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Page last updated at 10:52 GMT, Wednesday, 27 May 2009 11:52 UK

Have faith in the Championship

By Matt Newsum

Boro winning promotion in 1995 and 1998, and relegation this season
Boro have twice been promoted to the Premier League after relegation to the First Division

Middlesbrough's relegation from the Premier League ended an 11-year stint in the top tier of English football.

Since then the club has been to a European final, won its first major silverware in the shape of the League Cup and seen its players go on to represent England at senior international level.

Therefore it would seem that the Championship is going to be something of a culture shock for supporters who have been spoilt by trips to Rome and Eindhoven, Anfield and Old Trafford.

But it need not be a miserable experience. Contrary to the worst fears of Boro fans, the second tier of English football is in rude health.

Crowd levels are on the rise, indeed, the Championship is the fourth most-watched football division in Europe, 9.9m people watched live Championship action in 2008-09.

Only the German Bundesliga, the Premier League and Spain's La Liga can compete with such numbers.

Newcastle's vast St James' Park stadium aside, the club's Riverside home will be among the biggest in the division.


However, most of the grounds in the division can comfortably seat 20,000, with some such as Nottingham Forest, Derby and Coventry to name but three clubs whose stadia touch and indeed exceed 30,000 capacity.

Those that do not, such as Scunthorpe's Glanford Park and Peterborough's London Road, offer a taste of something different, and particularly in the latter case, of what football grounds used to be.

Boro fans who have followed their team around the identikit grounds of the Premier League will appreciate the change of scenery, if not the reduced cost of tickets.

The standard is improving too, one need only look at the progress of Burnley in the League Cup this season to realise that teams in the Championship play attractive football.

The Clarets reached the semi-finals, guided by talents such as striker Martin Paterson, signed from Scunthorpe after his goals there had shown his promise and playmaker Chris Eagles, who made the switch from giants Manchester United.

On route they beat Chelsea and made light work of Arsenal, before a cruel late winner saw Tottenham through at their expense.

Burnley's positive approach was rewarded with promotion

Most importantly for Boro fans, Owen Coyle's men gained promotion to the top flight via the play-offs, proving good football can also be successful.

A positive omen for fans is that historically Middlesbrough have coped with relegation from the Premier League well.

Middlesbrough have returned stronger, better equipped for life in the top flight on each occasion.

Under Bryan Robson, young players such as Jamie Pollock and Phil Stamp emerged from the first Premier League relegation season to gain promotion in 1994-95 and impress at a higher level.

And then in 1997-98, a series of inspired signings helped clinch an immediate return to the top flight.

Using the money raised from the sales of Juninho and Fabrizio Ravanelli, Robson added experience and quality to his squad in the shape of Paul Gascoigne, Paul Merson and Andy Townsend, to complement the industry of Robbie Mustoe and Craig Hignett.

The class of 2009 will no doubt be carved up, Tuncay and Stewart Downing almost certain to depart as their stock remains relatively high, and some players will be sold as part of a rebuilding programme.

However, it is important to remember that of the trio of big-names that came down with Middlesbrough in 1996-97, only Juninho had moved on - joining Atletico Madrid - at the beginning of the campaign.

It happened in 1998
Michael Owen made history at the World Cup, becoming England's youngest ever player
British police place General Augusto Pinochet under house arrest for human rights violations, tax evasion and embezzlement in his home country of Chile
Gomez won the Mercury Music Prize with their debut album 'Bring It On'

Fabrizio Ravanelli made two appearances in the old First Division before departing for Marseille in September 1997, while Emerson lasted even longer, making his final appearance in a 4-0 defeat of Reading in December 1997.

If the club can hang on to their more attractive assets for even a few months, it could lay the groundwork for a good season.

Those expected to stay, particularly younger players such as David Wheater, Tony McMahon and Adam Johnson can learn much from the disappointment of relegation, as Gareth Southgate has already said.

And with the relative security of the parachute payment, Boro should have money to invest in personnel to replace any outgoing talent.

If they adjust quickly and Gareth Southgate can bring in extra experience and steel for the rigours of the Championship then history could repeat itself.

One warning though - as Charlton, Norwich, Southampton, Nottingham Forest, Sheffield Wednesday, Leeds United and Manchester City have all shown - the Championship can be a graveyard of reputations.

The club will need to discover a winning mentality quickly, or risk being sucked down the plughole into a far more inconceivable fate.

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