Football: Premiership Kick-off: Search for the happy medium starts here: Influx of foreign players and new Fifa guidelines give unfamiliar look to new season. Phil Shaw reports

TAKE two dozen exotic imports from Ghana and Germany, South Africa and Romania. Add the fund of goodwill generated in the United States this summer. Combine those elements with a product already enjoying a popular resurgence, and the Premiership ought to enjoy its most colourful season in years.

The predominant hues, in the short term at least, are likely to be the yellow and red of referees' cards. For today the top players receive their first real taste of Fifa's brave new world, the FA having issued mandatory instructions to referees to implement World Cup guidelines, notably with regard to the tackle from behind and offside. Before a ball is kicked, the edict has divided the domestic game.

At one extreme, falling into line behind the world governing body, stands the FA. Having passed up chances to crack down on violent play in two highly public cases where players suffered serious injury from an elbow to the face, it has now passed the buck to the army of part-time whistlers.

At the other end of the spectrum, raising a metaphorical elbow in the tabloids, come the likes of Vinnie Jones and Neil Ruddock. To the macho fraternity, the changes are tantamount to restraint of trade.

Their bleating should not, however, be confused with the legitimate concerns of managers and players. Bewilderment was heightened by a rash of cards last weekend - 14 yellow and one red in the two tame matches I saw - and by 12 dismissals in one night of Coca-Cola Cup action.

Those who expect the new regime to achieve in the Premiership what it arguably did for the World Cup overlook a crucial distinction. In terms of style, tradition, temperament and even weather, British football has evolved in a unique manner, far removed from the Brazilian or even Belgian game.

The changes now being imposed would have been understandable had Wimbledon rather than Manchester United won the League. In fact, they were made for American consumption to ensure no repeat of a wretched World Cup in Italy, and it could be argued that USA '94 succeeded in spite of the refereeing, not because of it. Their effect here may be to produce the anaemic fare offered weekly in France or the Netherlands.

The crackdown is likely to cause more problems than it solves. What we really need, as ever, is referees who can distinguish between a malicious challenge and one that is merely clumsy or badly timed. Discretion rather than dogmatism. The self-respecting official was already reaching for red after tackles that took the player as well as or instead of the ball.

There will be benefits for attackers - what better time for Jurgen Klinsmann to start his career in England? - but at a price. If the way Philip Don handled the Charity Shield is anything to go by, physical contact, tackling even, will become a calculated risk. The balance between attackers and defenders will be weighted artificially in favour of the former.

The recently retired Roger Milford, a referee who too often erred on the side of leniency, has warned of 'blood-letting' until the players understand that officials were 'doing what they have to do'. Sadly, 'I'm just doing my job' has never carried much moral authority.

Entertainment value is therefore likely to depend on how quickly players and referees find a happy medium. Of course an end to petty irritants like time-wasting, kicking the ball away and dissent is overdue. Yet the feeling persists that referees are being pressured into over-reacting. In this climate, they are as likely to send off Ryan Giggs for verbal abuse as Julian Dicks for a professional foul.

Even if the changes have their desired impact, it may be counteracted by the fact that an unprecedented four clubs will be relegated as part of the Premiership's reduction to 20 clubs. Welcome as the slim-down may be, the Scottish precedent suggests it is likely to discourage attacking football.

But let us, as they sing at Old Trafford, look on the bright side of life. One innovation from the World Cup that should be applauded - and which ought to encourage increased goalscoring - is giving forwards the benefit of doubt in offside decisions.

This change could work against Arsenal - famous for formation flag- seeking - in their quest for a third title under George Graham. Equally, it should enhance Alex Ferguson's prospects of three in a row, though Eric Cantona's ability to avoid suspension is likely to prove even more significant. Ditto the distraction for United of the European Cup, which, for for all their protestations, has priority at United.

Though the arrival of Stefan Schwarz strengthens Arsenal, he is not the playmaker in the classic mould that they need. Moreover, United still have the better all-round squad and, cup commitments allowing, will again be the team to beat.

Assumptions that Blackburn cannot improve on runners-up spot seem to be based largely on indisposition of key performers. However, if they can keep in touch until Alan Shearer and David Batty return, Jack Walker's wallet may do the rest. The Chris Sutton saga demonstrated that if Kenny Dalglish wants a player, his rivals do not have an earthly, and Blackburn may be only a couple more buys away from their first championship in 80 years.

