Friday, 21 August 2009

Football Snapshots – Tivoli Stadium

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As you can see its not my picture, but I feel I had to say goodbye to one of Germany’s most loved stadiums. Alemannia Aachen’s Tivoli is thought to be by German football fans as one of the most atmospheric out there. Aachen, a large spa city located on the border with Belgium and Holland has seen its team achieve a minimal amount over its 109 year history. Runner up in the German Bundesliga (and 2.Bundesliga) as well as 3 German Cup final appearances (which they all lost), including the most recent appearance in 2004 when Werder Bremen beat them 3-2.

Despite the lack of success, attendances at the 21,632 ground have always been fairly good and I experienced that when I went to visit in 2001 when they hosted Rot-Weiss Oberhausen to the Tivoli. A 2-1 win, as well as great fans is what I remember and my ticket to stand on the famous “W├╝rselener Wall” only cost 8 DM or £3.50. A fantastic amount for what was 2nd tier football. (No chance of that happening in the Championship…)

The picture below shows close Aachen’s new ground (The Neu Tivoli) is to the old one. Aachen welcomed the Tivoli to league action on Monday (Aug 17th) night in the only way they could. By losing 0-5 to St Pauli, so will hope for a lot better when current 2.Bundesliga whipping boys FSV Frankfurt visit on Aug 30th. As for the old Tivoli, I’ve heard the fans have bought it as a memorial, no idea if this is true, but great if it is and will be a permanent reminder of Aachen’s old and great home.

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Sunday, 16 August 2009

Barnstaple Town vs Tavistock (15/08/09)

Match 53

Ground #: 27

Ground: Mill Road

Competition: FA Cup Extra Preliminary Round

Kick Off: 3pm

Cost: £5

Programme: £1

Attendance: 124

Barnstaple Town 3

Skinner 33’, Paxton 45’, Bell 82’, Frickleton s/off 76’

Tavistock 1

Carter 40’, Carter m/pen 80’

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Back down in Devon I decided to take in the “magic” of one of the oldest cup competitions in the World, the Football Association Cup. While most plastic fans think that the cup starts in January with the 3rd Round draw, or maybe even in October/November with the 1st Round draw, the famous competition actually kicks off in August when the Extra Preliminary Round is played which features the smallest teams entering the competition at Levels 9 and 10 on the FA Pyramid. The 3 major North Devon sides were all in action and I decided on going to Barnstaple Town who were playing South West Peninsula (Level 10) side Tavistock and hoped Ilfracombe Town got through their tie against Falmouth Town as they had been handed a home draw in the next round. (The Extra Preliminary, Preliminary and 1st Qualifying Rounds have already been drawn)

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Barnstaple is the main town on the North Devon coast which takes its name from being a “staple port” in the middle ages as it was licensed to export wool. Today it is a quiet town that has benefitted from the building of the North Devon Link Road to link the town to the M5 while the start of the regeneration of the town centre is due to start in 2012. The local football team are Barnstaple Town that currently play in the Toolstation Western Premier (Level 9). The club struggled last season as most of it was spent in the relegation zone but a late run of form managed to drag the club clear and finished 18th. I saw them play last season at local rivals Bideford where they had struggled upfront but managed a decent 1-1 draw. One player who impressed that day was man mountain Darren Hawkings, however, Barnstaple had been rocked by his decision to go back to Bideford, along with top scorer Kevin Squire. Barnstaple though had signed a fair amount of new faces including ex Bideford pair, Robert Gough and Shane Tolley. Their opening two games had both finished 2-2, which included outplaying Western League champions Bitton. The visitors today were local side Tavistock AFC who played a level below them in the SW Peninsula Premier. Tavistock are based in the town near Plymouth so this was a reasonably short journey for the side. Tavistock were currently in 14th place in this division with a 1-5 defeat and a 2-1 win to their name. They finished 6th in the SWP last season and also knocked out fellow North Devon side Ilfracombe Town in the ExP Round last season 4-1, so a tough game to call this.

