Why you should be watching League Two
If you want entertainment, dog-fights, and tension, there is only one league you should be following. No, it is not the divined Premier League, home to some of most dazzling assets in the world, attraction to millions worldwide, where money saturates every ebb of the game.
England's top-flight is always an intriguing spectacle. There are so many personalities, so many egos, so many talking points. Take, for example, Mauricio Pochettino's assertion that the public's obsession with diving is killing the game. Only the prestige Pochettino holds and the 'unfairly accused culprit involved, the notoriously mischievous Dele Alli, have brought this particular discussion into the limelight. The merits of the debate are questionable, in relation to this piece, redundant, but they demonstrates an important point: spotlight is inescapable.
Unwavering attention is placed on the Premier League. Goings on rarely escape the public gaze. Discussions are dedicated to the relegation fight, the meandering stumbles for the Europa League places, who will clinch a top-four spot, where players go, what they do and wear when not at the training ground, who is forcing a move or being disloyal to the billionaire club owner who overpays him. It degenerates from there.
It is understandable, then, that few apart from local supporters are aware of lower league football's dynamic. The subterranean tiers inspire and entertain in equal measure without pop-star girlfriends and gleaming Italian sports cars.
The Championship gets its fair share of exposure, but League One and League Two are neglected by the mainstream media. This is partly down to Sky Sports' monopoly over football league coverage, which prohibits games being screened on live television elsewhere. The only time Sky appear bothered about the depths of the professional pyramid are when the playoffs rolls into town.
At least Rupert Murdoch's greed encourages people to get out of the house for a bit. Or the studio. Jeff Stelling has. Despite his work, he knows there is nothing better than watching a local side on a Saturday afternoon, even though his Hartlepool side were unable to survive the fianancial challenge of League Two and have dipped down into the National League. Nevertheless, the lack of attention from Sky Sports allows for the traditional 3:00 pm slot footballing loyalists crave.
Small grounds are conducive to intimate atmospheres, a transformer between support and club. The closeness of the stands to the pitch may seem a trivial point, but it contributes to an immersive experience. It's perhaps the one lesson Major League Soccer has appreciated, leading it to insist clubs build soccer-specific stadia.
Not only can the atmosphere be raucous, the football is often surprisingly good. No, these are not world-class footballers, but they are professionals. The one inhibitor to consistent quality is the pitch standard. Mauricio Pochettino at least had the dignity not to use that as an excuse for Spurs' difficulties at Rodney Parade in the FA Cup. Unfortunately, clubs lack funds to ensure pristine surfaces. Some must share a ground with a rugby team, as Newport County do with Dragons. Yet, this adds to the intrigue. Untimely slips, mis-hits, loose control, and scything challenges are all a product of dodgy pitches.
League Two is always the most fiercely contested division, although Luton Town is seemingly unassailable this season. Nathan Jones' Hatters are looking to bounce back from 2016/17's play-off disappointment by taking the Kenilworth Road faithful directly to League One. Below them, the story is captivating.
Just six points separate second from ninth. In a league where the top three spaces are granted automatic promotion, this is all the more astonishing. There is no clear gulf in talent. Any one of eight teams can worm its way into an automatic spot.
Then, there are five teams all within six points of the final playoff spot.
This is a finely contested league. A run of two or three positive results propel a team into the top three. The same on the losing end can drop you out of contention. The delicate balance produces drama few leagues can rival. The division inevitably remains competitive right until the last minute.
Sky's broadcast policy cost them the opportunity to tell Exeter City's compelling story last season. Bottom at Christmas, the Grecians embarked on a scintillating run. They were 90 minutes away from promotion, but lost 2-1 to Blackpool in the playoff final. Despair. Hope. Heartbreak.
And Glory for Blackpool.
This is the league to watch, folks. Turn off your television. Get down to your local League Two side.