The race certainly looks more open than last season. Newcastle will again have the noisiest, if not largest, crowds, but lack pace in central defence and possibly the surprise value with which Andy Cole and co stormed the elite last season. Leeds would be contenders if only Brian Deane scored regularly, as would Aston Villa, the only side to outplay the champions last season, provided they could be more consistent.

Chelsea and Sheffield Wednesday have bought well, which brings us to Tottenham. Had they recruited Basile Boli and Phil Babb as well as Klinsmann and Ilie Dumitrescu, we would have been talking Europe, six-point deduction or not. As it is, their response to a different kind of FA clampdown offers a bold blueprint for all in what may be trying months ahead.

Coventry's asking price for Babb, pounds 3.5m-plus, highlights another cause for concern. The new money, put up by the benefactors of Blackburn, Spurs and the like, may be good news for those clubs but it is badly distorting the transfer market. Witness the pounds 5m fee for Sutton and its knock-on effect on the value of Chris Armstrong.

When Alan Sugar can buy two World Cup strikers for the price of a Premiership rookie, no wonder managers are looking abroad. But we are drifting back into negative areas. A new season is a time to accentuate the positive. To use the American imperative over which the FA has no jurisdiction: enjoy.

ARSENAL

STILL Highbury waits for a midfield playmaker. Ian Wright has to make his own chances and the burden will become intolerable. Stefan Schwarz is typical George Graham - a toiler, a spoiler, but can he prise apart defences? Arsenal's shows only Tony Adams under 30. Will be strong in cups.

Manager: George Graham.

In: Stefan Schwarz (Benfica - pounds 1.75m); Lee Harper (Sittingbourne - pounds 150,000); Vince Bartram (Bournemouth - pounds 250,000).

Out: Alan Miller (Middlesbrough - pounds 500,000); James Will (Dunfermline - free); Tony Connolly (C Palace - free); Ryan Kirby (Doncaster - free), Kenny Webster (Peterborough - free).

Ground capacity: 39,500.

Admission prices: pounds 11- pounds 23; Junior Gunners pounds 5; Family enclosure: Adults pounds 11, Juveniles & OAPs pounds 5.50.

Tickets available to away supporters: 2,000 (apply through own club).

Facilities for disabled and blind supporters: 92 wheelchair spaces (plus 10 in visitors' section); 60 seats for the blind.

Ticket inquiries: 071 354 5404.

Credit card bookings: 071 413 3366.

Forecast: 5th.

LEEDS UNITED

MUCH closer to their championship form last time, and for all his international limitations Carlton Palmer, signed from Sheffield Wednesday, will never let them down. The Garys, Speed, McAllister and Kelly, make them worthy of a punt in all competitions but there will not be a third chance for Brian Deane.

Manager: Howard Wilkinson.

In: Carlton Palmer (Sheff Wed - pounds 2.6m); Nigel Worthington (Sheff Wed - Trib); Philomen Masinga (Hamelodi Sundowns, SA - pounds 275,000); Lucas Radebe (Kaizer Chiefs, SA - pounds 250,000).

Out: John Newsome (Norwich - pounds 1m); Ray Wallace (Stoke - free).

Ground capacity: 38,500.

Admission prices: pounds 13- pounds 19; Juvenile & OAP members half price.

Tickets available to away supporters: 1,727 (apply through own club).

Facilities for disabled and blind supporters: 400 spaces (86 of these for wheelchairs); headsets for the blind.

Ticket inquiries: 0532 710710.

Credit card bookings: 0532 710710.

Forecast: 6th.

NORWICH CITY

NOW Chris Sutton has followed Ruel Fox and Lee Power out, will the remarkable sell-but-survive story come unstuck? John Deehan has invested wisely, but another striker would help. Once more the doom-merchants predict struggles ahead so, on past form, a top-three finish at least.

Manager: John Deehan.

In: Mike Milligan (Oldham - pounds 850,000); Jon Newsome (Leeds - pounds 1m); Carl Bradshaw (Sheff Utd - pounds 500,000).

Out: Chris Sutton (Blackburn - pounds 5m); Colin Woodthorpe (Aberdeen - pounds 400,000); Dave Smith (Oxford - pounds 100,000).

Ground capacity: 22,000.

