When asked by the esteemed editors of this site to compile a preview to the League One season I had to first humbly remind them that my own team, Carlisle United, were cruelly and indignantly relegated to League Two at the end of last year. There followed a degree of brow furrowing consternation before an uttered agreement that ‘I’d do’. Whether that’s true, I suppose, rests in my summary of these 24 teams. I do, at least, have a cracker of a League One stat to start with – Rotherham goalie Adam Collin has never saved fewer than two penalties in a competitive shootout, including a Step 8 playoff for Workington several years ago. Pardon? Rotherham were promoted? Ah…
On we go, then…
As soon as you start imagining Danny Wilson earnestly attempting to describe the ingredients of a Pad Thai in some sort of demented Football Manager Masterchef you can’t help but pull for Barnsley. ‘It tastes kind of like the smell of a leaf, Greg’. ‘It is a leaf, is it? A lime leaf? Blimey. Who knew?’ ‘Now that I know, John, that’s a peanut is that. Never had that in a stir fry meself.’ As his culinary wiles, so his approach to management. ‘I’ve to sell Chris O’Grady and Jason Steele to balance t’books? Crikey.’ It’s that wily phlegmatism that’s allowed him to bring in players of the calibre of Conor Hourihane, James Bailey and Kane Hemmings to plug the gaps. There’s certainly more chance of Barnsley being in this year’s shake up than there is of their gaffer winning a cookery contest, anyway.
Verdict: Chasing the play-offs.
It seems barely five minutes ago that ‘plucky Bradford’ were the stars of the show when Hovis were allowed to plot the League Cup as though it were one of their homespun ads. ‘Look ‘ere as this tiny club from a northern outpost City which has lived through race hate, cannibalism and George Galloway beats mighty Arsenal on pens despite living in’t cardboard box. Ey by gum, buy our crusty loaf.’ All of that makes you forget the fact that in Jordan Pickford, Rory McArdle, Gary Liddle, James Hanson and the brutal Aaron McLean, Bradford have one of the strongest spines in the league. They could, and should, push on from last year’s below par finish.
Verdict: Top half
What started like a slow moving car crash has developed into a pretty optimistic 6 months or so for the red half of Bristol. Their much hated Gas scoffing pals up the road suffered ignominious relegation and, absurdly, a team with talent to burn, took to the wiles of perennial ‘Sky Football’ trickster Steve Cotteril with aplomb. Their summer has been impressive – Glen Little, Luke Ayling, Aaron Wilbraham and the outstanding Luke Freeman join to complement the best frontline in the division – Baldock and Emmanuel-Thomas. This is a team to help the club celebrate eventual planning consent for a new home.
Verdict: Automatic promotion
It is almost impossible to write a cogent review of Chesterfield’s summer as, with the exception of signing the outlandishly named youngster Michael Onuvwigun, very little has actually happened. This is, though, a club which snuck up on bigger names to breast the League Two tape and it seems that their talented gaffer has put his faith on that group to do the same here. Their squad is stuffed with good quality lower league names in the likes of Sam Hird, Gary Roberts and Jay O’Shea but Cook’s approach seems a gamble in what looks like a tough field this time round.
Verdict: Looking over their shoulders (a bit like Paul Carrack is on Magic FM most of the time)
There’s a day in the life of every male undergraduate when they begin to seriously wonder whether their jeans are sentient when not plastered to their thighs. It’s the way they topple off, arthritically, never fully creasing to the floor, suggesting the possibility they could stand of their own volition. They’re zombie jeans about to avenge us in some haggard, perilous Dawn of the Denim. It’s only at this chastening point, seeing the crusty film of gak around the stonewash gusset, pondering first if you can sell this as an ad concept to Levi’s, that an intervention will occur. Colchester United are the sentient denim of League One – wandering casually and blithely about, prompting mild embarrassment that they’re still lingering like the smell of arid putrefaction. Frankly, it’s time the rest of the teams took one for the team and carried them down the launderette in their Calvins.
Verdict:as always with students, apathy reins. Sentient denim sticks it to Febreze and survives another year.
