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It might not feature heavily in media headlines or on sports channels but, right now, England's third tier is as strong as it has ever been both in quality and in terms of the teams down stuck down there. Here we look at why the league is worth checking out and, more importantly, why the current Championship crop won't want to be the next side to slide into it.

Why watch League One?

There is a really simple answer to the question ‘why watch League One?'; it's highly competitive, has passionate fans and plenty of big clubs. Take this season as an example, for the last 10 years a points total around the 70-point mark would give you a good chance of making the top six for a coveted playoff place. This year, however, Plymouth missed out on the playoffs with a points haul of 80 and Ipswich finished in a lowly 11th having chalked up 70 points; those figures alone should tell you how well some of the teams at the top are playing.

It's not a case of the big boys easing past the sides further down the table either. Take Wigan for example, the 2013 FA Cup winners, have just won League One with 92 points but yet only managed to take one point off Cambridge United who were playing in League Two last season; Lincoln who finished in the bottom third of the league also beat them. Equally, second-placed Rotherham threw away three points to a Fleetwood side that only avoided relegation on goal difference.

It really is a league where anyone can beat anyone on their day. It's that very fact that makes League One perhaps the hardest league in England to escape from; that's proven by the big boys currently stuck down there.

So, who are the so-called big boys of League One?

Sunderland

When you think about big clubs falling down the pyramid, it's hard not to hone in on Sunderland. The Black Cats have a trophy cabinet that boasts six First Division titles and two FA Cups and a stadium that holds 49,000 fans; that's bigger than Villa Park, Stamford Bridge and Goodison Park. It's not just the big ground that captures your eye though, Sunderland have averaged gates of 31k this season. That's bonkers in the third tier. Of course, Sunderland could be a Championship side again soon as they enter the playoffs. Then again, this is their fourth crack at League One and they've not found the answer yet.

Sunderland fans
Sunderland fans during their League One play-off semi-final. Photo by Icon sport

Sheffield Wednesday

Sheffield Wednesday are another mammoth football club – and not just by League One standards. Like Sunderland, they've racked up multiple top-flight titles in their history having won four titles between 1903 and 1930. They've also won three FA Cups and the League Cup. Again, they have Premier League-worthy facilities with Hillsborough boasting a capacity of 40k; that's been over half full across the course of this season too with a high attendance of 33,394. The Owls haven’t tasted top-flight football since 1999/2000! It will be a while longer too because they’ve just suffered playoff heartache.

Ipswich Town

Ipswich and Sheffield Wednesday passed like ships in the night back in 2000. The Owls were relegated, and Ipswich were promoted. The Tractor Boys enjoyed a marvellous first year finishing fifth and qualifying for the UEFA Cup but plummeted the next year. Like Wednesday, they’ve not been back since. Ipswich are a smaller club than both those mentioned before them – but they’re not small. They’ve conquered Europe in the shape of the UEFA Cup, won the FA Cup and have a First Division title to their name. A sizeable stadium and fanbase is there too; Portman Road holds 30,311 and has held more than 28k this season just gone. Still, they’ve not finished higher than ninth since dropping into the third tier.

Portsmouth

Pompey are another giant of a club that are currently confined to League One; they’ve been down in the lower leagues for the best part of a decade now as well! Portsmouth shouldn’t be this low in the pyramid; they won back-to-back top-flight titles in the late forties and have two FA Cups in their cabinet; the most recent wasn’t even that long ago having come in 2008. Their stadium, Fratton Park, isn’t as big as the clubs we’ve touched on so far but their ground is one that tends to attract a few on away days owing to the atmosphere it generates; it oozes classic English football!

Bolton Wanderers

Bolton might not be able to boast First Division glory like some of the League One big boys but you won't find many that dispute their ‘big club' tag.  For one thing, they've had success in regards to the FA Cup, which they've won four times! That's more than the likes of West Ham and Leeds! Beyond that, the Trotters have also spent 73 seasons in the top flight and have qualified for European football twice this century! Whilst on the subject of their stature, a 29k stadium is worth noting as well!

Derby County

That's right, Derby County are a League One club now as well. The Rams are massive – even if you forget that they've got Wayne Rooney in the dugout! They've got Pride Park that holds 33,597; there is a trophy cabinet with an FA Cup and two top-tier titles in it and they've had the likes of Brian Clough sit in their dugout. You can't describe the Rams as anything but a big club. The trouble is, they're now paying the price of some big old mistakes too.

Derby manager Wayne Rooney
Derby boss Wayne Rooney. Photo by Icon sport

A message of hope

So, the clubs we've mentioned here so far are the big clubs of League One that can't seem to get moving in the right direction; it shows just how tough the division is. After all, it's impossible for all of these sides to win promotion. It's also why Derby need to tread carefully because an instant return is far from guaranteed. Of course, the third tier has acted as a nice springboard for a few clubs in recent-ish years by allowing sides to find their feet, gain a winning habit and then kick on again. Sheffield United, Leeds and Norwich are all good examples of this; they've all tasted top-flight football again after multiple promotions. The real story though is Leicester City; they went from League One to Champions of England. It just goes to show that you're never truly down and out; you're just a giant waiting to be awoken.

Former League One side Leicester parade their PL title
Leicester parade their Premier League title. Photo by Icon sport

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