Fixtures day for the Football League. It’s exciting for many, and it is cool to picture when you’ll be playing certain sides, but after the initial rush, it’s just a horrible reminder that summer will end one day and cold will return. I’d rather forestall that idea for a long as possible, yet here I am looking through the fixtures anyway. The idea of a load of games never seems more mouth-watering than in the abstract. Once we get down to it and you’re in the middle of January, freezing your cobblers off, it’s a lot less attractive.
Gah! We’ve got Barnsley on the opening day, at home. They were the best side I saw play last season, even though they finished mid-table, even though Bristol City beat them 3-2. Other clubs seem to be monitoring Barnsley’s boss Paul Heckingbottom as Barnsley’s quick passing and movement and overall progressive football comes from a boss with a vision. I’ll be watching how Barnsley do next season and if they can keep hold of Heckingbottom.
The second home game is against Millwall. With a couple of minutes to go against Bristol Rovers, in their last game of last season, Millwall were going to finish outside the play-offs but they managed to force their way in at the death. I’m not a betting man myself but I’d always look at the club in the lowest place in the play-offs to be the ones who get promoted: they go into it on a high while the top one or two sides are going in on a low, having not got the automatic spots that they’ve been chasing and might even have occupied at some points. Talking about possibly bad openings, Millwall caned us 3-0 at home in 2010.
That one game was a full fifty per cent of Steve Coppell’s reign as Bristol City manager. He took over at the end of the previous season, so he actually lasted about four months in total, but getting hammered by Millwall and getting beaten 3-2 away by lower league Southend in the League Cup led to him quitting the club and all football management, supposedly through a lack of enthusiasm. I remember watching Coppell as City manager during that Millwall caning. He just leaned against the dug-out in a way that recalled that fruitcake who’d just run France into the ground at the South African World Cup, Raymond Domenech, and his own nonsensical rubbernecking at his own side’s miserable meltdown.
Coppell resigned and wanted to leave football management all behind, he said. Although he did tout himself for the Iceland national side 12 months later; became a ‘director of football’ at Crawley Town and then Portsmouth and is now as an actual boss again, at Kerala Blasters in the Indian Super League. They’re the people who made David James their player-manager and they go through managers like underwear, with four in three years.
The following 2011 – 2012 season, post the Coppell zaniness, again started at home and again led to a 3-0 home defeat. Once the whistle sounded and Ipswich pocketed their three points, my friend informed me that he had to stop at the betting shop to pick up his £29 for laying down £1 on City losing 3-0 at home again.
Still, this is all too early to think about. The opening of the season makes me regret that the summer’s end is in sight but also makes me pine for maybe a summer season instead as it’s great to go along in T-shirt and shorts as opposed to hats, scarves, two pairs of socks and the rest. I gather that the Irish Republic and some Scandinavian countries employ a summer season instead. That would be cool as sun always makes everything look better and grown adults would, perhaps, be less likely to get all antsy over what, after all, is only a game.
Once upon a time, prior to football being invented by Rupert Murdoch in 1992, there used to be a fraternal relationship between football and cricket, with some playing both sports, like Ian Botham, Denis Compton, Leslie Compton and others, all year round but there’s too much money involved for clubs to let their ‘property’ run the risk of injury playing another sport. And there’s too much money for football not to consider any other sport a mortal enemy as it tries to vacuum up as much coin as possible. It would never happen, though. To do so would result in either taking a year or so off, which would be fine with me. Indeed, Mexico cancelled its league for a year prior to their hosting of the 1986 World Cup and I bet there was some huge appreciation, gratitude and only-knowing-what-you’ve-got-when-it’s-gone-ness on its return. Mexico made it all the way to the quarter-finals, only going out on penalties to West Germany.
The other result of a gear-grinding switch to summer football which be a heck of a fast turn around. “Hey, you’ve won the title! Now, put on this hat, with your team’s name in lights, and get carried shoulder high for a bit…..Finished? Good, now go out and win it again!”. It’s already bad enough, teams should be able to ‘large it’ and soak in their success but a change to summer football would negate their season’s efforts as next to meaningless.
I always get a season ticket but I ‘phone in’ my interest until late October. That’s the point when ‘the stagger unwinds’ and you really start to know where the heck you are. Until then, it’s all so much white noise. Someone told me that they didn’t used to publish the league tables for a few weeks because it gave such a skewed view of the world, with some side holding up the foot of the table but only being a win away from mid-table. Now, of course, you’ll get that early table published, for the yuk-yuk-yuks, after the very first game; and you know who starts under pressure when there’s really no need. All talk about league position should be banned until October. I always used to watch Sunderland celebrate in May as they scraped their sorry way to Premier League survival for another season and think: “Five months! In five months time you’ll be in the crapper again. You know it and I know it.”.