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Parking at the rugby club next to Mill Road and soon in to have a look round, Barnstaple’s ground is quite nice with it being railed off all the way round, and having two areas of cover down both sides of the pitch. 500 seats apparently between them, as well as standing cover down the clubhouse side where I decided to stand. Having got there far too early, I decided to pop into the clubhouse which is very nice and got a lemonade for £1. Behind one goal is a set of large trees which block out the view of the rugby club (which is good, who wants to watch that egg shaped sport?) while the photo above shows behind the other goal where the main entrance is and the changing rooms. While Mill Road is in a fairly quiet part of Barnstaple, just outside of the centre, there are signs of it being in a large town with the multi-story council offices in plain view as well as the Taw Bridge which was built in 2007. Before the match I read that the replay (if needed) would be played on Wednesday 19th at Tavistock, could be a new ground then…

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The game kicked off in fairly decent weather as both sides went at each other quite furiously with some tasty challenges coming in, especially from Tavistock, but very few goalscoring chances. The first chance was a Shane Tolley header that just went over as Barnstaple began to become the dominant side. Yet, were lucky to escape when captain Jamie Frickleton brought down Ben Davies and he looked the last man. Only a yellow card was shown as both sides began to get annoyed at the referee’s decisions. If the ref had booked the first or second bad challenge, that probably would have calmed the game down. After an awful 30 minutes the game suddenly got interesting as Tavistock tried to play the ball out from the back and Jamie Skinner stole the ball and skipped past two Tavvy challenges before placing the ball past goalkeeper Andrew Meeds to make it 1-0. Up until this point I was beginning to worry that the game would be an awful 0-0. Barnstaple though tried to throw it away when an awful back pass was nearly intercepted by Adam Carter (who must be one of the laziest strikers I have ever seen), his challenge on goalie Jamie Pow was a little rash and when the ball broke to Lee Bevan, Frickleton had to get a block on the line. Minutes later it was 1-1, when a Tavvy throw in looked to have been helped on by an attacker’s hand, it found Carter alone in the box and he smashed it past Pow to equalize. Barnstaple though got a 2nd right on half-time when a well worked move found Tolley on the right wing and his great cross was headed in by young striker Stan Paxton to give Barum (no idea why they are nicknamed that) a half-time lead.

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The second half was almost identical to the first with the first 25/30 minutes being quite awful with no a lot happening before a mental last 15 minutes. On the 76th minute a cross came in which a Tavvy defender clearly handled. The ref was having none of it and so Tavvy lumped the ball forward, Frickleton was penalised for an aerial challenge on the half-way line. A second yellow was shown and Barnstaple would have to play 15 minutes or so with 10 men. They should have made it safe however soon after when a great run and shot from Robbie Gough curled away from Meeds in goal and onto the bar. The game was now fully stretched as both sides looked for the goal they needed and when a Tavistock cross was accidentally handled by Jamie Skinner, the ref gave the penalty. While this was a penalty, the clear hand-ball down the other end wasn’t given and so the decision angered Barum fans greatly as it now looked Tavistock would bag a replay. However, lazy striker Carter saw his awful penalty saved well by Jamie Pow and Barnstaple lived again. The gap in fitness now showed and Barnstaple wrapped up the win in the 82nd minute when another great cross was headed in by Danny Bell to put Barnstaple through to the Preliminary Round. Both sides had one more chance, Tavistock had a header off the line while Barnstaple’s Stan Paxton missed a great one on one. The final score though was 3-1, a deserved Barnstaple victory.

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A cracking day out then in the opening round of the FA Cup. Passion, energy and some good football was good to see as Barnstaple now play Wessex League side Poole Town away in the Prelim Round. Ilfracombe let me down by losing 0-1 at home to Falmouth so my next game may not be for over a month. I really enjoyed this game and Barnstaple have definitely improved since I last saw them in April and I will probably now adopt them as my “North Devon” team and hope they get on well. Their away tie at Poole will be extremely tough but if they can do it they will face a 1st Round Qualifying tie against Falmouth Town or Street/Willand Rovers. Here’s hoping they get there.

