Football's back. Hurrah! Far too early as always, but as we've had precious little summer anyway this year - we say bring it on!
New cliché on the block applies to Crystal Palace here: the biggest signing of the summer is, of course, the signing of a fat new contract by a player already at the club.
Everyone appears to be a winner in this case. The fans can stop fretting over a season trying to get back up at the first attempt without the massive contribution of a proven striker. Andrew Johnson gets more money, without having to worry about ‘that difficult second Premiership season’ destroying the reputation he earned last time round (step forward Marcus Stewart). Johnson’s new agent gets his percentage for ruffling a few feathers without having to go through the rigmarole of talking to other clubs. And Palace chairman Simon Jordan, who has an endearing and publicity-generating habit of sticking to his guns, even if it means cutting off his nose to spite his face (amongst the many what-ifs of last season is 'What if the Tim Cahill transfer had gone through?'), fulfils his promise that Johnson, despite the transfer request, stays.
For our money, Iain Dowie’s continued presence at the club means much more. Dowie’s dealings this summer appear to be more studied than the last close season. It looks like he’s ditched the risky foreign policy of searching for bargains abroad, and gone for English players instead. Darren Ward fills the gap in central defence caused by the end of Gonzalo Sorondo's loan spell. Jobi McAnuff gives options in midfield, after the departure of unfinished article Wayne Routledge to Spurs. At the sharp end of the pitch, Jon Macken’s transfer from Manchester City, and the less-heralded re-signing of Palace favourite Dougie Freedman, indicates that Dowie recognises that Palace over-relied on Johnson last season, and is looking to give the team more tactical options.
With Gabor Kiraly retained between the sticks (although he ought to have a quieter season this time round), youngsters Tom Soares and Ben Watson developing their game in less harsh surroundings, a relatively stable squad, and Norwich the only real competition for the top spot, Palace should find automatic promotion well within their capabilities. Anything else would be underachievement.
Palace begin their campaign at home to Luton this Saturday.
Odds: To Win the League 22/1; To Get Promoted 6/4; To be Relegated 10/1.
Londonist Prediction: Champions.
Queens Park Rangers
After a fairly awful start to last season for the newly promoted QPR, there were calls amongst the more memory-challenged of the Ranger's faithful to sack manager Ian Holloway.
Fortunately that didn't happen and Holloway rallied his troops to force their way up the table, recording a seven-game unbeaten run in the process. From then on the R's never looked back and stayed amongst the play-off contenders, although rarely in the actual play-off positions, for the rest of the season.
Ian Holloway has proved himself to be a shrewd mover in the transfer market and has once again been allowed to strengthen his squad. Summer moves to Loftus Road have included defender Ian Evatt from Chesterfield, left back Mauro Milanese from Perugia, central midfielder Tom Doherty from Bristol City, and overrated Stefan Moore from Aston Villa. Although their best signing could well turn out to be Simon Royce from Charlton. The experienced goalkeeper has never been able to prove himself as a number one choice since leaving Southend in 1998, and after a good loan spell at the club last season is back to claim a first team place.
All-in-all there's a more substantial look about QPR this time round. However, that being said they are probably still too reliant on 36-year-old Paul Furlong to get the goals to be a serious promotion challenger this year.
Another season of progress then, although whether this will be enough for Ranger's fans who have faced quite a hike in ticket prices this year is less sure.
QPR start the campaign away at newly promoted Hull on Saturday.
Odds: To Win the League 40/1; To Get Promoted 11/1; To be Relegated 9/1.
Londonist Prediction: 9th.
When they write the book on how to run a successful football club, it's reasonable to assume they won't be taking many tips from the last few months at Millwall.
Let's start on 04/04/04. Millwall have just won their FA Cup Semi-Final against Sunderland and are set not only to play Manchester United in the Final, but will also be entered into the UEFA Cup next season. Life as a Millwall fan is very good indeed.
And then it goes a bit, well, wrong.