Admission prices: pounds 10- pounds 15; Juveniles & OAPs pounds 5- pounds 10.

Tickets available to away supporters: 500 - 1,500 (apply through own club).

Facilities for disabled and blind supporters: 40 wheelchair spaces; 35 seats for walking disabled.

Ticket inquiries: 0603 761661; 0891 424212.

Credit card bookings: 0603 761661.

Forecast: 11th.

MANCHESTER UNITED

THE best, again. So sure of themselves, they can leave things virtually unchanged with the addition of a David May or two. He is a good purchase. The funds are vast; so too the wealth of young talent trying to break through. The only reservations: how much hunger for a third successive title and how much of a distraction is the European Champions League?

Manager: Alex Ferguson.

In: David May (Blackburn - pounds 1.25m); Graeme Tomlinson (Bradford - pounds 100,000).

Out: Clayton Blackmore (Middlesbrough - free); Bryan Robson (Middlesbrough - free); Les Sealey (Blackpool - free); Mike Phelan (West Brom - free); Craig Lawton (Port Vale - free); Rob Savage (Crewe - free); Ian Hart (Crewe - free).

Ground capacity: 44,200.

Admission prices: pounds 10- pounds 16.

Tickets available to away supporters: Details direct to visiting club.

Facilities for disabled and blind supporters: Prior arrangement only.

Ticket inquiries: 061 872 0199.

Credit card bookings: None.

Forecast: 1st.

BLACKBURN ROVERS

A NEW season, a new record signing. Chris Sutton's arrival might yet yield even greater things from Alan Shearer, if that's possible. Despite the spending something is amiss. A centre-half, perhaps. They will remain in United's slipstream but Jack Walker's impatience will be satisfied by a Wembley victory.

Manager: Kenny Dalgish.

In: Chris Sutton (Norwich - pounds 5m); Robby Slater (Lens, Fr - pounds 300,000); Tony Gale (West Ham - free).

Out: David May (Man Utd - pounds 1.25m); Kevin Moran (retired); Simon Ireland (Mansfield - pounds 60,000); Andy Scott (Cardiff - free).

Ground capacity: 30,000.

Admission prices: pounds 12- pounds 17 (reductions for under-16s and OAPs).

Tickets available to away supporters: 8,000 (apply through own club).

Facilities for disabled and blind supporters: Over 100 wheelchair spaces (also available to away supporters); seats and commentary for the blind.

Ticket inquiries: 0891 121014.

Credit card bookings: 0254 696767.

Forecast: 4th.

LIVERPOOL

THEY have more money to spend (and waste?), but have been trophy-less for two years and the public spat between Roy Evans, Mark Wright and Julian Dicks does not augur well. Phil Babb would help. Much expected of Robbie Fowler, and Jamie Redknapp is class, but room for improvement elsewhere.

Manager: Roy Evans.

In: Michael Stensgard (Hvidovre, Den - pounds 300,000).

Out: Torben Piechnik (Kontrakfodbold - free); Bruce Grobbelaar (Southampton - free); Rod McAree (Bristol City - free); Scott Paterson (Bristol City - free); John Scott (Caledonian Thistle - free); Nicky Tanner (retired).

Ground capacity: 32,000 (start of season); 41,000 (from New Year).

Admission prices: pounds 14- pounds 15 (start of season); pounds 10-11 (from New Year); Family Enclosure pounds 19- pounds 20.50, one adult, one child.

Tickets available to away supporters: 500; 3,000 from New Year (apply through own club).

Facilities for disabled and blind supporters: 18 wheelchair spaces & 15 seats for the blind; 90 wheelchair spaces & 20 seats for the blind from New Year.

Ticket inquiries: 051 260 8680; 051 260 9999 (24-hour ticket information).

Credit card bookings: 051 263 5727.

Forecast: 12th.

WEST HAM UNITED

IT'S the John Lyall show again and if that means a more open, attractive production than last season's sleep-inducers we will all be truly grateful. They have kept hold of Chris Kiwomya and brought in Steve Sedgley, and there are worse pounds 1m signings around than the former Spurs man. Lyall's nous gives them a chance but unless Stuart Slater recaptures the form he first revealed at West Ham United, they look likely to fall this time.

Manager: John Lyall.

In: Steve Sedgley (Tottenham - pounds 1m); Claus Thomsen (Aarhus, Den - pounds 250,000).