Photos from Barnstaple Town vs Tavistock

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Match Ratings:

- Match: 7/10 (quite decent entertainment that heated up at the end)

- Value for money: 6/10 (£5 at this level is fine)

- Ground: 6/10 (fairly nice ground in a decent area)

- Atmosphere: 2/10 (none, abuse at the ref though)

- Food: 5/10 (a normal tasting cheeseburger for £2.20, tad overpriced)

- Programme: 4/10 (poor, no information about Tavistock either)

- Referee: Ryan Atkin – 2/10 (awful, lost the plot too as the game boiled over)

Barny vs Tavvy prog

Barny vs Tavvy ticket

Friday, 14 August 2009

Gretna FC (2008) vs Ormiston (08/08/09)

Match 52

Ground #: 26

Ground: Raydale Park

Competition: East of Scotland 1st Division

Kick Off: 2:30pm

Cost: £4

Programme: £2

Attendance: 190

Gretna FC (2008) 5

Nicholson 3’,10’,33’, Carmichael 12’, Renyard 15’

Ormiston 0

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Being up in the North of England on ‘boyfriend duty’ this summer, I was tempted to get a sneaky game in up here. Looking at fixtures, Carlisle were at home to Brentford – didn’t fancy it. Penrith were at home to Morpeth Town – could be interesting. Yet then I found out the new Gretna were at home and at their spiritual home too at Raydale Park. This being a ground I had wanted to see Hearts play at in the SPL, I would have to make do with Edinburgh based (roughly) side Ormiston. They also play in maroon too. It was fate. So made the train journey from Carlisle to Gretna Green, although it was a bus replacement service on. Then took the short, delightful, grim walk through Gretna to Raydale Park.

Gretna is a small town on the Scotland/England border in Dumfries and Galloway which is famous for the “run-away” place to get married. Due to Scottish marriage law being less strict than in England, it was common for young couples to run across the border, get married and then go back home and wait for the inevitable divorce a few years later. (Their fault for getting married so young) Today, as many as 1/6th of Scottish marriages still take place here. Also in Gretna is the shopping complex – Gretna Gateway – a small outlet centre and the football team, Gretna FC (2008). Its hard to mention the club formed last season without mentioning the old club that came before it, Gretna FC. The old club, although Gretna 08’ have no legal connection to the previous club, had been playing in the Northern League until 1992 when it won promotion to the Northern Premier League (or Unibond) where it then decided its future lay in Scottish football. Having previously applied to the SFL in 1993 and 1999, they were finally accepted in 2002 taking the place of Airdrieonians. Then Brookes Mileson started his financial input and the club won successive promotions in 2005, 2006 and 2007. In 2006, they also reached the Scottish Cup Final where they outplayed SPL side Hearts (it was awful to watch), but the Tynecastle side came through on penalties. Their season in the SPL was a disaster, finishing bottom and then Mileson became ill and Gretna’s financial problems caught up with them and were liquidated. Annan Athletic took their place in the SFL. Ironically, Gretna’s last ever game was against us, when a 90th minute Gavin Skelton winner meant they finished on a high with a 1-0 win. The final programme is below.

Gretna vs Hearts prog

The new club were set up in the summer and formed themselves as Gretna FC (2008). They dropped down to the East of Scotland League Division 1 and last season played most of their home games away from Gretna at a public park in Annan called The Everholm, however when a property developer bought Raydale Park, Gretna were allowed back to play but the length of time remains unclear. The new team have had a reasonable start to life. Finishing 4th out of 12 in the EOS 1st Div last season, they also won the Alex Jack Cup as their first piece of silverware. Promotion is the aim this season and with a youthful side who have some talent, they look a good bet to go up. Raydale Park is still a great looking ground and credit must go to the groundstaff who got the ground up to standard. Running down one side of the pitch is a covered standing area, however with nobody there except ballboys, that was probably closed off – or for the vast amount of Ormiston fans. Down the other side was a covered seating area and the open kitchen which served a cracking Scotch Pie and Irn Bru. Behind one goal was a covered seating area called the South Stand which looked up to date and extremely tidy. Behind the other goal was what I presume was temp seating that is no longer there. Now a large grass space is behind the goal allowing for players to have a larger space to warm up.

