Oh, the long summer wait is nearly over. On August 5th, the new English Football League season will kick-off. The lower tiers of football, though not much in news throughout the world, bring with them some incredible football action; missing which could be considered a loss for a football supporter.

You can be an expert, a historian or whoever you wish to be, but you cannot know a club better than its most passionate of supporters. Using this as a ‘rule of thumb’, in readiness for the new season, we at TheHardTackle, caught up with a fan from each of the 24 Championship clubs in order to get their views ahead of the new campaign.

———————–

 

BARNSLEY F.C.


About the fan:

“Wilky” has been watching Barnsley since the mid 1970s. He watched the Tykes rise from the bottom tier all the way to the Premier League, listing the FA Cup victories over Liverpool and Chelsea in 2008 amongst his greatest moments. The club’s fall back to League One and subsequent financial meltdown are his low points.

You can follow the author on his blog www.onthepontyend.com or on twitter @OnThePontyEnd

How was the Summer Transfer Market for your club?

We are restricted by one of the smallest budgets in the Championship this season, forcing a shrewd approach. Whilst there’s been plenty of debate on acquisitions from the lower leagues, pre-season suggests that key players and attributes have strengthened the team, getting rid of the dependency on the loan system of previous regimes and creating a far more rounded squad that we may have head for a few years.

What are your hopes for the upcoming season?

From what I’ve read, we are already written off, so remaining in the Championship has to be priority number one. But our pre season hints that we are not serving the same fare this season, so I expect a strong mid-table finish as a minimum. Being the underdog may offer us some advantages this time around.

Who are your key players?

Jacob Butterfield really began to emerge last season. Still a fairly unknown quantity to the opposition, I expect him to grasp a regular place in the midfield this season. Keep an eye out for Jim ‘O Brien too, who after a fairly lacklustre first season at Barnsley is, hopefully, now settled in and could cause plenty of problems to Championship defences from the wing or at set pieces.

Jacob Butterfield - a key player for Barnsley!

 

Which team MUST you finish above?

Sadly, neither of the Sheffield clubs are in the Championship this time out and they, more than any teams, are our natural rivals. But, being the top team in Yorkshire would be a marvellous accolade, therefore Leeds United, Doncaster Rovers, Hull City and Middlesbrough will all be fixtures with added spice.

Opposition players you love to hate?

Anyone that has ties to the Sheffield clubs and ex-players who have departed over improved contracts/lack of belief to aspire to making Barnsley FC stronger. Jason Shackell should not expect a warm round of applause…you get the idea!

Opposition players you secretly admire?

Kevin Nolan. Regardless of his weird “flapping chicken” goal celebration. He’s a tough competitor and a proven finisher. He will be different class in The Championship.

Predict a finish for your team.

Safe – Mid table.

Who, according to you, will get promoted?

West Ham United, Cardiff City and Southampton.

Who, according to you, will get relegated?

Peterborough United, Doncaster Rovers and Coventry City.

———————–

 

BIRMINGHAM CITY F.C.


About the fan:

Kevin Ball has followed Birmingham since the mid 1970s. A series of ups and downs have ensued, with Kevin’s highlight coming last year as he was at Wembley with his son to watch the Blues win the Carling Cup.

You can follow Kevin on his blog www.joysandsorrows.co.uk, on Twitter @joysandsorrows or on Facebook

How was the Summer Transfer Market for your club?

Interesting! We bought in Marlon King, not exactly celebrated among the fans for obvious reasons – but I imagine if he starts scoring goals… well I’d better leave that. We’ve bought Rooney for up front, Adam not Wayne. Chris Hughton is looking to add more attacking players, but has bought in experience in defence too. When you get relegated you expect to lose players, but Craig Gardner’s exit is probably the only one that the Blues fans were surprised with.

What are your hopes for the upcoming season?

I’m sure we will be at least in the play-offs.

Who are your key players?

It depends on who is still at the club! Foster, Dann, Ridgewell, Carr will form the main stay of our defence. Michel looks like he is in favour again so will replace Ferguson. Left-winger Jean Beausejour will be brilliant in this league if he stays.

Which team MUST you finish above?

Not bothered really as long as we go up!

Opposition players you love to hate?

Too early to say – don’t know enough of the Championship players yet.

Opposition players you secretly admire?

Again too early to say.

Predict a finish for your team.

I’ll go with 4th in the league,

Who, according to you, will get promoted?

This is tough because I didn’t pay much attention to this league last year. But you have to say Leeds, Southampton, West Ham, Forest and Leicester must be considered as strong contenders. (Plus us of course!)

Who, according to you, will get relegated?