Out: Paul Goddard (retired).

Ground capacity: 22,559.

Admission prices: pounds 9- pounds 25; Juveniles & OAPs pounds 5- pounds 9.

Tickets available to away supporters: 1,500 (apply through own club).

Facilities for disabled and blind supporters: 20 wheelchair spaces; 16 seats for the blind.

Ticket inquiries: 0473 221133.

Credit card bookings: 0473 221133.

Forecast: 20th.

LEICESTER CITY

EVERYONE'S favourites to go down and everyone was right about Swindon. Brian Little has done well to get this far considering his team endured successive play-off agonies before succeeding at the third Wembley attempt, but they are not easy on the eye. David Speedie and Steve Walsh will give referees a busy time and bet on the goalkeeper Gavin Ward being busy, too.

Manager: Brian Little.

In: Nicky Mohan (Middlesbrough - pounds 330,000); Mark Draper (Notts County - pounds 1.25m).

Out: Tony James (Hereford - free); Russell Hart (Lincoln - free); Colin Gibson (Blackpool - free).

Ground capacity: 22,000.

Admission prices: pounds 10- pounds 15; Juveniles pounds 5- pounds 8.

Tickets available to away supporters: 3,500 (apply through own club).

Facilities for disabled and blind supporters: 48 wheelchair spaces; 12 seats for the blind.

Ticket inquiries: 0533 553313.

Credit card bookings: 0533 553313.

Forecast: 22nd.

CRYSTAL PALACE

BOUNCED back at the first attempt playing decent football. Have spent wisely and Ray Wilkins supplies vital know-how. Chris Armstrong is crucial: without him they will struggle, with him they will give a good account. Sound promise supplied by Bruce Dyer and Dean Gordon.

Manager: Alan Smith.

In: Ray Wilkins (QPR - free); Darren Pitcher (Charlton - exchange plus pounds 50,000); Andy Preece (Stockport - pounds 350,000); Rhys Wilmott (Grimsby - pounds 80,000); Tony Connelly (Arsenal - free); Craig Nelson (Partick Thistle - free).

Out: Martyn O'Connor (Walsall - pounds 40,000); Andy Woodman (Exeter - free); David Whyte (Charlton - exchange); Paul Mortimer (Charlton - exchange); Simon Osbourne (Reading - pounds 90,000); Stuart Massey (Oxford - free).

Ground capacity: 18,300.

Admission prices: pounds 16- pounds 25; Juveniles & OAPs pounds 12- pounds 15.

Tickets available to away supporters: 2,300 (apply through own club).

Facilities for disabled and blind supporters: 28 wheelchair spaces; 12 seats for the blind.

Ticket inquiries: 081 771 8841.

Credit card bookings: 081 771 8841.

Forecast: 10th.

ASTON VILLA

WITH Big Fash in tow, Flash Ron has the makings of his own crazy gang. The rigours of the World Cup must catch up with Paul McGrath, Ray Houghton and Steve Staunton, but Fashanu and the Ghanaian Nii Lamptey will ignite optimism and they will win more than they lose.

Manager: Ron Atkinson.

In: Phil King (Sheff Wed - pounds 200,000); John Fashanu (Wimbledon - pounds 1.3m), Nii Lamptey (Anderlecht - pounds 1m).

Out: Neil Cox (Middlesbrough - pounds 1m); Steve Froggatt (Wolves - pounds 1m); Tony Daley (Wolves - pounds 1.25m); Dariusz Kubicki (Sunderland - pounds 100,000); Matthias Breitkreutz (Hertha Berlin - pounds 125,000); Stefan Beinlich (Hansa Rostock - pounds 125,000).

Ground capacity: 30,000 (start of season); 40,000 (from November).

Admission prices: pounds 11- pounds 14; Juveniles & OAPs half price.

Tickets available to away supporters: Reduced until November, then 4,500 (apply through own club).

Facilities for disabled and blind supporters: 40 wheelchair spaces (to double when new stand finished); 16 headsets available for the blind.

Ticket inquiries: 021 327 5353.

Credit card bookings: 021 327 7373.

Forecast: 7th.