This game can be a cruel mistress. Stripped of their dignity, squired by rotten rentiers and forced to play home games away from their own city, dear old Coventry took solace last year in the development of their own. This time round they battle on at their unwanted Sixfields squat without the homespun panache of Callum Wilson and Cyrus Christie. Their only chink of luck is in the possession of grizzled gaffer Steven Pressley, a man who when given lemons knows only how to chop them in two and squirt the juice others’ eyes. His grit is probably what enticed Shaun Miller, Danny Pugh, Marcus Tudgay and Josh McQuoid – mean players all – to the cause. He is worth so much better than SISU, but the people of Coventry deserve him.
Verdict: A soul destroying year in limbo on and off the pitch.
Until the midpoint of last season Crawley were football’s most irrelevant football club. An oligarch owned non-entity paying their way to success, halted in its tracks by lack of infrastructure and cold footed owners. Enter footballing maverick John Gregory to spice affairs up somewhat. Not content with being both the first man born in a tracksuit and the only man in the UK still using Just for Men, the former Maccabi Ahi Nazareth steward asked all comers to Broadfield to indulge in a heady game of beach soccer on a pitch rescued from the local branch of Wickes. But the madcap end to last year wasn’t enough for our John. Gregory has signed 13 players this summer and almost every one of them is absolute rot. We shouldn’t be surprised. This is man who has won England caps, managed in the Premier League and yet uses his Twitter profile to boast of being ‘the world’s biggest Springsteen fan’. John, listen to that sax and tell me you are not wrong.
Verdict: like Gregory’s idol; chugging, boring, plodding and utterly endless. Liable to drown in The River.
Let’s face it, when your manager is coming out publicly stating that the sale of one of your best players will ‘help the club’, things are looking grim. So it goes at Crewe where Mathias Pogba’s move to Serie B side Pescara followed the loss of Ajay Leitch-Smith and the likely departure of Max Clayton to Wolves. These are dire times given the club’s flirt with the drop last season. Unless Steve Davis can swiftly reinvest the Pogba cash into a clutch of signings – quite probably on loan – the trapdoor looms large for the Railwaymen.
Verdict: like the Bartman. In deep, deep trouble.
Whoever showed Paul Dickov ‘American Psycho’ has a lot to answer for. The hair, the temper, the obsession with assorted carbonated spring waters. Whoever you were, didn’t you tell him that the whole idea was that the fits of pique were internalised? Shame on you. And, to be frank, shame on Doncaster for employing this complete pillock. Just when we’d all sighed that pretend football manager Lee Clark had stayed in the Championship last season so we all cheered at the realisation that we were, again, right about Dickov. And yet he’s still here, twerking along the touchline to ‘The Power of Love’. Maybe Dickov’s threatened the Keepmoat hierarchy with his chainsaw. ‘This Is Not An Exit’. More’s the pity.
Verdict: Playoffs. If they can affect that necessary execution first.
‘Highbury already is the name of a stadium, Andy, mate’.
Oh wretched Fleetwood, with your factory outlet, your questionable cash and your minuscule fanbase, how are you even here? Like Rushden & Diamonds before you, why haven’t you perished? Is there ANYTHING likable about this awful confection of a football club? Their best known fan is the world’s number 7 darts player, a former accountant called Wesley who uses the letter ‘z’ in the shortening of his name. I can’t even type that out. This is a man who walks on to ‘Crazy, Crazy Nights’ by Kiss. They literally never have those down at pretend Highbury. They even released everyone’s second favourite footballer Jon Parkin this summer. Kiss? Kiss my arse more like. The true rock n’ roll anthem for this putrid corner of Lancashire was written by The Stooges – ‘NO FUN. NO FUN. NO FUN.’
Verdict: Every away fan names this the worst trip of the season. The team farts its way to midtable.
In truth Gillingham’s preview has been the toughest of these 24 to write. That isn’t because they’re unremarkable, far from it. Rather it’s as they’ve signed a player called Doug Loft. Now, I remember Loft playing for Port Vale last season but I’d never really thought about his name before. But it’s hanging like a spectre over this preview – ‘Doug Loft’. Dug. Loft. Loft. The top room. Dug. In the ground. YOU CAN’T DIG A LOFT IT IS A PHILOSOPHICAL IMPOSSIBILITY. Not even Kevin McCloud could dig a loft and he’s got magic. Loft’s signing aside, Gillingham’s summer has actually been unremarkable. They’ve recruited solidily and Peter Taylor’s steadying hand remains at the tiller. They should hope for a season less packed with panic this time around.
