Football’s back. Did it ever go away?

Non-league charm

Footballers. They’re over paid, over rated and over exposed. Even the most die hard fan would probably have more criticism than praise for the modern professional. That said, there is one sacrifice they do make. They don’t get much time away from the game. Best case scenario they finish mid April and return for training early July but some seasons they will lose much of this time negotiating transfers, moving house, etc.

If a clubs is involved in the play-offs that’s another couple of weeks tied to the game. Meanwhile the better players will be turning out for their countries at major competitions like the World Cup every other year leaving them perhaps 2 or 3 weeks before starting over for the next season. There – that’s as much sympathy as they are going to get from me.

And so another season rolls on and it promises (as ever) to be nothing if not entertaining. Here is my potted preview to the forthcoming season…

We could be in for a real humdinger of a season with more teams than ever battling for top spot. Chelsea and Man Utd will go toe to toe but the Man City megabucks may finally start to tell. Liverpool under Hodgson will surely improve on last seasons fare while Arsenal are always in with a shout and Spurs – well – let’s not tempt fate. Blackpool will set the Premiership alight, at least off the pitch with Ian Holloway in front of the cameras. Eyes will also be on Mark Hughes at Fulham and Sol Campbell at newly promoted Newcastle. All will become clear.

Chelsea – They were clinical last season where other contenders slipped up. I think this season may be similar.

Blackpool – The gulf is toooo big. We would all love Holloway’s men to stay up, but really?
Wigan – Can’t keep punching above their weight. This may be the season gravity kicks in.
West Brom – We know they play attractive football but where is the steel they need at this level?

Birmingham – I’m not suggesting they will finish in the top four but they could sneak into a European Cup position

If ever there was an odds-on favourite it has to be Middlesborough with their stellar squad and big money signings. The relegated clubs would normally be expected to challenge for promotion but Hull and Portsmouth have huge financial problems with Portsmouth potentially starting the season with a mere 15 professional players. Locally I see Leicester pushing for a playoff place along with Forest (hiss!) who will probably make plenty of news off the pitch as manager Billy Davies inevitably falls out with his board.

My team Derby finished mid table after an at times precarious flight last season but I believe the club are progressing slowly but surely. Coach Johnny Metgod went to the World Cup with the Dutch as a scout and returned with dreams of a 4-2-3-1 formation. The Rams have adopted this pre-season to good affect and with last seasons massive injury list on the wain I predict a 10th place finish.

Middlesborough – Cash thrown at an already good side
Burnley – Enough premiership quality to return first time around
Cardiff – Boo! But they have hung onto Micheal Chopra and may continue last seasons ascent

Scunthorpe – Survived last season due to Hoopers goals but now he has left them.
Watford – They seem to have reacted to last seasons mediocrity by selling lots of players and getting none in.
Hull – OK, this is a punt. I think they may end up going into administration and get docked points. Bear in mind I thought runaway champions Newcastle might slip down last season…

QPR – They have spent stacks of money over a number of seasons but ruined it all by changing managers every 10 minutes. They may feature this time purely on the basis of having had some stability for a longer period.

League 1
There will be a few “big” teams shooting it out in League 1 but there is no guarantee of promotion as dirty Leeds know. That said I do expect the likes of Southampton, Charlton and Sheffield Wednesday to challenge for the top. Division new boys Notts County will be happy with a mid table position but I think they could be sniffing around the play-off positions with a modicum of luck

Southampton – I expect them to continue last seasons progress
Charlton – There has been some turnaround in the squad but they still look good in this division
Sheffield Wednesday – Should bounce back to the Championship with the quality of signings they have brought in.

Dagenham & Redbridge – Promoted last season they may not have the experience to avoid getting sucked into a relegation battle
Tranmere – They just survived last season and not enough has happened since then to turn things around
Colchester – Finished 8th last season but have lost too many good players.

Huddersfield – Have recruited plenty of good players close season but can they gel quickly enough?

League 2
With Notts promoted last season Bradford are the team many would look to for automatic promotion but they underachieved last season and I wonder whether they will handle this seasons expectations. Sides newly promoted to the league tend to do very well which will provide encouragement for Oxford and Stevenage. There is a financial story every season and this year it is Southend fighting off HMRC. Administration and a points deduction could open the trap door to non-league football.

Chesterfield – This good squad may be inspired by their new stadium to a promotion season
Rotherham – With last seasons points penalty behind them they should be there or thereabouts
Gillingham – Some good players at this level and a popular choice for a top place

Macclesfield – Cash strapped and unable to improve last seasons relegation threatened squad
Southend – Likely to struggle without a possible points penalty should they go into administration

Burton Albion – Looked good in their first season and have improved their squad over the summer.

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