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The team they welcomed to Raydale for their season opener was Ormiston FC. Ormiston were a result of a merger between Ormiston Primrose and Pencaitland in 1998/1999 to become Pencaitland and Ormiston FC, however the Pencaitland name was dropped in 2002. Ormiston are normally towards the bottom of the league, and finished 9th last season with 20 points. Hailing from just outside Edinburgh and playing in maroon, they were maybe the team I supported today, but I just sat with the larger section of Gretna fans and kept my mouth shut. Ormiston would need to be defensively tight to keep Gretna at bay. So when the game kicked off and Gretna won a corner within 20 seconds it was clear how up against it Ormiston would be. They only lasted another minute as Gretna played the ball through again, and when the ball was hooked over and through the defence, Tony Nicholson brought the goalie out before easily shooting past him, 1-0. Ormiston then seemed to collapse as Gretna looked to score on every opportunity. They did on 10 minutes when a long free kick wasn’t cleared properly and Nicholson scored from Dan Carmichael’s cross. It was 3-0 minutes later, an awful Ormiston free kick from the goalkeeper was collected by Carmichael who ran at the Ormiston defence before smashing it in. Then when on 15 minutes, Gretna’s David Renyard decided to take a shot from outside the area that flew straight in for goal # 4, this game looked like an absolute raping would be taking place. So much so, that Ormiston then went 5-4-1 and ultra defensive that seemed to pay off as they stopped Gretna scoring straight after. They also had their first chance when a free kick just missed the top of the bar. They didn’t hold out for long however, as on 33 minutes, Carmichael completed his hat-trick as he collected a cross and volleyed over Ormiston goalkeeper P.Cadger and in for 5. Cadger did make a save towards the end of the half to stop Nicholson adding a 4th. At half time it was then 5-0, Ormiston shell shocked after being completely outclassed.

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The second half kicked off with it being clear that Gretna were to take the 2nd half a lot easier but still creating chances as Ormiston player Brian McEwan was the hero after clearing 3 shots off the line and goalkeeper Cadger also making a great save (or lucky) to deny Gretna a 6th. Gretna themselves were lucky to keep their clean sheet when peeing about at the back, an Ormiston striker intercepted a loose ball but lacked the final pass to make it a proper goal scoring opportunity. Gretna fans were also becoming frustrated that no goals were being added to the 5 scored in the first half as Ormiston had managed to steady the ship, shame it had already sunk. The final whistle blew with not much happening in the final 10 minutes. Gretna’s first half romp allowing them to charge to the top of the table and continued their good run on Tuesday with a 3-0 win over Gala Fairydean. While Ormiston managed to bag a 2-1 win away at Eyemouth United. (I dread to think how bad Eyemouth must be)

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A good day out then in Gretna with some good weather and decent football, especially from Gretna’s front line. I think Gretna should win this division this season while Ormiston will most likely end up around their 9th place from last season. I’m also glad I managed to make Raydale Park while it was still open. A great ground that should be hosting a higher level of football and may get its chance again as this new club go from strength to strength on much solid financial foundations than its former team.

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Photos from Gretna FC (2008) vs Ormiston

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Match Ratings:

- Match: 6.5/10 (1st half was great, 2nd not so much)

- Value for money: 7/10 (not complaints at paying £4 for this level)

- Ground: 7/10 (good to finally see Raydale Park)

- Atmosphere: 4/10 (190 people can’t make that much noise)

- Food: 9.5/10 (Scotch Pies and Irn Bru should be served at EVERY game)

- Programme: 5/10 (what was there was good, but 12 pages for £2 is a tad overpriced)

- Referee: James Carberry – 7/10 (seemed to do well, no linesmen either)

Gretna vs Orm prog

Gretna vs Orm prog2

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

09/10 Season Predictions

With the season now less than a week away for most teams (it starts this Saturday), here are my predictions which are now infamous with my friends for being so laughably wrong. So here are my predictions for the English Football League and Scottish Premiership. Don't worry if I think your club will be going down, it will probably be the opposite way round, again.

Premiership

Champions -- Liverpool - There I said it, I don't like Liverpool as a club or most of their fans, but to me, they seem the best bet out of the Top 4 to take the title. Torres should easily score 20+ and they have a solid back line to help keep the goals out. However, weaknesses remain, with the sale of Xabi Alonso there appears to be no real 'World Class' passer and it remains to be seen if Alberto Aquilani is up to that task. Also, an injury to Torres or Gerrard and its game over.

