I have to confess, I don’t get a buzz from the new season. It disrupts my summer and messes with commitments I had to make before I knew the fixtures. Football in the summer, without a coat, is not football. I want to leave the ground when it’s dark, desperate to get back to the car to put the heating on and thaw my fingers out. Football is my ‘silence’; a routine that allows me to escape from everyday life, I prefer football when we’re deeper into the season.
It wasn’t always like this; when I was young we seemed to always be coming back from holiday when the season started. I remember sitting in the car as we gradually came into range of English radio as games were kicking off. The holiday had ended, but something much better was in its place.
Over the years things have changed. Clubs don’t add a couple of players to their squad anymore; post-Bosman, teams are overhauled, so you have to get used to a load of new players. I keep up with our signings during the summer, but when they turn out for the first game of the season and can barely tell one player from another. Even the kit changes every year now, so each new season can feel like watching a completely different club. As I say, it’s the routine and the constant of the fans that makes football fun, not the novelty of the new season.
Not everyone feels like this, of course, Twitter was buzzing with people who were buzzing about the new season. For them the season burst into life at Oakwell and the heavy defeat to Barnsley. This was followed by the defeat to Fleetwood. Not just Fleetwood, Joey Barton’s Fleetwood. Suddenly we’re bottom of the league and doom was settling in.
The reaction was like we were 15-20 games into the season. Bottom after two games is far from ideal, but nor is it terminal. Nobody wants to lose two games in a row, but it does happen – it just happens to be that these two games are the first two games.
I do think that we didn’t have a great summer; it came together eventually with late signings and Karl Robinson has more than hinted of the upheaval surrounding the new training ground, but the process of gelling the team together starts now, where you’d prefer it to have started on the first day of pre-season training.
The win against Coventry in the League Cup has gave us some rest bite, but as with all cup competitions nowadays, you can’t really judge anything because it’s impossible to know how any team view cup competitions. Under Michael Appleton, every game was treated equally so cup and league games were approached with the same vigour, and mostly the same team. Judging by the number of changes made by Karl Robinson, he’s perhaps taking a more strategic view. It’s not exactly what the fans want to see, but one of the issues Appleton had was his teams running out of steam towards the end of the season – essentially as a result of being too successful in the cups. I’m not convinced the physical tiredness is that big an issue, but the mental fatigue takes its toll. If the objective is promotion or the play-offs, then discounting the cups maybe the best option.
We have a tough start to the season, which is perhaps being overlooked. We play all three teams that came down from the Championship, two away, inside the first month. The season doesn’t really settle down until the middle of September when we face Wycombe, Walsall, Luton and Southend, we can only start to judge the team in October, by which point the squad will be more settled.