CHELSEA

PAUL FURLONG looks a useful signing, David Rocastle possibly the value-for-money buy of the summer. The kids will have come on strides after the FA Cup final defeat at Wembley, and Glenn Hoddle will find it easier to spread the gospel. Mark Stein's early-season injury is a blow, but a big improvement can be expected.

Manager: Glenn Hoddle.

In: Scott Minto (Charlton - pounds 775,000); Paul Furlong (Watford - pounds 2.3m); David Rocastle (Manchester City - pounds 1.25m).

Out: Tony Cascarino (Marseille - free); Paul Elliott (retired); Mal Donaghy (released).

Ground capacity: 22,000 (start of season); 30,200 (from November).

Admission prices: pounds 10- pounds 30; Juveniles & OAP members in West Enclosure pounds 5.

Tickets available to away supporters: 1,700 (apply through own club).

Facilities for disabled and blind supporters: 40 wheelchair spaces.

Ticket inquiries: 0891 121011.

Credit card bookings: 071 386 7799.

Forecast: 8th.

EVERTON

THEY needed Chris Sutton more than Blackburn and they are not going to break Crystal Palace's resistance for Chris Armstrong. Their fans deserve so much better than last-day dramatics in May. Anders Limpar should flourish under Mike Walker's more relaxed regime and Vinny Samways will be keen to impress. If they get it right, a long run in either cup competition beckons.

Manager: Mike Walker.

In: Vinny Samways (Tottenham - pounds 2.2m).

Out: Predrag Radosavljevic (Portsmouth - pounds 100,000); Mark Ward (Birmingham - pounds 500,000 over two years); Paul Tait (Wigan - free).

Ground capacity: 40,500.

Admission prices: pounds 11- pounds 14; Juvenile & OAP members pounds 5.

Tickets available to away supporters: 3,000 (apply through own club).

Facilities for disabled and blind supporters: 26 wheelchair spaces; 20 seats for the blind.

Ticket inquiries: 0891 121599.

Credit card bookings: 051 525 1231.

Forecast: 9th.

COVENTRY

SELLING Phil Babb reads like the opening line of a relegation script, especially as Peter Atherton's acquisition was a steal for Sheffield Wednesday. So much rests on Peter Ndlovu, but he can't do it all. A huge task for Phil Neal in his first full season as manager - it is hard to see anything but the drop out of the top flight after 28 years avoiding it.

Manager: Phil Neal.

In: Cobi Jones (US Soccer Federation - pounds 300,000); Paul Cook (Wolves - pounds 600,000).

Out: Peter Atherton (Sheff Wed - pounds 800,000); Ray Woods (Shrewsbury - free); Mick Harford (Wimbledon - pounds 70,000).

Ground capacity: 22,500.

Admission prices: pounds 9- pounds 19; Juvenile & OAP members pounds 4.50- pounds 9.50; Juvenile & OAP non-members pounds 6- pounds 12.

Tickets available to away supporters: 3,900 (apply through own club).

Facilities for disabled and blind supporters: 70 wheelchair spaces; 11 headsets for the blind.

Ticket inquiries: 0203 225545.

Credit card bookings: 0203 225545.

Forecast: 21st.

WIMBLEDON

AFTER making further progress last season the manager, Joe Kinnear, is upset that Warren Barton, Robbie Earle and Dean Holdsworth could follow John Fashanu out of the door. More likely, it is his way of reminding those who remain that they have to scrap for everything they want. John Scales would be a serious loss from central defence, but relegation? Forget it.

Manager: Joe Kinnear.

In: Mick Harford (Coventry - pounds 70,000).

Out: John Fashanu (Aston Villa - pounds 1.3m); Paul Miller (Bristol Rovers - undisclosed).

Ground capacity: 18,100.

Admission prices: pounds 10- pounds 22; Juveniles & OAPs pounds 8- pounds 11.

Tickets available to away supporters: No limit.

Facilities for disabled and blind supporters: 28 wheelchair spaces; 12 spaces for the blind.

Ticket inquiries: 081 771 8841.

Credit card bookings: 081 771 8841.

Forecast: 13th.

WEST HAM UNITED

IT IS Harry's game now and Redknapp deserves his break even though Billy Bonds's departure left a nasty smell. The principles won't change but the practice will prove tough. Not too many players of real quality stand out and Joey Beauchamp is no longer a contender for the all- time Hammers' XI. Vulnerable to the extra relegation place.

Manager: Harry Redknapp.

