One of the greatest soap opera returns to television screens on Friday and it will provide us fans with the characters that will love and the ones we love to hate. No this is not Eastenders or Coronation Street it’s the Football LEAGUE!
The three Coca-Cola leagues, that are arguably the most competitive leagues in the world, are packed with teams all eager to hit the ground running at the weekend. The Championship is packed with teams in contention for promotion or at least a play-off spot. The fans of Ipswich Town, Sheffield Utd, Preston, Reading, Bristol City, Middlesbrough, West Brom, Nottingham Forest, and Cardiff City will all look to the season with optimism. Characters such as Roy Keane, Neil Warnock and Ian Holloway are sure to keep supporters entertained from first game to the last with rants at referees, players and probably the tea lady knowing their track record of rants. Of course the quality of football in the Coca- Cola Leagues is always inferior to that of the Premier League’s multi-million pound teams; however it provides supporters with an exciting competitive brand of football that has made the Championship the fourth most watched league in Europe.
The competitive nature of the Leagues and the way in which the Play- Off system works, gives every team a chance of putting a run together to secure a Play-Off berth and chance at gaining promotion. This was highlighted in 2004 when Crystal Palace fought back from a horrendous start to the season, where they were hovering over the relegation zone in December 2003, to gain promotion via the Play-Offs. Middlesbrough and Sheffield United kick off proceedings to the new Football League and Championship season on Friday night live on SKY. This is followed by the first of the BBC’s Saturday evening Kick Offs at The Hawthorns, where West Bromwich Albion entertain Newcastle in what is likely to be an interesting encounter after summers of both clubs since relegation from the Premier League.
League One is also division packed with big stadiums and former Premier League residents. The likes of Leeds United, Southampton, Charlton Athletic and Norwich City will be looking to fill the two automatic promotion spots and make the first step to a return to the Premiership. However Lee Clark’s Huddersfield Town, Paul Ince’s MK Dons and Kenny Jackett’s Millwall are just some of the teams that will not make the first step of any return for these teams easy. The likes of Brentford, Wycombe, Exeter and Gillingham will take heart from the exploits of Peterborough United, MK Dons and Stockport County who achieved a promotion, a Play-Off spot and safety after promotion from League Two the previous season. Since the re-design of the Football League in 2004, League One has been one of the most interesting leagues with former giant of a club Nottingham Forest, Sheffield Wednesday and now Premier League Hull City all gaining promotion from this division in the last five years. The first League One game of the season will show new Southampton manager Alan Pardew, formerly of West Ham United, first game for the Saints live on SKY at home to Millwall who will provide a stern test.
In addition to this, there has been a substantial amount of media attention on League Two this summer with the more than surprising arrival of a former England manger to the division. Much has been made of Sven Goran Eriksson’s arrival at the world’s oldest professional club; however there are no complaints being made by the Notts County fans that must be in dreamland since their takeover in mid July. Eriksson’s arrival at County has been surrounded with scepticism to how long he will stay at the club, as he has refused to rule out a return to management. Yet could this all be part of the County master plan that one manager will take them up the divisions to be replaced by Eriksson once in the top division? Well this could be the case if the Notts County master plan comes to fruition. On the other hand the likes of Bury, Shrewsbury Town and Rotherham United will be looking to halt any County master plan as they look to push for promotion from League Two.
Consequently these clubs will be all too aware of promoted Conference teams gaining a second promotion in a row. This has been highlighted in recent years with the success of Doncaster Rovers, Yeovil Town, and just last year Exeter City. Promoted clubs Burton Albion and Torquay United will look to continue the trend. One thing to note outside of the Football League this coming weekend is the game between AFC Wimbledon and Luton Town in Blue Square Conference Premier. Twenty-one years ago these two clubs provided one of the two F.A Cup Semi Finals at White Hart Lane. Much has changed to these two clubs since that day when Wimbledon defeated a strong Luton side 2-1. Luton Town have faced money problems and fought administration continuously, whilst AFC Wimbledon was born out of Wimbledon’s decision to move to Milton Keynes and rebrand themselves as the MK Dons. Therefore both clubs will be looking to ‘hit the ground running’ so to speak and aim to get as higher up the league as possible.
Names such as Eriksson, Keane, Ince, Ferguson and Clough fill Football League fans with excitement for the new season, which is shaping the Football Leagues to be one of the most interesting to watch over the next ten months.