Harrogate Town will make history by playing a Football League match for the first time at Southend United’s Roots Hall this afternoon and supporters of plenty of other clubs will be dreaming of a season to go down in the annals.
Finances have made it a tough landscape for Yorkshire’s Football League clubs, but hopefully it will make 2020-21 a season where youth comes to the fore.
The step up Leeds United face could not be greater than a trip to arguably the finest team in Europe, and inarguably the best in England, in the weekend’s most anticipated game. Regardless of the result at Liverpool, Leeds fans have every reason to look forward to their first Premier League season since 2003-04.
They have a coach they finally confirmed yesterday has signed a new one-year contract, and a sense that as long as Marcelo Bielsa and his bucket are on the sidelines, almost anything is possible.
Sheffield United have led the way. The message they sent to the best team in last season’s Football League is the same as to Conference play-off winners Harrogate: keep the faith. They showed a club which knows its methods and trusts those carrying it out has nothing to fear. Simon Weaver’s interview in today’s The Yorkshire Post shows they are preaching to the converted.
Some will be ready to flash-in-the-pan the Blades as soon as they suffer a setback. Theirs has been a slow-burning transfer window but this week’s explosion of Ethan Ampadu, Oliver Burke, Jayden Bogle and Max Lowe has given them not a different look, just a much more substantial feel.
Like Leeds, Paul Warne’s Rotherham United are stepping up but the Championship is far from unknown territory to a club whose yo-yoing is in danger of making supporters dizzy. Warne’s signings appear to have been made with previous relegations in mind. Barnsley also seem to have learnt from their past, abandoning end-of-season asset-stripping to give Gerhard Struber chance to build on a remarkable escape from relegation by his inexperienced squad last season.
Darren Moore’s Doncaster Rovers showed promise in his first campaign by polishing other club’s diamonds, and will hope sticking to that puts them in the League One play-offs. Middlesbrough’s Neil Warnock will aim to build on last season’s resumption, pleading poverty but fixing his stare on his natural habitat, the Championship play-off places.
Others are starting again.
Huddersfield Town saw how Danny Cowley saved them from relegation and – with one eye no doubt on the balance sheet – boldly decided there was a better way. The manager was replaced by a coach, Carlos Corberan, who spent two years alongside Bielsa and will be charged with finding similarly vibrant football from a youthful squad. It is a risky strategy but the rewards will be high.
Years of overspending have forced a Sheffield Wednesday revamp and the way they tried to get out of it means they start the Championship on minus 12 points. After too many players whose attitudes were as questionable as their remuneration, theirs should be a fresher, dynamic, more invested squad. The question will be if they can overcome such a big handicap.
League One Hull City and League Two Bradford City both look too big for their divisions but football does not work like that.
Grant McCann has kept his job and refreshed Hull’s squad now some of the booty from disastrously selling Jarrod Bowen and Kamil Grosicki in January has finally come his way, but is looking to youngsters to reinvigorate a club festering under unwanted owners. Stuart McCall has signed some familiar faces but seems genuinely enthused by some of his Valley Parade youngsters.
There are reasons to be cheerful and this season, more than ever, it is important to enjoy it.
To have not lost a league club in the pandemic was a miracle and although we do not know when, 2020-21 will surely see the return of fans.
Soulless matches in echoey grounds have hopefully shocked those running the game into appreciating what supporters bring, and it would be nice to think they will show their gratitude when the gates finally reopen. Ah, there goes the optimism of pre-season again.
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