In: John Moncur (Swindon - pounds 1m); Joey Beauchamp (Oxford - pounds 1m); Ian Feuer (Los Angeles Salsa - pounds 70,000); Adrian Whitbread (Swindon - exchange).

Out: Tony Gale (Blackburn - free); Joey Beauchamp (Swindon - exchange).

Ground capacity: 19,000 (start of season); 26,000 (from January).

Admission prices: pounds 11-20.

Tickets available to away supporters: 500-750 (start of season); 2,000 (from January).

Facilities for disabled and blind supporters: 50 wheelchair spaces, 50 seats.

Ticket inquiries: 081 548 2700.

Credit card bookings: 081 548 2700.

Forecast: 19th.

TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR

THE arrival of Jurgen Klinsmann and Ilie Dumitrescu has turned White Hart Lane into a kind of dreamland, but the FA punishment is a nightmare. With Teddy Sheringham, Nick Barmby and Darren Anderton in support, scoring goals won't be a problem. Stopping them will.

Manager: Ossie Ardiles.

In: Jurgen Klinsmann (Monaco - pounds 2m); Ilie Dumitrescu (Steaua Bucharest - pounds 2.6m).

Out: Neil Le Bihan (Peterborough - free); Steve Sedgley (Ipswich - pounds 1m); Jeff Minton (Brighton - free); Vinny Samways (Everton - pounds 2.2m); Danny Foot (Southend - free); Lee Hodges (Barnsley - free); Junior MacDonald (Brighton - free); Paul Moran (Peterborough - free); Glyn Hurst (Barnsley - free).

Ground capacity: 26,000 (start of season); 32,500 (from February).

Admission prices: pounds 13-25; Members pounds 12- pounds 16; Juvenile & OAP members pounds 6- pounds 8.

Tickets available to away supporters: 450.

Facilities for disabled and blind supporters: 27 wheelchair spaces.

Ticket inquiries: 081 365 5000.

Credit card bookings: 081 365 5100.

Forecast: 14th.

SOUTHAMPTON

A NARROW squeak last time for Alan Ball on his return, but he deserved his luck as he managed to prompt the mercurial Matthew Le Tissier towards something approaching consistency. Laughs at the Dell are guaranteed with Bruce Grobbelaar's arrival, and big things are expected of Johnny Eklund, if he stays.

Manager: Alan Ball.

In: Bruce Grobbelaar (Liverpool - free); Peter Whiston (Exeter - pounds 30,000).

Out: Steve Wood (Oxford - free); Kevin Moore (Fulham - free); Martin Thomas (Fulham - free); Richard Rowe (Bristol City - free).

Ground capacity: 15,000.

Admission prices: pounds 11- pounds 16; Family enclosure: adults pounds 10- pounds 12, children pounds 5- pounds 6.

Tickets available to away supporters: 1,500 (apply through own club).

Facilities for disabled and blind supporters: 10 wheelchair spaces; 6 seats for the blind.

Ticket inquiries: 0703 220505.

Credit card bookings: 0703 337171.

Forecast: 18th.

NEWCASTLE UNITED

WILL go closer this time and guaranteed to provide thrills along the way. Kevin Keegan has added new blood to an impressive squad, and Philippe Albert will ensure defensive security. Still, Keegan can't get the goalkeeper he wants. With Ruel Fox supplying and Andy Cole and Peter Beardsley firing, their upward mobility is irresistible.

Manager: Kevin Keegan.

In: Marc Hottiger (FC Sion, Swit - pounds 600,000); Jason Drsydale (Watford - pounds 425,000); Steve Guppy (Wycombe Wanderers - pounds 150,000); Philippe Albert (Anderlecht - pounds 2.65m).

Out: Mark Robinson (Swindon - pounds 600,000); Alun Armstrong (Stockport - free); Matthew Appleby (Darlington - free); Tony Dining (Stockport - free); Kevin Brock (released).

Ground capacity: 34,390.

Admission prices: Season-tickets only.

Tickets available to away supporters: 880 (apply through own club).

Facilities for disabled and blind supporters: 75 wheelchair spaces; 20 seats with headsets for the blind.

Ticket inquiries: 091 261 1571.

Credit card bookings: 091 261 1571.

Forecast: 2nd.