The Others -- Whilst managed by Sir Alex Ferguson, Manchester Utd cannot be written off, although the loss of Christiano Ronaldo is a huge blow which cannot be swept under the rug. Owen and Valencia are not good enough to score enough and with Rooney now looking fat and off form, Berbatov seemingly not wanting to play that leaves 17 year old Macheda as their main form of attack. Chelsea could be the dark horses, with Carlo Ancelotti as boss, clearly the Champions League will be the main event for them, but the problem of lack of width looks to be over with the signing of Yuri Zhirkov, the return to form of Florent Malouda and the return to fitness of Jole Cole. Arsenal need to avoid injuries which they haven't already with Sami Nasri breaking his shin, caused by his own player, otherwise a nothing season of claiming 4th looks to be on the cards. Avoid any other injuries and a quiet title challenge could be there.

Relegation -- Burnley - While getting here was a great achievement, they needn't had bothered. A poor squad, poor attendances and not much money means a return to the Championship very quickly. If your main source of attack is the one footed Steven Fletcher then you know you're in for a struggle.

Hull City - Only survived last season with a poor 35 points is because amazingly, there were another 3 teams worse than them. They won't be so lucky this season. Need a striker quickly and Jozy Altidore is a class signing, sadly need more though.

Portsmouth - Selling all of your class players and not replacing them can only lead to one thing - relegation. Even a protracted takeover may not save them as they will need 10 new players to stay up.

Dark Horses (the teams that could do well, or quite easily do bad)

Sunderland - Steve Bruce has a £40m warchest and so far seems to have bought exceptionally well. I am extremely looking forward to seeing Lorik Cana in the Premiership.

Wigan - While promising to play attacking football is good. Roberto Martinez may find out that playing it on a crap rugby pitch is not. A massive £2m gamble on Jason Scotland could also see them right down there in the relegation battle.

Championship

Champions -- Middlesbrough - By keeping the majority of a squad that shouldn't have been relegated from the Premiership in tact, Boro look good to go right back up. Alfonso Alves should also find his level here, surely.

Promoted -- Reading - Brendan Rodgers already has a reputation for being a good manager despite being in this position for less than a year. A good squad that isn't expected to be promoted automatically could easily play their way to promotion this season.

Ipswich - Could have been a number of teams in this final promotion place but the Keane factor with a decent squad could see them up.

Relegated -- Blackpool - A poor squad that will need to rely on loan signings looks a good bet for relegation. Charlie Adam picking Plymouth over Blackpool speaks volumes about their plight. Ian Holloway has already spoken about how difficult this role will be. Could be even harder in League 1 next season.

Scunthorpe - Poor squad, no money. No chance. Sorry

Coventry City - A surprising choice but a simple one. Losing two out of your four best players would hurt any team. Given that Coventry only finished 17th with these players suggests a struggle is on this season. Keiren Westwood will be a busy man and Aron Gunnarsson needs to drive in midfield. Either of those players go without an adequate replacement and its cheerio.

Dark horses -- Peterborough Utd - Who knows what Fergie Jnr's team will do in the Championship. The drive and passion of his young players could quite easily romp it in a bigger league but could also be a big fat fail. I think the former. A play-off place looks a good bet.

Newcastle Utd - Hear me out. The team is in a mess. The players want to leave. No manager and no real pre-season programme. Low confidence battered further with their raping at Leyton Orient (lost 6-1), this season could be another of struggle against teams who will really want to beat them.

League 1

Champions -- Norwich City - While a major questionmark remains over rookie boss Bryan Gunn, he has signed players who will be hungry to succeed at this level such as Matt Gill from Exeter and Grant Holt from Shrewsbury, it should be a successful attempt to bounce straight back up.

Promoted -- Leeds Utd - Finally should be able to manage the pressure with the drop of 3 other 'large' teams in this division. Simon Grayson should get the team playing well and Elland Road could be a fortress this season. Although with Fabian Delph already departed to Villa, the loss of Jermaine Beckford could be costly this season.

Huddlesfield Town - Big spending Huddlesfield are now under pressure to deliver after some big signings over the close season. Lee Clark now knows he needs to deliver and the help of a big home crowd this season could see them achieve that.

Relegated -- Stockport County - The easiest decision to make this season. They lack a squad, money and have a rookie manager in Gary Ablett who has been thrown right into the deep end. An achievement this season would be to have not been relegated by Easter. 24th.

Yeovil Town - Last season Yeovil looked doomed until new boss Terry Skiverton took over and brought in top loan signings that helped them to finish 17th. Was this a fluke though? With those loan saviours now gone, Skiverton needs to work prove this was no fluke again this season. I doubt he will.

