In a (football) League of their own
Football is back on Friday (as if it ever really went away). Glenn Moore marks your card for the new League season as everyone chases the dream
The schools have barely broken up, the airports are filling with holidaymakers, the Ashes Tests are not yet halfway, yet football is upon us.
Friday marks the start of the Football League season, with Bramall Lane hosting Sheffield United v Notts County. Just two days into August, and less than ten weeks after Kevin Phillips put Crystal Palace into the Premier League, it is believed to be the earliest start on record.
Why? Though clubs are loathe to play this early because many fans are on holiday, each division voted in favour of bringing the start forward to reduce midweek fixtures which have become increasingly unpopular with supporters.
The League returns with a new sponsor – Skybet, new Financial Fair Play (FFP) rules, and a new "solidarity payments" settlement with the Premier League that clubs accepted with great reluctance.
1. Why the reluctance to accept Premier League cash?
The new deal provides every club in the Championship with £2million a year, a significant slice of income at this level, but relegated clubs also receive £59m over four years. That means QPR, Reading and Wigan have vastly greater incomes though QPR, especially, will argue they also have a far greater wage bill. It is telling, however, that the new recruits commanding the highest wages have been signed by these clubs. QPR brought in Richard Dunne from Villa and Karl Henry from Wolves. Wigan persuaded Grant Holt and James Perch to drop down from the Premier League and Scott Carson to return from Turkey. Reading picked up Royston Drenthe, ex-Real Madrid, Everton and Alania Vladikavkaz, former England left-back Wayne Bridge and, from Germany, US international Danny Williams.
However, only Hull City of last year's promoted trio were in receipt of parachute payments and that was just £8m. Last year's newly relegated teams – Birmingham City, Blackburn Rovers and Wolves – received £17m, but all had tough seasons with the latter dropping straight to League One.
2. What about financial fair play?
The Championship's FFP is similar to Uefa's, limiting the losses a club is allowed to sustain on wages and transfers. This is the first season in which failure to comply will result in sanctions – a transfer embargo for those remaining in the Championship, financial penalties for clubs promoted or relegated.
Not everyone is happy, with Bolton chairman Phil Gartside arguing: "It's forcing clubs to the lowest common denominator rather than higher standards." But the League's view is that clubs will be protected from themselves with fewer entering administration as a result.
3. Does FFP apply to all divisions?
No. Leagues One and Two are subject to another acronym, SCMP (Salary Cost Management Protocol). This broadly restricts a club's wage bill to a percentage of turnover – 60 per cent in League One, five per cent lower in League Two. Clubs that breach this will be subject to a transfer embargo – as happened to Swindon Town last season.
As with FFP the objection is it maintains the status quo by favouring clubs with bigger turnovers and preventing owners investing to lift a club's status. However, this did not prevent tiny Yeovil gaining promotion to the Championship.
4. Yeovil are in the Championship
Quite an achievement for Somerset's only league club. Yeovil has a population of 52,000 and as recently as 1997 the Glovers were in the Isthmian League playing Heybridge, Carshalton and Chertsey. The current squad cost less than £25,000 in transfer fees with the bulk on Paddy Madden, a striker signed from Carlisle. Madden, 23, hit 24 goals in 35 league games last season to finish the division's top sorer.
5. Which other young guns are worth following?
A trio of prospects have moved up to Championship level from League One: Jamie Paterson, 21, (Walsall to Nottingham Forest), Harry Forrester, 22, (Brentford to Doncaster) and Luke Murphy, 23, (Crewe to Leeds). Murphy, the latest off the Alex's production line, is a tall midfielder who skippered Crewe despite his youth. Paterson and Forrester are wingers who discovered an eye for goal last season. Another to keep an eye on is Dale Jennings, 20, who impressed enough when at Tranmere to be signed by Bayern Munich. Homesickness, and an inability to break into Bayern's formidable first-team squad, prompted his return home, to Barnsley, for £250,000.
6. Who else has been busy in the market?
Watford, despite being under a transfer embargo, have signed 14 players so far. Embargoed clubs can sign players at the Football League's discretion and most are conversions of controversial loans made last season from other clubs owned by the Pozzo family. An intriguing exception is Lewis McGugan, lured from Forest after his contract expired.
Lower down Aiden Chippendale this week became Bury's 12th summer signing – a necessary influx given Kevin Blackwell was left with eight players at the end of last season. Portsmouth, relegated to League Two alongside the Shakers and now owned by the fans, have also been busy, with Guy Whittingham moving fast to sign 10 players by May 20.
7. Any other interesting moves?
Veteran strikers are in demand in the lower divisions with Preston swooping for Kevin Davies (36), an England international three years ago, Dave Kitson (33) joining Oxford, Jamie Cureton (37) swapping Exeter for Cheltenham, Ryan Lowe (34) signing for Tranmere and Scunthorpe pairing Deon Burton (36) and Chris Iwelumo (34). Elsewhere Jack Bonham, the teenage goalkeeper thrown into an unfortunate debut for Watford on the last day of the season against Leeds, has joined Brentford, Teddy Sheringham's son Charlie has signed for AFC Wimbledon, and Rory Delap's long throws will now be seen at Burton Albion.
8. What other plotlines are bubbling?
Can Owen Coyle fill Roberto Martinez's stylish shoes at Wigan? Will Millwall fans accept Hammers hero Steve Lomas as manager? Will Harry Redknapp see out the season at Loftus Road? Can Kenny Jackett stop the rot at Molineux? How will Newport County fare, back in the League after 25 years during which they went bankrupt, re-started in the Hellenic League and went into exile in England?
And last, but definitely not least, will the ludicrous stand-off at Coventry City be resolved or will the Sky Blues really play their home games at Northampton Town's Sixfields Stadium while the Ricoh Arena lies empty? If they do they could easily go down.
The biggest signings so far
Grant Holt (Norwich-Wigan) £2m
Djamel Abdoun (Olympiakos-Forest) £1.55m
Luke Murphy (Crewe-Leeds) £1m
Karl Henry (Wolves-QPR) £1m
Jamie Mackie (QPR-Nottm For) £1m
Johnny Russell (Dundee United-Derby) £750,000
James Perch (Newcastle-Wigan) £750,000
Aden Flint (Swindon-Bristol City) £300,000 (League One biggest)
Ryan Cresswell (Southend-Fleetwood) £150,000 (League two biggest)
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