SHEFFIELD WEDNESDAY

TREVOR FRANCIS loves a transfer, in or out. Has a strong squad but needs David Hirst and Chris Waddle to stay fit and both miss the start, Waddle for possibly some time. Not good enough for the league, but possible cup success to make up for two seasons ago.

Manager: Trevor Francis.

In: Ian Taylor (Port Vale - pounds 1m); Peter Atherton (Coventry - pounds 800,000); Dan Petrescu (Genoa - pounds 1.3m); Ian Nolan (Tranmere Rovers - pounds 1.5m).

Out: Roland Nilsson (Helsingborg, Swe - free); Carlton Palmer (Leeds - pounds 2.6m); Nigel Worthington (Leeds - trib); Nigel Pearson (Middlesbrough - pounds 500,000); Phil King (Aston Villa - pounds 200,000).

Ground capacity: 36,000.

Admission prices: pounds 8- pounds 16; Juveniles & OAPs pounds 5- pounds 11.50.

Tickets available to away supporters: Just under 4,000.

Facilities for disabled and blind supporters: 159 spaces for the disabled; 30 headsets for the blind.

Ticket inquiries: 0742 337233.

Credit card bookings: 0742 337233.

Forecast: 3rd.

QUEEN'S PARK RANGERS

GERRY FRANCIS stayed and so did Les Ferdinand. But Ray Wilkins went and he will be missed. Maybe this is the season when past sales catch up with them. Need to be seriously involved in something in springtime or Francis's interest will wane and he will go and do something else.

Manager: Gerry Francis.

In: Sieb Dykstra (Motherwell - pounds 250,000); Massimo Mauro (Napoli - trib).

Out: Ray Wilkins (Crystal Palace - free); Darren Finlay (Doncaster - free); Doug Freedman (Barnet - free); Stephen Gallen (Doncaster - free); Jan Stejskal (Slavia Prague - free).

Ground capacity: 20,000.

Admission prices: pounds 10 home fans only. Away fans pounds 14, pounds 15, pounds 18 and pounds 25. Juveniles & OAPs pounds 4-5.

Tickets available to away supporters: 3,100.

Facilities for disabled and blind supporters: 18 spaces for wheelchairs plus helpers. Tickets free, book four weeks in advance.

Ticket inquiries: 081 749 5744.

Credit card bookings: Ticketmaster 071 344 9494.

Forecast: 15th.

NOTTINGHAM FOREST

STAN COLLYMORE has the stage he wants and there are happy returns for England internationals Stuart Pearce and Neil Webb. The Dutchman Bryan Roy is an intriguing addition; on his day an exciting proposition but a question mark remains. Frank Clark's worries are all at the back and between the posts. But they look just good enough to survive.

Manager: Frank Clark.

In: Malcolm Rigby (Notts County - pounds 50,000); Bryan Roy (Foggia - pounds 2.5m).

Out: Lee Glover (Port Vale - pounds 200,000); Ray Byrne (Northampton - free); Ian Kilford (Wigan - free); Mark Statham (Wigan - free).

Ground capacity: 22,000.

Admission prices: pounds 14- pounds 16; Juveniles pounds 7.

Tickets available to away supporters: 700 (apply through own club).

Facilities for disabled and blind supporters: 60 wheelchair spaces.

Ticket inquiries: 0602 526002.

Credit card bookings: 0602 526024.

Forecast: 17th.

MANCHESTER CITY

BRIAN HORTON needs a solid start to dispel the impression that he remains a manager under threat. Francis Lee can always dive into his wallet at the first sign of trouble and there'll be interest in Nicky Summerbee's progress in his father's footsteps on the right. Will suffer another season in United's shadow, city and country-wide.

Manager: Brian Horton.

In: Nicky Summerbee (Swindon - pounds 1.5m); Ray Kelly (Athlone - pounds 30,000).

Out: David Rocastle (Chelsea - pounds 1.25m).

Ground capacity: 21,500.

Admission prices: Members only pounds 11- pounds 14; pounds 5 Juveniles & OAPs in some areas of the ground.

Tickets available to away supporters: Provisionally no away supporters due to redevelopment.

Facilities for disabled and blind supporters: 50 wheelchair spaces; 24 seats with headsets.

Ticket inquiries: 061 226 2224.

Credit card bookings: 061 227 9229.

Forecast: 16th.

(Photograph omitted)

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Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game