Orient’s dear old manager, terminally ill child lookalike Russell Slade, almost enjoyed a year confected by the Make-a-Wish Foundation last time round. Despite Wembley defeat at the hands of Steve ‘When Oompa Loompas Go Bad’ Evans, his side was able to claim some sort of moral League One title thanks to the panache of their team and the good nature of the faithful. Despite losing Moses Odubajo to city rivals Brentford the Orient are emboldened by the division’s most eye-catching clutch of signings in Darius Henderson, Jay Simpson, Bradley Pritchard and Jobi McAnuff. Their aim this year is surely to avoid a Devon Loch style flop near home. The joker at Brisbane Road is new Italian owner Francesco Becchetti and how he’ll settle out East. Early signs on the signing and communication front look positive but I can’t shake off the fact he’s a dead ringer for erstwhile Gretna owner Brooks Mileson. Ominous.
Verdict: Chasing the playoffs again. But without lovely Russ.
‘Excuse me Pete, what was it like producing Kylie?’
‘I’m not Pete Waterman.’
‘You should be so lucky!’
‘Can’t we talk about football?’
‘Do you think that’s wise, given, you know, everything?’
‘I do. We’ve got Karl Robinson and he’s the best young manager in the game.’
‘Get in the bin Waterman.’
Prediction – Working next to ASDA for so long finally gets too much for Robinson who dies tragically from a Pot Noodle and Snickers overdose. It’s been coming.
Last season’s drama boys needed a last day result at Oldham to stay in League One after a remarkable run of form under the alchemist duo of Shaun Derry and Greg Abbott. Since then they’ve lost top players Alan Sheehan, Gary Liddle and Bartosz Bialkowski to other clubs and last season’s sensation, Jimmy Spencer, to long-term injury. Their replacements, bar the loan of Jake Cassidy from Wolves, are of the functional sort – Alan Smith, Liam Noble, Nicky Wroe and Garry Thompson will all do a job but perhaps not push the side on. Securing Roy Carroll’s return to the UK meanwhile, looks like a singularly odd move.
Verdict: another season of toil.
It’s tempting to wonder if Oldham Athletic are Schrödinger’s Football Club – simultaneously both alive and dead. We know that Oldham are apparently alive – their results are read out week on week on national TV – and yet it’s so long since they did anything of note that no one is entirely sure. As such it’s perhaps good news to see them so publicly cancel a photo shoot in recent weeks – ‘Bloody hell Oldham! You’re here! We were all worried. We kept counting to 24 and ending up one short. Literally no-one had seen you. You’ve been in the sweet shop buying a load of last minute gifts have you? Careful with those or you’ll break the bottle of poison.’
Verdict: the radiation flows unquestionably, spelling trouble for Schrödinger’s Football Club.
This is surely a make or break year for the footballing equivalent of Kaliber (same bitter taste, none of the heady intoxication or inherent quality), Darren Ferguson. After another attempt at breaking the back of the Championship last year was another in transition for the Posh and on paper this looks similar. Their signings haven’t made headlines, but the core of a strong squad remains and many have tipped pint-sized hipster favourite, former Dulwich starlet Erhun Otzumer, to have an impact belying his stature. Despite the presence of Britt Assombalonga and Conor Washington this side still has a functional feel to it and it’ll test Ferguson’s coaching smarts to push them beyond last year’s 6th placed finish.
Verdict: Chasing the playoffs again, though MacAnthony may grow tired of piss-weak non-alcoholic grog in the meantime.
The summer’s best news at Vale Park is that gaffer Micky Adams has turned down the title role in mooted ITV2 dramedy ‘Desperate Dan – Going Straight’ in order to helm the Valiants second consecutive punt at the League One crown. The rub is that the club has yet another winding-up petition hanging over their heads. One hopes they muster enough roubles to struggle on as their summer’s recruitment looks handy with Stephen Jennings and Ryan McGivern particularly eye-catching. The hunt for goals to go alongside Tom Pope’s nailed on hatful will be the difference between mediocrity and fulfilment.
Verdict: potential dark horses. Home fans remain resiliently unable to pronounce the name of their home city.
