The English Football League starts this weekend and I'm really looking forward to watching a very competitive season with these splendid trophies on offer.
I believe the Championship is going to be a fantastic spectacle this season. The aim will be promotion to The Premier League for many of the teams. We achieved this with Southampton in 2012, however we just couldn't get quite get our hands on this marvellous, historical trophy, as Reading ran out Champions. The majority of teams have already experienced the top flight of English football, and will believe they have a right to be there again. It's going to be very exciting.
I'd like one of the former Clubs I managed in the Championship, Reading, to do well after the disappointment of losing the play-off final last season. Many teams will be in with a shout, so it will be very difficult to call. A good start is always important, when we were promoted at Southampton we stayed in the top 2 for the whole season, however teams have put runs together to finish the season strongly to win it, as Reading did when they pipped us for the title.
Middlesbrough having come down from the Premier League will have a strong budget and players. I like that they have a stable and experienced English owner with positive values of supporting the local community, understanding the importance of a Club to the local community, and developing young players. They have a very talented young English Manager in Gary Monk, who given the time I'm sure he will be afforded by the owner and fans, will return Middlesbrough back to the Premier League sooner rather than later.
Sheffield United return to the Championship following several years languishing in League 1. They join neighbours Sheffield Wednesday, both will be determined to have the bragging rights of South Yorkshire, and with the fantastic fan base both clubs have, will go into the season full of expectation. Momentum is with the Blades and the success Manager Chris Wilder has achieved. I'm looking forward to the Steel City derby, and seeing which of my former players, Billy Sharp - United, or Gary Hooper - Wednesday, scores the most goals.
League 1 will be no different in it's competitive nature. Teams climbing the pyramid ladder or in decline and on the downwards spiral. Whilst at Scunthorpe United we managed to get our hands on the trophy as we were crowned Champions of League 1 in 2007. We also gained promotion via the play-offs at Wembley in 2009. When I was the Manager at Southampton we also gained promotion in 2011 as runners-up, the first of back to back promotions to reach the Premier League.
It will again be difficult to call the promoted teams in League 1, however I believe Scunthorpe United will go close. Another English owner with big ambitions and another excellent young English Manager in Graham Alexander. Charlton Athletic will have gained experience of the division last season and have another good young English Manager in Karl Robinson. The fall from grace for Portsmouth has been well documented, however gaining promotion last season with Paul Cook as Manager, an old team mate of mine at Wigan Athletic, has generated some momentum. Experienced and talented English Manager Kenny Jacket is now in charge and with a large following could keep that momentum going this season also.
League 2, along with promotion, has the dangers of dropping out of the Football League and into the National League. Many teams having fallen through the trap door have taken many years to return. Infact some have never returned. Whilst I was the Physiotherapist at Scunthorpe United, the Club, Managed by Brian Laws, gained promotion from League 2 via the play-offs at the old Wembley in 1999 and also as League runners-up in 2005.
Lincoln City and Grimsby Town were close derby rivals when I was at Scunthorpe United. Can Lincoln keep the momentum going under the Cowley brothers, who breathed new life into the Imps last season, with a great cup run and importantly promotion. Or can another vastly experienced English Manager, Russell Slade, bring success to the Mariners. We used to enjoy taking the family to Cleethorpes for Fish and Chips!
The Checkatrade Trophy provides an opportunity for the Premier League Clubs to enter the competition and play their U23 teams. An opportunity for our talented young British players to gain valuable, competitive, playing time. Whilst at Scunthorpe, the trophy was formerly called the Johnstone's Paint Trophy. Unfortunately we lost in the Final after extra time to Luton Town at Wembley in 2009.
The Carabao Cup is the latest name given to the League Cup. The competition that is open to the Premier League clubs as well as the Championship, Leagues 1 and 2. It's the first piece of Silverware to be won in the season. Not counting the Community Shield. The pressure on the big teams in the Premier League to win trohies is massive, so I wouldn't be surprised if one of them, either from Manchester, Merseyside or London win this year.
The relentless nature of playing games Saturday, Tuesday, Saturday provides the excitement for supporters. Travelling the length and breadth of the country, supporting your team, visiting different grounds and cities, meeting new people and making friends.
The highs of winning 3 games in a week and likewise the lows of losing 3 games in a week plays with our emotions. The optimism or pessimism of the fans you are surrounded by. The europhoria or mental torture of supporting your team.
Aren't you just glad it starts again this weekend !