at home against Millwall and the Bluebirds lost at Middlesbrough: Jonathan Howson’s winner at Burnley showed that Leeds have now adapted to life in the Championship – the Yorkshire side had to come from behind at Turf Moor and became only the second team to win there this season.

There wasn’t a great deal of change in the relegation zone either, but with Preston picking up their first win in eight games, there are now only four points separating the bottom six clubs. Scunthorpe made their first – but probably not their last – appearance in the bottom three and Boro’s victory propelled them to the heady heights of 21st place.

Although there haven’t been any postponements yet, the winter weather is supposed to be returning this weekend and so it’s worth checking to see if your team will be in action. This week’s programme begins on Friday with Doncaster v Middlesbrough – the visitors have won the last three league meetings in Yorkshire but share the worst away record in the Championship with Crystal Palace; despite being in 16th place Donny are one of the most improved sides at home this season and have only lost once at the Keepmoat stadium this season.

There are three candidates for game of the week on Saturday. Norwich travel to Coventry for a game between two clubs who are looking to maintain or improve their current positions, but it’s Aidy Boothroyd’s side that appear to have the advantages. The Sky Blues have become a force to be reckoned with at the Ricoh Arena and have also improved defensively, keeping clean sheets in their last four games. The Canaries have one of the best away records in the Championship, but only one of their four away wins has come against a team that’s in the top six and they have only won twice in the last twenty league games at Coventry.

Sheffield United v Swansea is the only game between sides in the top and bottom six this weekend and it’ll be interesting to see how the Blades get on without Gary Speed. The ‘will he/won’t he’ saga of Speed’s courtship by the Welsh FA was finally resolved this week and it has to be said that the Blades probably made the right decision to release Speed from his contract. He lost half his games in charge of United; with a couple of obvious candidates for the job now available (Sam Allardyce and Chris Houghton), a manager with experience in the Championship that is capable of getting United out of their current situation is required.

Whoever takes over at Bramall Lane will have to shore up Sheffield United’s home record. They’ve lost five times at Bramall Lane already (they only lost three home games last season) and have failed to score in four of their nine home games so far. Not the best time to be facing one of the six clubs in the Championship with a positive away goal difference that hasn’t lost an away game since the end of September.

Saturday afternoon’s big game is Leeds v QPR, but it would be premature to write off the visitors after losing for the first time last week. The key to this game is whether Leeds can break down QPR’s stingy defence – two of the five goals Queens Park Rangers have conceded on their travels came at Derby at the end of August – without compromising their own. Despite their league position, Leeds have the worst home defensive record in the Championship and opponents have scored more than once in half of the games at Elland Road this season. Yet another away draw for QPR is on the cards.

The last game of the weekend takes place at Portman Road – yes, Ipswich are on telly again (5:00pm Sky Sports 2), presumably because it’s Roy Keane v Sven-Goran Eriksson, but there are a couple of points worth making here. Firstly, none of the last ten Championship games shown on Sky have featured teams from the top ten playing each other but three of those ten have been between teams currently in the bottom six. Secondly, anyone that tunes in might be watching one of the last games featuring Roy Keane as Ipswich manager.

There are four teams that have suffered a serious decline in both home and away form compared to last season: two of them (Leicester and Middlesbrough) have new managers, Nottingham Forest remain an enigma and that leaves Ipswich. The cold hard facts for Ipswich fans are as follows: six games without a win in the Championship, only one win in the last five home games and only Preston and Scunthorpe have lost more home games.

The good news for Ipswich is that Leicester’s away form this season is nothing to write home about and the Foxes have lost seven of their last ten trips to Portman Road, but having won at both Barnsley and Leeds this season, Leicester’s 5-1 demolition of Doncaster Rovers last weekend might be an indication that things might have to get worse for Ipswich before they get better.

Help Chris Kamara Raise Money For Charity

Chris Kamara is calling on football fans in England & Wales to join him in raising money for Marie Curie this Christmas.
Help Chris Kamara raise money for charity

Chris Kamara is calling on football fans in England & Wales to join him in raising money for Marie Curie this Christmas.

Chris Kamara is appealing to fans this Christmas to join him in raising money for Marie Curie Cancer Care – The Official Charity Partner of the English Football League for the 2010/11 Season.

As official ambassador for the partnership, Chris Kamara is asking football fans to make his dreams come true this Christmas – by joining in his ‘Home or Away’ challenge.

Fans have the choice of the ‘home’ challenge – cycling from Lands End to John O’ Groats – or by joining a team of Football League managers and fans trekking up ‘Kamaramanjaro’ on the away leg.

Both challenges take place in June 2011 and registration forms are now available so don’t miss your chance to take part in a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Sign up for one of the challenges.

Chris Kamara said:

“My perfect Christmas list would include a fan from every club in the country taking up a challenge and joining me to raise money for this fantastic cause.

“Marie Curie Nurses will be working in every footballing community across the country this Christmas, giving terminally ill people the choice of being looked after at home, surrounded by their family and friends. I want to rally as much support as possible from football fans to ensure that Marie Curie can continue to deliver free nursing care to people who want to be looked after at home.”