I really have no idea at the moment!

———————–

 

BLACKPOOL F.C.


About the fan:

As a reward for 100% attendance at school, 12 year-old Martin Bury received free tickets to watch his local team Blackpool. He caught the bug and hasn’t looked back since. He has followed the Seasiders rise from League Two to the Premier League, listing the Wembley promotions and the Premier League experience as his highlights. Last year’s relegation is Martin’s low point.

You can follow Martin on his blog www.theTangerineOne.com or on Twitter @BFCJez

How was the Summer Transfer Market for your club?

Obviously, the loss of Charlie Adam (who goes with our absolute blessing) is a major one, but I’m honestly more gutted about the brilliant David Vaughan leaving… never mind for absolutely nothing! In Kevin Phillips, we’ve got a proven goalscorer, we’ve got some defensive cover in and we’ve announced the signing of Barry Ferguson. Winger Bojan Djordic has a point to prove, as most of our signings do/will, no doubt. That’s how ‘Ollie’ gets the best out of his side, I think.

What are your hopes for the upcoming season?

It’s a season of re-building for us, so to expect an immediate Premier League return may be a bit much. Another trip to Wembley after a Play-off run would be nice, but if we don’t go up, it’s no big deal, we’ll go for it in 2012/2013. As long as we play the same, entertaining stuff that we have been for the past couple of seasons, I’ll be happy.

Who are your key players?

I’d say Ian Evatt is one of our most influential players. A good, honest, footballer & vastly improved on the player we bought a few years ago, he had a great season last year. Matt Phillips will hopefully progress as a footballer without the pressure of Premier League on him and Keith Southern – whom I believe should be our new captain – is key to our shape & gives us 190% every single game.

 

Mission to cope with the loss of Charlie!

 

Which team MUST you finish above?

Normally Preston North End, but they went down! Burnley, I’d say. Or Nottingham Forest. Not a fan of Forest, although now they’re without Billy Davies, I might warm to them a little more.

Opposition players you love to hate?

Richie Wellens, definitely. Any ex-Preston players, like Paul McKenna, usually get the brunt of my abuse during games. Freddy Eastwood, too. He’s one that always seems to score against us.

Opposition players you secretly admire?

I’d love to have Shane Long in our team, along with Scott Loach from Watford.

Predict a finish for your team.

I’ll stick my neck out and say we’ll finish 8th. (Note: I’m ALWAYS wrong with these predictions).

Who, according to you, will get promoted?

Leicester will be there, or there abouts. I’d love ourselves to be up there, too, but if not then I’ll add Reading and Forest (eventually) to that list.

Who, according to you, will get relegated?

Peterborough (because of my dislike for Darren Ferguson), Doncaster and Watford.

———————–

 

BRIGHTON AND HOVE ALBION F.C.


About the fan:

Ben Rawlings has supported Brighton all his life, following in his father’s footsteps. The first game he really remembers was the 91 play off final at Wembley although he was pretty sure he went to games before then as well. His worst memory was getting beat 5-0 away at Palace in October 2002, with the best memory probably beating Chesterfield to win Division 3 in 2000/01 during the Bobby Zamora years.

You can follow Ben on Twitter @benrawlings77

How was the Summer Transfer Market for your club?

Summer transfers have been good after a worrying start. We flogged our two best players in Glenn Murray and Elliot Bennett to Palace and Norwich respectively, but have broken our transfer record twice and replaced them with quality (Craig Mackail-Smith, Will Hoskins, Will Buckley, Kazenga Lua Lua) and we are told there is more to come.

What are your hopes for the upcoming season?

A tough one. Usually when promoted you would just say to stay up but I think top half is definitely achievable. We may even flirt with the play offs.

Who are your key players?

Key players will be the wide boys. Lua Lua is frightening at times, Buckley and Hoskins are very decent as is Noone, who had a few cameos as we romped home in May.

Which team MUST you finish above?

Most older fans would say Crystal Palace as they are technically our enemy but for me, Southampton as we battled with them on and off the pitch last year – they took 4 points off us and they have a few ex-Brighton boys in their ranks.

Opposition players you love to hate?

Glenn Murray, our top scorer last year who held out for more cash and when we didn’t offer it, he went and signed for Palace. Silly boy!

Opposition players you secretly admire?

West Ham’s new signing Kevin Nolan. He is Premier League class.

Predict a finish for your team.

I’ll go with 12th.

Who, according to you, will get promoted?

West Ham, surely. Leeds, finally. And Nottingham forest, hopefully (I quite like Steve McClaren).

Who, according to you, will get relegated?

Coventry, Peterborough, Watford.

