Five Championship clashes to get the pulses racing

It may seem like the season ended only five minutes ago, but it’s fixture time already, and time to start looking forward to the new season. OK, there’s no Liverpool, Manchester United or Arsenal to look forward to, but there are plenty of fixtures to make the pulses race. And anyway, it’s still better than the decades-long diet of Gillinghams and Brentfords.

1. Leeds United
Who are they? Former European Cup finalists, three times league champions, one FA Cup, two spells in administration. This year’s undisputed ‘big club’. We haven’t played them in decades
The gaffer; Just what kind of a reception will Simon ‘Larry’ Grayson get on his return to Bloomfield Road? Should be a good ‘un. Smart young coach who was a key instigator of Blackpool’s turnaround
The team; John Charles, Billy Bremner, Johnny Giles … the current crop couldn’t be more different. A collection of fairly prosaic lower league recruits forged into a decent side in typical Larry fashion. Kasper Schmeichel is probably the biggest name. Almost made the play-offs in their first season back in the division, but suffered something of a Devon Loch finish
The chief; Cuddly Ken Bates. One of the few chairmen who would struggle in a popularity contest with Blackpool’s own Karl Oyston. Or Mussolini, for that matter
The ground; Should be plenty of Seasiders getting a one way ticket to Elland back. Not the bearpit it once was but still pretty feisty
Most likely to play ’em; At 4am on a Monday morning
Most likely to; Suffer from second season syndrome

2. Burnley
Who are they? Another self professed ‘massive club’ – although reality seems to have intruded in recent years. Spending part of my youth in East Lancs, I grew to hate them as much as Preston, but now take a more nuanced view – was fun seeing them in the top flight. Still love it if we beat ’em though
The gaffer; Eddie Howe did superbly at turning Bournemouth round. Jury’s still out on his record at Turf Moor after a half-season of ups and downs
The team; Big-money signing Charlie Austin will be expected to make an impact this term. Winger Chris Eagles will be a key man if he sees out the last year of his contract
The chief; A combo of salt-of-the-earth East Lancs type Barry Kilby and flash (former) property developer Brendan Flood. Flood recently opened a ‘School of Football Business’ at t’Turf. They lost £11.7m to get promoted. But at least it wasn’t a School of Property Business, ey Brendan?
The ground; Expect splinters on your backside from the wooden seats and a lengthy wait in the dark, sewer-like area under the stand before a heavy police presence stands there and watches the locals try to provoke you. A fun day out for all the family.
Most likely to play ’em; When the police tell us to
Most likely to; Do a bit better than last season

3. West Ham
Who are they? Cheeky cock-er-ney monkeys who whisked up a team of World Cup-winners from up the apples and pears and play the game the way Bobby Moore intended. Yep, another lot who are stuck in the past and will be flashing their big club credentials at all and sundry
The gaffer; Another ‘Pool old boy in Big Sam Allardyce. That’ll be the reputation for silky football up the swannee then
The team; Seem to be recruiting well, if their bid for Kevin Nolan pays off. Could hardly be more spineless than the side that got them relegated last season
The ground; Never been to Upton Park. May never get the chance
The chief; Porn baron David Sullivan and friend of Alan Sugar Karen Brady. Anything less than promotion would be a financial disaster
Most likely to play ’em; Hopefully away when I’m in the country
Most likely to; Do a Newcastle

4. Leicester City
Who are they? Perennial yo-yo club with a big reputation
The gaffer; Lock up your daughters, guys, is Sven
The team; Expected to be big spenders. Everton’s sometimes unplayable, sometimes abysmal Yakubu may join permanently after a half-decent loan spell
The ground; The Walkers stadium is fantastic. So good, in fact, that it sent them under. Facilities for away fans leave a certain amount to be desired, however. And don’t even start me on the parking …
The chief; Of interest principally because of their Thai connections. Vichai Raksriaksorn is very politically connected and reportedly helped broker the deal that brought prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to power. Be interesting to see what happens to his hugely controversial King Power duty free empire should parties loyal to Vichai’s former ally Thaksin Shinawatra should come to power in the election next month …
Most likely to: Implode
Most likely to play ’em; Before they implode

5. Birmingham
Who are they? Gruff, defensive, but better than us in both games last season
The gaffer; Unknown at time of writing!
The team; See above! Ben Foster, Roger Johnson, Scott Dann and Liam Ridgewell all looked quality when we played them last season, but will they be there.
The chief; Hong Kong businessman Carson Yeung. Better stay quiet on this one
The ground; If it wasn’t for the big screen, the seats and the prices, you’d imagine you were back in 1990
Most likely to; Surprise us all!
Most likely to play ’em; In a televised Sunday lunchtime game

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