Preston North End
Were you there when hoods rubbed out Simon Grayson’s face and drew it back on with a felt tip? Call Gitstoppers on 0800 1 TOSSER if you have any informations which might aid our enquiries. Larry’s doughy visage (and the NCA’s ongoing investigations into throw-ins and stuff) aside the signs are good at Deepdale again this summer. Top talents Joe Garner and Paul Gallagher have been retained and augmented by the signings of Andy Little and Callum Woods. The Lilywhites should have enough to challenge again all being equal.
Verdict: Chasing the playoffs.
There are people in this world who swear that Keith Hill is England’s greatest manager – and with two promotions to his name for the country’s least decorated club, who can blame them? Then again, there are people out there who think that Phil Collins’ music for Tarzan is the best Disney soundtrack. These people are quite patently mad. That isn’t to scoff at the erstwhile drummer’s songcraft but where’s his ‘Under the Sea’, his ‘Hakuna Matata’? So it’s true of Hill sides – solid, dependable and unflashy, they get the job done. Their summer sums this up – one of retention, not extension. The squad will need to repeat last year’s feats without the goals of Scott Hogan, and that looks a tall ask. This season’s Rochdale will likely leave little mark, but then again nor did ‘You’ll Be In My Heart’, and that won an Oscar.
Verdict: Looking over their shoulders (I could have done the Genesis gag here. Alas, that boat sailed too early)
Someone really needs to call the police about Scunthorpe. All those times that League One thought it’d shaken them off and here they are again, lurking in an alleyway, heavy breathing from a phone box, singing ‘No More I Love Yous’ in the front garden. How many times have we told you, Scunthorpe? It’s over. And yet it seemingly isn’t. Fresh from a record breaking unbeaten run, Russ Wilcox brings fresh impetus to the Iron with the nucleus of last year’s side retained and burnished by the addistions of Miguel Llera, Lyle Taylor and Jennison Myrie-Williams. Too much is being made of the loss of Sam Winnall, but the Iron may be reliant on keeping Paddy Madden’s tinderbox ego in check to ensure progress.
Verdict: more midnight calls, creepy letters and inappropriate gifts. Iron stalk the playoffs.
If Brian Clough is Donna Summer and Giorgio Moroder’s seminal disco hit ‘I Feel Love’ then his son Nigel is surely Boney M’s ‘Rasputin’. One is indisputably one of the greatest of all time the other is, whisper it, verging on being as good but no-one will ever, ever acknowledge it. Imagine being so brilliant a managerial talent as Clough Jr whilst being encumbered with that fatherly albatross about the neck – it’s like being a joke band with one of the greatest songs ever written on your hands, no-one quite believes in it or you. When he took over at Bramall Lane last year he inherited a truly abysmal side and utterly transformed them. To that side he’s added a wealth of class and guile in Andy Butler, Craig Alcock and Michael Higdon. Try and pretend you won’t be dancing to Nigel’s tune come next June.
Verdict: RA-RA-RASPUTIN LOVING AUTOMATIC PROMOTION
Glancing over the Swindon squad you’d be forgiven for mistaking it for a bunch of Champ Man regens. So much so I was almost taken aback not to find the name Trevor Collymore amongst them, but then I remembered that an England left-back would never play for Swindon. Instead they’ve got made up people like Tijane Reis, Yasir Kasim and Raphael Branco. Not even FourFourTom has heard of these characters.
Verdict: In a world where this Swindon side gets promoted, Jack Rodwell is England captain and Robin van Persie manages Spurs. Bottom half.
Hang on a minute. Walsall finished 13th last season? They did that by stealth. Or, in fact, because Dean Smith is one of the best gaffers outside the top leagues – a man who wrings every drop of talent from half decent players and builds teams into more than the sum of their parts. A true craftsman, worthy of being taken far more seriously. The Saddlers have lost sharp-shooting Craig Westcarr to Portsmouth’s post hoc South Coast dollar bill fest but signed sagely – James O’Connor and Jordan Cook both offer plenty to League One if fit. At time of print, they’re a striker short of a very good side, but expect that to change once the Capital One Cup is out of the way. There’s a reason big clubs trust Smith with their bairns.
Verdict: Top half.
Stop Giving This Man a Platform – A Poem
Lauded on the streets of Riga,
Perhaps that’s why they’re oh so eager,
To have you on on Monday night,
With Chappers and Motty chatting shite.
Your record’s good, we mustn’t scoff,
But Gary Johnson, please piss off.
Prediction – who cares? Between 8th and 20th.