———————–

 

BRISTOL CITY F.C.


About the fan:

Paul Binning started watching Bristol City aged 5 years old, when City were 92nd of 92 in the whole league. He has witnessed two Wembley finals in the mid 1980’s and numerous play-off disappointments, most recently against Hull in the 2008 Play-Off Final. Paul’s best moment was probably Brian Tinnion’s winner at Anfield in the FA Cup in 1994 – the result that got Graeme Souness sacked from the Anfield hot-seat.

You can follow Paul on his blog http://exiledrobin.blogspot.com or on Twitter @cider1977

How was the Summer Transfer Market for your club?

Quiet at the moment. One ‘major’ signing in Australian international Neil Kilkenny, free from Leeds, plus a couple of promising youngsters from the lower leagues. Now missed out on four defensive targets and hope/expect 2-3 to arrive on loan from Premier League before the end of August.

What are your hopes for the upcoming season?

Most realistic fans would love to be 9th-12th – progress from last season. One of those teams where an excellent season could see us flirt with the play-offs, a poor season could leave us in trouble.

Who are your key players?

Nicky Maynard if he stays. Already rejected £5m bid from Leicester & will score 20+ goals. Albert Adomah is a tricky, pacy winger who was Player of the Season last year. Kilkenny could be the catalyst for the midfield.

Nicky Maynard - Player of the Season

 

Which team MUST you finish above?

Cardiff would be nice, since we haven’t managed it for a couple of years and their rivalry will switch back to us now that the Swans are in the big time.

Opposition players you love to hate?

Michael Chopra, Will Hoskins (ex-Bristol Rovers), Billy Sharp

Opposition players you secretly admire?

Lewis McGugan at Forest, Peter Whittingham at Cardiff and Leeds’ Max Gradel have all impressed me, whilst Kevin Nolan could be the key signing for West Ham.

Predict a finish for your team.

12th sounds about right.

Who, according to you, will get promoted?

West Ham, Leicester and Ipswich.

Who, according to you, will get relegated?

Barnsley, Peterborough & Crystal Palace.

———————–

 

BURNLEY F.C.


About the fan:

Kevin Robinson was first taken to Turf Moor for a reserve game by his Dad as a kid, but it wasn’t ’til he was 15 that he really grew an interest in the club. Since then, he has been a season ticket holder each year, worked for the Club, formed a supporters football team and co-founded Clarets blog “No Nay Never”. His top moments have to be promotion at Wembley in 2009 and beating Manchester United a few months later.

You can follow Kevin on his blog www.nonaynever.net or onTwitter @kevr1990

How was the Summer Transfer Market for your club?

Slow. It’s been a summer of outgoings rather than incomings. We’ve managed to ship out many of the older players in an aging squad but only made three loan signings so far.

What are your hopes for the upcoming season?

We have to look at promotion, the play-offs may be our best bet right now but who’s to say automatic is out of the picture? Last season was a disappointing mid-table finish but with more stability and a competent manager we have to improve.

Who are your key players?

Chris McCann has been out injured for two years but if he can recapture his form from before then he will be one of the top players in the league. Chris Eagles is a real match-winner on his day – but it’s going to be a big season for the defence and when Andre Bikey has his head on he’s the best in the league (but when it’s not he’s one of the worst).

Which team MUST you finish above?

Traditionally it’s been Preston but now they’re down in League One finishing above them is guaranteed from day one. In their absence we’ve little to really worry about – though I suspect most Clarets would like to finish above Southampton after former loanee Jack Cork joined the Saints ahead of us.

Opposition players you love to hate?

Traditionally it’s been Robbie Savage for his obvious Blackburn connections and general knack for being hate-able. With Preston down, we’ll be stuck with another former Rover in Paul Gallagher – and he always seems to net against us which is doubly annoying.

Opposition players you secretly admire?

Jack Cork will get a good reception, though there will always be that hanging bitterness at him moving to the South Coast instead of returning to the North West. Another former Claret David Nugent had a good relationship with the supporters whilst he was here.

Predict a finish for your team.

I’m confident we can make the top six, but just where is a bit more difficult. I’m not sure we have the quality for a top-two finish, I’ll go with fourth or fifth.

Who, according to you, will get promoted?

Burnley, of course. Leicester have to be favourites but will all their new players gel? West Ham could walk away with the league but could just as easily finish right in the middle of the pack. Just get your money on the Clarets.

Who, according to you, will get relegated?

Reading, Palace and Coventry went down on my most recent Football Manager game, that’s a good enough indication, right?

——-

 

TheHardTackle would like to thank the fans for their time and contribution!