Exeter City - The trouble with a surprise promotion is that the club would then be expected to struggle the next season. I saw Exeter twice last year and still cannot believe they actually managed to achieve promotion with such an average squad. Now that two main players have left in the form of Dean Moxey and Matt Gill, Exeter look doomed and will need to hope manager Paul Tisdale can work more magic.

Carlisle Utd - It would appear that their last day escape last season looks to be just delaying the inevitable. Losing strikers and not replacing them or being unable to replace them. Then losing goalkeeper Ben Williams who looked to be regaining form will not help either. Also a questionmark over boss Greg Abbott. Relegation looks likely I'm afraid.

Dark horses -- Gillingham - Simeon Jackson's last minute winner to get the Gills promoted showed that the Gills could compete fitness wise till the end of the season under Mark Stimpson. They also carry an important factor in football, momentum. That could easily rocket them towards the play-offs or further this season.

Tranmere Rovers - A strange choice from the Tranmere directors to allow John Barnes to manage the club, years after a shocking spell at Celtic. Worrying, Jamaica also allowed him to leave with ease after his short spell managing the national side. Looks like the decision could backfire badly. Its Barnes last chance in management, one more fail and surely no other club will take him on again.

League 2

Champions -- Rotherham Utd - Points deductions have held this club back for the past few years which can now be forgotten and a proper promotion push can now be launched at the weakest looking League 2 in years. Should romp to Champs.

Promoted -- Notts County - Now being backed by a large takeover and a big pile of money, the club have set a goal of being in the Championship by their 150th anniversary in 3 years time. That looks likely with a front line of Lee Hughes and Karl Hawley, however defensive trouble remains and who knows what type of player Sven-Goran Eriksson will bring in.

Hereford United - 'Newish' boss John Trewick seems to have got the right idea that bringing in players on permanent deals seems to be better than bringing in a team on loan. With an early emphasis on defence, Hereford might not be exciting, but will surely be effective.

Bury - My Rochdale supporting friend will probably not like to admit it, but Bury played the best football in League 2 last season and probably deserved to go up as they were a goal away from pipping Wycombe. The loss of Andy Bishop in the first few games through injury may mean a slow start, but should be capable of scoring the goals through other new strikers in Danny Carlton and Ryan Lowe.

Relegated -- Accrington Stanley - This might be the season that Stanley finally hit the drop that they have amazingly so far managed to avoid. A cut in budget means they have the lowest in the Football League. The loss of key players such as goalkeeper Kenny Arthur to Rochdale will also hurt and new players need to be brought in. The money isn't there though...

Macclesfield Town - Another team that suffer from lack of money and fans, the loss of top scorer Gareth Evans which looks to be fatal. Jonny Brain in goal will need to be on top form this season, the Silkmen don't have a 17 point headstart like last year.

Dark horses -- Torquay United - Torquay look set to become this season's 'Exeter' by romping through another league to a 2nd successive promotion. Nobody will fancy the long drive into deep Devon and have the players to take away points too. Torquay though were dire the last time in this league, let us not forget that.

Burton Albion - A real dark horse this season. Looked to be romping away in the Conference last season with a lead of 19 points that by the final day was cut down to 2. No momentum and a new, unknown manager and Burton's first season in the Football League could be their only season.

SPL

Champions -- Celtic - Tony Mowbray already has pulled off something special, a Celtic away win in Europe and now looks good to easily win the SPL this season. New signings, once settled look good and unlike the rest of the league, they have money to spend if need be.

The others -- Rangers, despite having no money should have the squad to get 2nd. I fear for them in the Champions League though as even an easy group will most likely see them finish bottom of it. Dundee Utd and Hearts are the only teams I can see properly fighting for 3rd. Although both have changed quite drastically over the summer so a good start is needed for both sides. Shame they play each other on the opening day. Aberdeen looks laughably bad in defence and I will never say a good thing about Hibs.

Relegation -- Hamilton Accies - When you have such a small squad that a few players shine in, once those players leave then you will struggle. The loss of Brian Easton and James 'diver' McCarthy will hurt the team. Replacements are needed or the Accies will struggle.

Lets see how wrong these are at the end of the season! Enjoy the football!