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Hopes high for fans as season kicks off but for how long? Dare to dream
Watch season-opener - Luton vs Middlesbrough - live on Sky Sports Football on Friday August 2 from 7pm; Kick-off at 7.45pm
Last Updated: 02/08/19 10:03pm
Hopes are high as the season kicks off. It’s the time every fan dares to dream but for how long? Adam Bate on the anticipation and all it brings...
Pre-season is finally over then. If your team has won every game then it is a sure-fire sign of the inevitable success that is to come. If your team has lost every game then you will be desperately trying to convince yourself that it is irrelevant. For now at least, though fear lurks below the surface, hope endures. The sun is shining and the football season is upon us.
It is this hope that surely explains part of the fascination with the summer transfer window. Witness the underwhelming response from supporters when a club is linked with a familiar name and compare that to the outburst of excitement that greets the flimsiest association with an unknown import. The mind wanders. The imagination plays its tricks.
That new Brazilian striker might not have the best scoring record but maybe he could still be the next Ronaldo. As for that lad called Trezeguet, the clue is in the name, he must be world class. With a bit of luck, this player will actually pitch up at your club. Then cross those fingers that the eager anticipation survives the first one-on-one chance that's squandered.
But what if the new man tucks the ball away? He's not just the new Trezeguet, he's the real Trezeguet. There's a songbook to update and a licence to lose control. Outwardly, you had been calmly predicting a solid season safe from heartache. Now you are googling record points tallies and wondering what's so difficult about going a season unbeaten anyway.
Anything is possible. And then you kick off. Try not to do what Bristol Rovers did last season and concede a goal within the first 60 seconds of the match. But know that if you do score a goal, as Ipswich did five minutes into their opener against Blackburn last year, the job is far from done. Ipswich did not win that game. They did not win any game until October.
The first one can set the tone. Just ask Barnsley. They were three down after half an hour away to Bristol City on the first day of the season in 2017 and had a four-hour journey back to Yorkshire to ruminate on the problems ahead. That season ended in relegation. Last time around, Barnsley began with a 4-0 win over Oxford. That campaign ended in promotion.
Starting well can certainly be a hint of the success that is to come. After all, Manchester City and Liverpool were both still unbeaten into December in the Premier League last season. The clues to Watford's impressive run to the FA Cup final were there from the outset when they won their first five games after going unbeaten through pre-season too.
Don't be too quick to dismiss those warning signs either. Each of the three teams relegated from the Premier League last season lost on the opening weekend without scoring a single goal between them. The aggregate tally was seven goals to nil. Losing can become a habit no matter what the under-pressure managers will say to put a brave face on it.
Consider the example of Reading. They finished pre-season without winning a game last summer. It was a run that included defeats to Eastleigh and AFC Wimbledon before culminating in a 4-0 defeat to Crystal Palace back in front of their own fans. Reading boss Paul Clement was eager to play down the significance of those results at the time.
"I've been involved in pre-seasons when we've won every game, hammered some teams and then you get to the first game and you lose it," he said. "I'd rather have it the other way around." Unfortunately, Reading started their campaign with a defeat, went six without a win and finished the year in the relegation zone, by which point Clement was long gone.
Be equally cautious about reading too much into that first game though. Brentford kicked off their season by putting five past Rotherham on the opening day at Griffin Park and would have been entitled to think that it was the start of something special. Four months on they found themselves just above the drop zone. Level on points with Rotherham.
In League One, Luton lost and won the title. Walsall won and went down. In League Two, Crewe hit Morecambe for six, while Grimsby were one up at home to Forest Green at half-time only to be on the receiving end of a dramatic comeback that resulted in a 4-1 win for the newcomers. None of the four teams went up. None of them went down either.
The same could not be said of Yeovil. They had won four pre-season games in a row but lost their opener to Bury. Then they went six unbeaten, scoring 13 without reply. Then they finished bottom of the Football League. Norwich were baffling too, finishing pre-season by losing to Charlton, failing to win their first three games and then winning the Championship.
Individually, do not get too carried away by any early heroics. Remember that Fabrizio Ravanelli opened up with a hat-trick for Middlesbrough against Liverpool on his Premier League debut only for the season to end in relegation. The Italian scored on his debut for Derby five years later too. They were relegated from the top flight that year too.
Meanwhile, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang did not score a single goal in August but still finished as the joint Premier League top scorer. Harry Kane did score a Premier League goal in August last season - his first ever - but nevertheless went on to finish with his lowest tally in the competition in his five years as a Tottenham regular. Draw conclusions at your peril.
That is the beauty of it. Take your pick, optimism or pessimism. Win or lose on that opening day, success or failure is still possible. It means everything but it means nothing. One look at the league table before the first game tells the real tale. Will it be 38 little miracles? Could this be the first of 46 steps to glory? The canvas is blank. The stories are yet to be written.