Friday, 5 August 2011

A new season kicks off...

With the Football League kicking off tonight I can't remember the last time I was this excited about an approaching football season.  It may sound sad but I almost feel like a kid again.  There are a couple of reasons for this.  Firstly there is the fact that a few of the top Premiership teams seem to have shuffled their squads a bit over the summer and the league could be anyone's (I'll do a post about that next week).  Mainly though there is a buzz about my own team for the first time (at least as far as I remember).  

Hartlepool United, not the most fashionable club, I think we are punching above our weight just being in League 1.  In fact we share a record with Rochdale for the most number of seasons in the football league without ever reaching the top two tears (I think that now stands at 83).  Last season was a good one, we were never really near relegation though didn't stand a chance of going up.  We had a season high attendance of 4,084, unfortunately in a match which we lost 5-0 (against Sheffield Wednesday).  So not a lot to shout about?  Well this season we've sold more season tickets than that highest attendance.  Why?  Well the club have pulled off a master stroke - charging fans just £100 for a season ticket!  In days of multi million pound footballers that equates to seeing 23 matches at just £4.35 per game!  Last I read we'd sold at least 5,700 tickets, and at one point were even outselling former Premiership club (and closest ground to us) Middlesbrough, despite them being in the league above.  It's been advertised well locally too:

(Yes our mascot is called H'Angus after the old story about the people of Hartlepool hanging a monkey believing it to be a French spy).  It's not just the price that's gotten people excited, the biggest signing we've pulled off in a long time was also confirmed when Nolberto Solano decided he wanted to return to the region that I guess he considers home after his time with Newcastle.  As a natural pessimist though I'm disappointed that they've raised my expectations for the season, I was happy wishing for mid table obscurity!

Anyway, I doubt many of you are interested in Hartlepool, so as the season is kicking off I'll give my thoughts on the Football League.  (I don't pretend to know a huge amount but will give it a go).

The Championship

The main stories here are West Ham trying to bounce straight back, along with Leicester City's big spending spree.  It is hard to look past these two for automatic promotion, however I don't think you can rule out Reading or Nottingham Forest.  Cardiff lost their entire strike force in the close season and Middlesbrough would need to replace Lita in order to challenge.  Anyone who watched the Premier League last year would also want Blackpool to be up there again.  Down the other end there's a return for Brighton in a new stadium and Southampton, both of whom should be comfortable and both could even push for the play-offs.  The great thing about the Championship however is there are about 20 teams who could all make the play-offs or be relegated. 

Champions: West Ham
Promoted: Reading
Play-Offs: Leicester (promoted), Notts Forest, Leeds, Ipswich. 
Relegated: Portsmouth, Doncaster, Watford.

League 1

This may be where it's at for me, but I still don't know a lot about the other teams!  A former colleague of mine supports Tranmere.  They got in some funds from selling one of their youngsters to Bayern Munich and have spent a fair bit, so they should be pushing the top half this year.  I am hoping they will be battling Pools for one of the last play off places.  To go up I really fancy it may be Charlton's year, but Huddersfield, the two Sheffield clubs, MK Dons and perhaps Preston will fancy their chances.  At the other end, like the Championship so many could go down.  My prediction:

Champions: Huddersfield
Promoted: Charlton
Play offs:  MK Dons (promoted), Leyton Orient (narrowly missed out last year), Sheff United, Hartlepool (my rose tinted glasses coming through!)
Relegated: Stevenage, Walsall, Wycombe, Yeovil.

League 2

There are two stories in League 2 this year, firstly everybody's second favourite club AFC Wimbledon playing their first ever season in the football league.  It has taken them just 9 years to reach the professional ranks since their formation following the MK Don's move to Milton Keynes.  Quite an achievement, I'm sure they'll be loving just reaching this level.  The second is the other new boys Crawly Town, with all of the money at their disposal they have to go straight in as one of the favourites for promotion.  It will also be interesting to see how Paulo Di Canio goes as Swindon manager.

Champions: Torquay United
Promoted:  Accrington Stanley, Crawley Town
Play offs: Plymouth Argyle (promoted), Oxford United, Bristol Rovers, Gillingham.
Relegated:  Hereford, Barnet.

Okay, so there's my predictions, I wonder how many I'll get right, I just hope it's entertaining!

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