SEVENTY-SIX days. Not quite enough time for Phileas Fogg to circumnavigate the globe but more than enough, it seems, for a sense of optimism to return to Yorkshire football.
Last season may have ended in an abject sense of disappointment for the county thanks to Hull City’s relegation being confirmed and Middlesbrough losing the Championship play-off final inside the space of just 24 hours.
With none of our Football League clubs able to win promotion, it meant 2014-15 – at least, in terms of League football with third-tier duo Bradford City and Sheffield United excelling in the Cups – was a far from vintage campaign for our clubs.
Fast forward to Saturday lunchtime, however, and those 76 days between Boro’s Wembley loss and Leeds United kicking off the new season live on Sky at home to Burnley will have made last term but a distant memory.
As is customary at this time of year, anything seems possible to White Rose football fans. This can, the thinking invariably goes, finally be the year when everything comes together to bring some long-overdue success to the club.
Of course, such optimism doesn’t always last very long. A year ago, for instance, Huddersfield Town fans took just 90 minutes to be hit with a sense of foreboding as to what lay ahead after seeing their side turned over at home by Bournemouth in comprehensive fashion on the opening day.
Mark Robins then quit a few hours later to leave the Terriers seemingly locked into a season-long fight against relegation.
As it was, a worrying autumn at the John Smith’s Stadium eventually gave way to a winter in which Chris Powell had started to bring about a sufficient upturn in results that Town remained clear of trouble quite comfortably.
The Huddersfield squad has continued to evolve, Powell having cut much of the dead-wood in January before making some shrewd-looking additions this summer.
Judging by the ante-post betting that has only Rotherham United priced at longer odds to go up than the West Yorkshire outfit, the bookmakers see only a year of struggle ahead but Town could yet be a good bet to claim a highest-place finish since the turn of the Millennium.
As for the rest of the county’s Championship contingent, Middlesbrough and Hull City are the most fancied to lift the title come May with only Derby County priced at shorter odds.
In Boro’s case, the reasons are obvious. Aitor Karanka may have lost a key player in Patrick Bamford following his loan switch from Chelsea but the return of Stewart Downing in a £5m deal and the pursuit of Jordan Rhodes’ shows that the club has very serious ambitions to go one better than last term’s play-off final defeat to Norwich City.
In terms of personnel, Karanka’s squad looks as strong as any in the second tier and could take some stopping.
Hull City, meanwhile, are – despite the bookies’ confidence – facing a far more uncertain year. Much depends on the make-up of the squad, with Steve Bruce having had to be patient this summer during the inevitable fall-out from relegation.
Big earners such as Dame N’Doye, Abel Hernandez and Nikica Jelavic were always going to be keen to leave following the drop out of the Premier League.
A substantial wage cut of between 30 and 40 per cent – written into every player’s contract at the KC over the past two years – was a factor but so, too, was a desire to remain at the very top level.
From Hull’s point of view, Financial Fair Play has meant new signings had to be put on the back-burner until it became clear whether the big earners will be moving on – and this while proven Championship performers such as Stephen Quinn, Tom Ince, Liam Rosenior and Paul McShane were heading out of the KC Stadium.
Even now, that picture is not complete with prized assets being coveted by top flight clubs and others who Bruce is keen to move on still being on the books.
Not until 6pm on September 1 – the previous day is a Bank holiday – will the Tigers’ true strength or weakness become clear.
Elsewhere, Leeds United and Sheffield Wednesday – the county’s two big under-achievers of the past decade or so – have had encouraging summers.
At Elland Road, the arrival in May of proven football personnel in Adam Pearson and Uwe Rosler was an encouraging start for a club that a year earlier had given the impression of being in a shambolic state behind the scenes.
United have subsequently built on that with Massimo Cellino releasing sufficient funds to bring in a £2m striker and allow Rosler to make impressive-looking additions throughout. Throw in the exciting brood of youngsters nurtured by Neil Redfearn and Leeds start the campaign looking in their best shape since 2010, when Simon Grayson’s side had just won promotion from League One.
Down the M1 at Hillsborough, new owner Dejphon Chansiri has also been splashing the cash to underline his intent to take Sheffield Wednesday into the Premier League.
Appointing Carlos Carvalhal, who had never worked in English football before arriving in S6, was a risk but the Owls have recruited well during a summer that has seen Lewis McGugan and Ross Wallace add quality along with the exciting potential of £3m arrival Marco Matias.
Much depends on how Carvalhal settles in England, of course, but Wednesday still look a potential darkhorse in what seems likely to be an incredibly competitive division.
Rotherham complete the county’s representatives in the second tier and, again, Steve Evans has been busy in the transfer market in an attempt to improve on last term’s commendable 21st-place finish.
Chris Maguire is one of several useful additions made by the Millers, as are Lewis Buxton and Greg Halford, so confidence will be high at the south Yorkshire club that the bookmakers can be proved wrong once again.
In League One, all four of the county’s clubs will fancy their chances of going up.
Sheffield United, now under Nigel Adkins, are about to embark on a fifth straight season in the third tier and again lead the betting stakes.
Billy Sharp’s capture has been the eye-catching transfer at Bramall Lane this summer and the striker will be desperate to make up for last term’s struggle at Leeds United.
Bradford City, following a seventh-place finish and a stirring FA Cup run, sold 18,000-plus season tickets and will want to justify that backing after belatedly cranking up their recruitment in the past week or so.
Doncaster Rovers and Barnsley showed sufficient glimpses last term to suggest the south Yorkshire duo will be strong contenders this time around.
Rovers have had a stable summer – their first for three years – and Paul Dickov has much more strength in depth at his disposal, while Lee Johnson has had a full pre-season to get across his ideas and much will be expected this time around.
Like Johnson, Russ Wilcox has had the last few weeks to hone York City into a much more cohesive unit while in the Conference new boys Guiseley will be looking to follow FC Halifax Town’s lead in making an immediate impact.
The challenge for all 13 of our managers is to make this a season to remember for Yorkshire football. Over to you, gents.