For those of us in a constant vegetative state of hibernation since the conclusion of the World Cup almost a month ago, the time has finally come to dust off the replica shirt, dig out the lucky pants, and renew the super duper Sky TV for the coming season (now in 3D) because…SOCCER’S BACK!
And it’s the original (and best) this weekend as the Football League gets underway, with a cheeky fixture on Friday night in the Norfolk wilderness, where your sister can quite literally double up as your mother, to kick-off the proceedings against Watford.
The first thing you’ll notice is the absence of the fizzy cola sponsor which has been replaced with npower, which doesn’t even begin with a capital letter for crying out loud.
That’s where the pessimism stops though, as this division season after season continues to enjoy a competitive balance not seen in a league that doesn’t operate a draft system. On paper a couple of teams look like they could run away with it, but predicting this division becomes trickier every time.
Lets start off with the Champions in waiting, a side who comprise a group of players wouldn’t be out of place in some weird Scottish Premier League dream team of yesteryear, Middlesbrough. Managed by the no-shit, what you see is what you get Scotsman, Gordon Strachan, you’d expect them to hit the ground running such is the talent they’ve acquired. Kris Boyd has shown his prowess in front of goal in William Wallace land, and combined with Scott McDonald one of them will take the golden boot. Although relegated sides do suffer second season syndrome in this so quirky of leagues, relegation really isn’t a possibility here I’m afraid thank you.
Onto the surprise packages then – all 17 of them. But really, it would be a surprise if a favourite went up, about as much as receiving a woolen jumper on Christmas from Great Aunt Ethel, in that you’re more surprised she’s still alive than you are with the present. Anyway, of the seventeen, I’ve come to three who I begrudgingly consider to be enough of outsiders to consider it an upset were they to go up.
Here goes nothing…
First up, get yourrrr cooyyyyderrr at the ready and raise a glass to Steve Coppell’s Bristol City. Why might they get promoted? The ground is not a nice place to have to go as an away side – it’s somewhat of a shitheap, combined with the vociferous support which creates the kind of atmosphere the Highbury library can only dream of. England’s current number one (as this article is written) plays for them. Nicky Maynard scored a bucket full of goals last season. Coppell’s done it a lot of places before. Why I’m skeptical? If Maynard goes down injured, they’ll be scoring less than that fella down the pub who smells of piss.
Next on stage the fashionable team from unfashionable Doncaster. If you can get a word in edge-way as yet another observer waxes lyrical about them being the ‘Arsenal of the lower leagues,’ you would probably come out with just that. Couple this with the permanent signing of Billy Sharp, scorer of 15 last season, and they have a steady enough side to make a run at the top six. The skepticism here comes with the reason that, like Arsenal, you kick them and they break. Not on the scale of Wenger’s special children, but still. You play like a bunch of prima donnas you have to expect it.Lastly I think we’re going to have the Stoke City to our aforementioned Arsenal. Aidy Boothroyd doesn’t much enjoy fancy football, so his appointment at Coventry will bring a hint of gratuitous violence to the Championship – though his credentials are not to be scoffed at. His promotion with Watford was impressive, and if he can get hold of ex-con Marlon King then in turn persuade him to perform on the pitch, playoffs are not out of the question. The reason they may not is that they’re poorly supported at home, and Boothroyd’s not a miracle worker.
Those are only three that might do it, but it wouldn’t surprise you if any of them fought relegation such is the absurdity of the teams in the league. Nonetheless, it may well be the only professional league where the bookies and punters alike are enthralled and excited at the topsy-turvy nature of it.