The Real Thing
The pampered stars of the Premiership may still be returning to match fitness, but the considerably more exciting prospect of the Football League begins as soon as next weekend.
As a betting man, albeit one whose natural urges are curtailed by America's puritanical obsession with gambling, I can only look on in wonder at the veritable bookmaker's rat's nest that is the Coca-Cola Championship. I can make a reasonable case that up to 13 of the teams involved might reasonably be in promotion contention (outright that is, not just via the play-offs). The bookies have settled on local rivals Birmingham and WBA as early favourites, but with 6-1 widely available, it is hardly a ringing endorsement. The Premiership meanwhile is in such a sorry state that you can get odds of 2/1 on Chelsea not winning the title again.
For those that prefer to express their views via spread bets on points totals, Sporting Index have Birmingham as favourites at spread midpoint of 77, with Colchester expected to finish bottom with 46. However it is highly likely that whoever does win the Championship will accumulate considerably more than 77 points (five teams managed it in 2005/06) whilst the bottom-placed side will likely manage considerably fewer than 46 (it would have been enough for survival last time). In short, there is considerable scope for profiting from taking an opposing view to the bookie, an option that in my view does not exist in the Premiership.
For what it's worth I think Southampton represent outstanding value at 10/1 with their boardroom wrangles ended, an excellent manager in charge and some momentum from five wins from six games to end last season. I wouldn't touch Sunderland at 9/1 with a bargepole, but might be tempted by an each-way bet on Mick McCarthy's Wolves at 20/1, likewise Hull at a handsome 66/1. Meanwhile John Hartson will no doubt score bags of goals for WBA who will be strong if they hold on to Curtis Davies and Tomasz Kuszczak, but I think the odds reflect this to a degree and backers may get unstuck by the January transfer window.
Indeed, reading through the extensive pre-season review in this morning's Sunday Times, part of me had some unusual pangs of regret that we now find ourselves fairly well established in the overhyped and far less interesting Premiership. If we find ourselves relegated this season (and if we're honest, Mills, Murray et al might have just 32 days to find the midfield to prevent it), then there will be a few bright spots at least. Eight more matches for a start, the chance to attend some stadia with character again, and the possibility that we might see some attacking football, with the players and the Board that employs them no longer hamstrung with fear.