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


Five moments that cost Blackpool FC their place in the Premier League

11 June 2009 – Cristiano Ronaldo leaves Manchester United for Real Madrid
How could Blackpool be relegated a year before they were promoted? In the way only Blackpool could. You see, Ronaldo was the man who often got United through a tough test, especially away from home. His departure paved the way for Chelsea to win the title at a gallop, prompting them to dump some of the veterans who’d helped them to the title – in short, the best two teams in the country got downright worse over a couple of years. And that showed in the league table. Manchester United took 90 points and Liverpool and Chelsea were in the mid-80s. By implication, that meant the bottom clubs did worse. The 39 points Blackpool won would’ve been good for 16th place. By contrast, this season the champions managed only 80 points. The top four dropped points to everyone in the division … bar Blackpool. The departure of Ronaldo was the trigger.

Saturday 14 August 2010 – Blackpool beat Wigan Athletic 4-0
Wondering how a 4-0 away victory over your relegation rivals could possibly be a downer? Well, of course, it couldn’t. It set off a giddy chain of unbelievable form that really only ended in February, with a 3-1 home defeat to the division’s worse side, West Ham. But did the victory, or rather the manner of it, mask a litany of deficiencies? Wigan were poor, but still had decent chances before Gary Taylor-Fletcher scored Blackpool’s first Premiership goal. Would more have been spent – or money spent differently – had the picture been a bit less rosey? Was enough doine to integrate a flurry of new signings? Did the fans get complacent?

31 January 2011 – transfer deadline day
The one most fans – at least those who frequent message boards and mailing lists – seem to pick out! A few wobbly moments had given cause for doubt, despite an exhilerating start to the campaign. But despite a slew of signings in the transfer window, only loanee Jason Puncheon made a major impact in the closing months of the season. And there seemed to be a shadow over star man Charlie Adam – although he more than showed his worth in the last three games of the campaign. There are the usual moans – not without justification – that chairman Karl Oyston was sat on a fat wallet of Premiership cash that, if opened, could have delivered a more positive impact. Quantity wasn’t the problem, but the truth is that James Beattie, Segei Kornilenko, Andy Reid and Salaheddine Sbai delivered little. Perhaps one or two more expensive, or more imaginative buys would have delivered more – and still would be next season, unlike the above, all of whom have left.

Approx 4.50pm, Saturday 19 March 2011
Leading 2-1 at Ewood Park, deep into injury time, it seemed Blackpool were about to drag Lancashire rivals Blackburn Rovers deep into the relegation mix. Brilliance by Charlie Adam (we’ll ignore the highly dubious penalty) had put Blackpool in control, and the seconds were ticking away. Enter Richard Kingson. The keeper had enthralled for Ghana in the World Cup and beguiled since replacing the injured Matt Gilks. But he never looked at all confident under the high ball. Victory would have given Blackpool momentum. The draw felt like a defeat, not to mention a kick in the teeth. Typically, Kingson plays like a star for his country against England at Wembley a few days later. He took his leave of Blackpool this week.

Approx 4.11pm, Sunday 22 May
Yep, that’s right. The moment Gary Taylor-Fletcher put the Seasiders ahead at Old Trafford. Sure, it took ‘Pool two places outside the relegation zone – but was it worth it? Was going ahead exactly the wrong thing to do at that moment in time? It seemed to galvanise – well – everyone. United looked annoyed to be behind. Birmingham hit back at Tottenham (albeit fruitlessly) and Wolves realised they needed to get back into their home game with Blackburn. Would it have been better to hold on to the point, wait a little while, maybe nicked one at the end. But the moment passed. It’s all memories now, the result’s in the record books and ‘Pool are in the Championship. Still, we’ll always have Wigan

This is the first in a semi-regular series, BTW (meaning it’ll probably be the last)