So, you’ve coached, guided and nurtured your team through the season, with a vast catalogue of highs and lows, perhaps you’ve won a title, captured a trophy or clinched a hard-earned promotion to a higher division. Maybe you’ve masterminded recovery and survival from a seemingly hopeless position and avoided relegation against the odds.
You’ve coped with a myriad of internal and external pressures and come through the other side. Well-earned rest and recreation beckons – but the next campaign is already looming on the horizon… and preparations for the new season lie in wait around the corner.
However, the close season is a strange beast for all involved in football; it rolls around every year. During the last few weeks of the previous one, many are counting down the weeks looking forward to those free Saturday afternoons. The long, aimless days of May and June are upon us.
It also provides an opportunity to save money and if you haven’t got kids in school, to go on holiday. Of course, there are those who end up feeling lost without the week-by-week structure of training, games to attend, league and form tables to study and highlights programmes to watch.
Some people, my wife included, quite enjoy this part of the year as they get their husbands and wives or children back. They don’t have to contend with variable mood swings on a Saturday evening depending on how the team performed or the result achieved that afternoon.
Other aspects like not having to rush back from work so you make training or that midweek away game. However, by the time they got used to having the family around again, the new season beckons.
The boring bare-top barbecues, the warm walks by the rippling river, the compensating thrills of Test Match and Twenty-Twenty cricket are in full swing.
I am one of those who enjoy the first couple of weeks and those relaxing weekends before I am itching to get back in earnest for the new season.
For clubs, it gives an opportunity to spruce up the ground with some much-needed paintwork or a more ambitious project like a pitch renovation, some clubs will see the grass pitch replaced with a 3G surface.
The manager will be out meeting members of the current squad and potential signings. News and information out of your clubs drip-feeds out with little bits now and again, it usually starts with an announcement from the FA of the leagues’ constitution and you start to look forward to what teams you will play and look to the newly-promoted clubs and maybe a couple of new grounds to go to.
You pop down to the club occasionally on those long, hot summer evenings and the news is usually ‘no not heard anything, the Gaffer is away at the moment’ just the type of words you are greeted with. Slowly but surely, you start hearing of new signings player departures and backroom staff changes though.
For football addicts, the year doesn’t start when Big Ben chimes out the old to wonder what the next twelve months will bring – July is the start of our year. So, in the occasional summer sunshine, as the first balls are kicked in real earnest the friendlies start and thousands embark upon the nine-month marathon which, without a single doubt, will bring every supporter its share of madness, exhilaration, anger, despair, frustration even occasional enjoyment. We then await the FA competition draws and of course the long-awaited fixture list – the most anticipated moment to see who our opponents for the first game are, are we home or away and the August Bank Holiday. Then, what are the midweek fixtures like, any long away games so we need to make the necessary plans with work. Others are Boxing Day and Easter Monday.
‘I can’t wait,’ is the cry of many a football fan halfway through June, having had a few weeks without a match to attend. For many of those I speak to, there seems to come a point when the novelty of not going to a game and having a Saturday afternoon to do something different wears a little thin, and the attraction of the new season is something irresistibly drawn towards.
What else is sure about the coming season? Life’s three certainties – death, taxes and the sacking of managers on a fairly regular basis after a bad run of four or five games.
The temperature is dropping. A new season is beginning. Meaning and purpose are returning to life. It is always good to get back to the real business.
Expectations have been built, the name of your first opponent has been with you forever, pre-season has dragged on and you are finally about to do what you do best – fight for points. Your whole squad has been involved – just 16 get shirts. Before you know it, it is 5pm, the game has happened and you realise the difference between friendlies and matches.
There will be clubs to talk about, players to mention, incidents that happen, lessons in life. There will be highs, there will be lows, decisions, tactics, and results to forecast. There is no game like it.
Whether you are a fan, a player, a manager or a physio, the football season grabs you and doesn’t let you go!