Chris Kamara has backed the partnership in memory of his late mother, who was cared for by Marie Curie nurses at home before she died. There are many ways fans can make a difference this season and help achieve the fundraising goal of £500,000.

For those that can’t take up a challenge, why not sponsor Chris Kamara or to make a £3 donation to Marie Curie Cancer Care text GOAL and your club name to 70300.

Money raised by fans undertaking the challenges will contribute to their club’s total in the Marie Curie Fundraising League so supporters will be backing both Marie Curie and their club!

For more information about the partnership and how to get involved visit www.football-league.co.uk/mariecurie.

Fundraising League Table
Visit the Facebook Fundraising League Table to see how well your team’s supporters are doing.

Please Note:
Each text will cost £3 plus your standard network messaging rate. Marie Curie Cancer Care will receive at least £2.67 from each donation depending on the network, some networks payout 100 per cent. Please get the bill payer’s permission to donate. For full terms and conditions visit www.football-league.co.uk/mariecurie.

nPower Championship Football League Preview

It’s highly likely that the 2010/11 nPower Championship football league will be more competitive than last season: Newcastle United became the sixth club in the last 20 seasons to win the Championship the season after being relegated from the Premiership.

Middlesbrough – another club with recent Premiership experience – are current favourites. Manager Gordon Strachan has bought in Kris Boyd from Rangers; if Boyd reproduces his outstanding goalscoring record in the Championship, he could be play a vital part in Boro’s promotion bid.

Although the clubs relegated from the Premiership shouldn’t be entirely written off, Burnley look the best equipped for a serious promotion challenge: Chris Iwelumo’s arrival from Wolves looks like a shrewd investment. Both Hull City and Portsmouth have off field issues that could hinder their efforts to make an immediate return to the top tier.

Two of the teams that reached the play offs last season should challenge for promotion places. Nottingham Forest were outstanding at home last season and Leicester City – where former Swansea City boss Paolo Sousa replaces Nigel Pearson as manager – look capable of maintaining their form from 2009/2010. Cardiff City’s prospects are unclear, but they should still be capable of a top ten finish, a prospect that both Ipswich Town and QPR will be hoping to achieve.

It’ll be interesting to see how the new arrivals from League One will perform. Champions Norwich City return after one season but may have to settle for a mid table finish; Leeds United will probably lead the division in attendance numbers, but their season may depend on how well new signing Billy Paynter adapts to the Championship. Millwall should avoid relegation but may have to be content with a bottom half finish in their first season at this level since 2005/2006.

A number of teams look as if they may struggle. Scunthorpe always seem to be punching above their weight but selling Gary Hooper to Celtic leaves The Iron without a proven goal scorer. Barnsley need to improve at home, Crystal Palace entered administration but eventually owed their survival to an outstanding away record that culminated in a win at Sheffield Wednesday on the last day of the season.

However, every club in the nPower Football League Championship will start on equal terms when the season starts on the evening of Friday August 6th, when Watford travel to Norwich City (7:45pm kick off, live on Sky Sports 3).

Coca-Cola Championship Fourth Most Watched League in Europe

Coca-Cola Championship has retained its place as the fourth most watched league in Europe
Coca-Cola Championship has retained its place as the fourth most watched league in Europe

English football continues to be a big hit with football fans all over the world.

Coca-Cola Championship has retained its place as the fourth most watched league in Europe with a total audience of more than 9.9m fans. Crowds grew by 0.3% this season and averaged 17,949.

Only Germany’s Bundesliga (13.1m), the Premier League (12.9m) and Spain’s La Liga (11.0m) can boast more fans through the turnstiles, with The Football League’s top division, once again, attracting more supporters than Italy’s Serie A (9.1m) and France’s Ligue 1 (7.6m).

Crowds at matches in the Coca-Cola English Football League have broken the seventeen million mark for the first time in 50 years.

A total of 17.1m supporters attended the 1,656 league matches played during 2009/10, an increase of 4.4% on last season and the highest aggregate crowd figure since the 1959/60 campaign.

The Football League continues to enjoy sustained attendance growth with gates having more than doubled during the last 25 years. The average Football League crowd is now higher than 10,000.

Crowds for matches in Coca-Cola League 1 and Coca-Cola League 2 averaged 9,136 and 3,853 respectively, with crowds in the former increasing by a remarkable 21%.

These figures continue to outstrip those of comparable levels of the game in Europe’s other major footballing nations. League 1 crowds are more than 75% greater than those in Germany and more than three times higher than those recorded in Italy and France. League 2, attendances are twice those of their German equivalents and almost five times those of Italian football.

Football League Chairman, Greg Clarke, said: “Attracting more than seventeen million fans into their grounds is an outstanding achievement by Football League clubs, particularly in the current economic climate.

“Our clubs are focussed on attracting a new, family audience to football and those efforts are clearly working.

He went on to add: “I would like to thank everybody that has been to one of our matches this season for supporting their club and our competition.”