The Wise/Wilkins management double act which had not only achieved the FA Cup Final place, but also got Millwall storming up the table after Mark McGhee's disastrous start to the season was beginning to show more and more signs of Ray Wilkins' influence. Eleven men behind the ball, aimless passing in midfield, and all-round over-cautiousness was the order of the day. Millwall was in the process of being Wilkinsed.
After missing out on the play-offs by just four points but with European football to look forward to, Millwall were in a position to attract some decent players to make that promotion push. Instead chairman Theo Paphitis took the opportunity to balance the books by selling Stephen Reid and Tim Cahill for a combined £5.5m. With the remainder of the proceeds of these sales, Wise went out and got, erm... Jody Morris on a free. And two Canadians. On frees.
Needless to say Millwall's promotion push never materialised and were dumped out of the UEFA Cup at the first hurdle against Ferencvaros. With financial troubles coming to the fore once more it was time for Theo Paphitis to exit stage left and install Jeff Burnige in his place. It soon became clear that it was Burnige's job to play the part of pantomime villain and oversee a drastic cutting of the wage bill, while our cartoon hero, Paphitis waited in the wings to come and save the day.
Wise harrumphed out of the New Den after the last game of the season, closely followed by Wilkins. With the club once again £4m down on the season, nearly £2m was generated by the sales of Paul Ifill and Darren Ward.
Then Steve Claridge was appointed as manager. And then 36 days later he was sacked.
In between, Millwall had brought in Sammy Igoe to take on the Dennis Wise kick-everyone-up-in-the-air role, while Danny Dichio successfully jumped ship to Preston.
With pre-season going badly and the clearly clueless Claridge needing help, he went to Paphitis (now back at the top, albeit unofficially) with the idea of getting Colin Lee in as his number two.
Can you guess what happened next?
Lee takes Millwall into this campaign already making excuses: "The playing side of things needs to be improved. As it stands now, you could have Jose Mourinho in charge and it would still be a hell of a struggle."
Although there's been talk of getting in players, time is running out and it looks like being a long hard slog of a season for the Lions.
The Lions start their campaign away against Leeds United on Sunday.
Odds: To Win the League 80/1; To Get Promoted 22/1; To be Relegated 5/2.
Londondist Prediction: 20th.
Watford supporters pack into a fans forum ahead of the heroic if unsuccessful League Cup Semi-Final against Liverpool. Having stomped all over Southampton and Portsmouth in previous rounds, the fans are in buoyant mood. Despite the increasingly small amounts of money to spend on the playing staff, this is Watford's second semi-final in three seasons. The chairman can't praise Ray Lewington enough.
Ray Lewington is sacked.
Watford supporters pack into a fans forum ahead of the 2005/06 season in less-than-buoyant mood after the sales of Heidar Helguson, Danny Webber, Brynar Gunnarsson, Bruce Dyer, Shaun Dyche, Neil Cox, Jack Smith, and Jermaine Darlington. The chairman can't praise new manager Adrian Boothroyd enough.
Rookie manager Boothroyd is finding out the hard way that dealing in the transfer market and getting in the right players isn't easy. But he has managed to buy in a strike force consisting of the promising Darius Henderson from Gillingham, Forest's want-away striker Marlon King who is yet to recapture the form he displayed in his Gillingham days, and the Brazilian Junior who is yet to capture any sort of form since arriving on these shores three years ago. Boothroyd has also managed to plug some of the gaping defensive holes in the form of left-backs Jordan Stewart from Leicester and Sietes from Spain (he's played in UEFA Cup games don'cha know), and Aussie centre-back Adam Griffiths.
With so many changes during the summer, Watford are one of the few genuine unknown quantities this season. Boothroyd's positivity and single-minded preference for youth and pace over age and experience could propel the Hornets up the table into the play-offs. On the other hand, when injuries and suspensions kick in, his lightweight paper-thin squad could crumble and the season could go very very wrong. Relegation-sized wrong in fact.
Watford start their campaign at home to Preston on Saturday.
Odds: To Win the League 66/1; To Get Promoted 20/1; To be Relegated 3/1.
Londonist Prediction: 21st.