The Monster Returns: Football Season Preview 2015-16

Chris Lockie
By Chris Lockie Last edited 27 months ago
The Monster Returns: Football Season Preview 2015-16
Pitch invasion. Photo by Magic Pea in the Londonist Flickr pool

The beast is back. You’ve missed it, haven’t you? The infantile screaming at referees who couldn’t change their decisions if they wanted to, the ever more extravagant diving from players who claim it’s simply part of the game, the vital and crucial fixtures taking place week after week between illustrious clubs like Swindon and Port Vale, and the inexplicable absence of teams from the Isle of Wight.

Football! And without Londonist’s season preview it would be as clear as the Thames at Beckton. Allow us to summarise the hopes and fears of London’s 14 clubs in the top four divisions, up from last year’s 13 as the capital spreads like a dengue epidemic.

There are of course many more clubs in London in many more leagues, but we have to draw the line somewhere, and in any case the cricket’s on.

AFC Wimbledon

A season of relative mediocrity for the Dons ended with a 15th placed finish in League Two and an unlucky 2-1 defeat to Liverpool in the FA Cup. Their scorer that day was Adebayo Akinfenwa, striking talisman, top scorer for the season and a man whose gargantuan frame makes Dwayne Johnson look like Sid Little. Who could not love a man who produces a video like this.

He will once again be key to the club’s hopes, which are unlikely to go higher than a scrape into the play-offs. Still, manager Neal Ardley is approaching three years in charge and the consistency at the top has helped AFC Wimbledon consolidate — relegation looks unlikely.

Transfer activity: a few new faces to spruce things up, including Karleigh Osborne, who has Brentford and Millwall in his back catalogue as he continues his tour of the city. Centre-back Paul Robinson, also ex-Millwall, should add handy leadership qualities along with a head shaped like a shoe box.

Arsenal

The scourge of alphabetisation gives Arsenal fans pre-season Premier League bragging rights, and inevitably false hope. The Gunners started appallingly last season and hit low points at Swansea and Stoke, with alleged supporters even going so far as to barrack Old Father Wenger on trains. Come on lads, he’s been in charge longer than half of you have been alive.

They only rescued their traditional top-four spot with an Anbar-style surge following a north London derby beating that gave the other lot no small entertainment in February, and it’s in ‘big’ games that Arsenal must improve to overhaul the various blue teams in command at the top. The Champions League remains beyond them without a world-beating striker, but any sniff of a third straight FA Cup triumph would be inhaled heartily by fans who have fallen back in love with that competition.

All the rest of us hope is that the players’ hideous colonisation of social media is stamped out by much-needed cynicism before they actually start taking selfies during goal celebrations. Make it stop.

Transfer activity: somehow securing Petr Cech from Chelsea will obviously boost the defence. Losing the stunningly unlucky Abou Diaby to Marseille’s treatment room will obviously boost the bank balance.

Two tribes. Photo by Sabine Thöle in the Londonist Flickr pool

Barnet

Welcome back, other Bees. One single season in the terrifying depths of the Conference was quite enough, though it did give fans the unusual experience of winning matches after countless years of beatings. An experiment with joint head coaches threatened to derail promotion hopes, but Barnet’s golden boy Martin Allen arrived on a silver chariot in March to put everything back on track. This is his fourth spell in charge. Love runs deep, and damply.

Barnet join a busy League Two that now contains four London clubs, and their opening match may prove a handy hint of their chances - away to Leyton Orient, just down from the league above. If the Bees can manage a mid-table finish it will unquestionably prove the first step in a journey towards ended the north London monopoly of the other two. Premier League by 2020, no doubt about it.

Barnet’s home games are not played in Barnet but in Harrow, a fact we tell you solely for the fact that we love facts.

Transfer activity: six new players have arrived, each of them on a free. Tom Champion returns to Barnet after doing the rounds of the the non-leagues for a few years. Charlton legend Kevin Lisbie is somehow still playing football at the age of 55, and now doing so for Barnet.

Brentford

As has been well documented, the Brentford board have either put in place a foolproof plan for global domination or utterly lost their minds. A manager that guided them to last season’s play-offs has been binned, and replaced by someone called Marinus Dijkhuizen, who wouldn’t sound out of place in a Tintin story. As anyone who has ever played Football Manager will tell you, replacing half your first team in a single summer is a recipe for shambolism, but that’s what they’re doing all the same.

The club’s stadium move (to Kew) is currently being wrangled over, and we await to see how chairman Matthew Benham’s masterplan of using statistical modelling to make football sexy pans out. It’s worked in Denmark, but this is not Denmark. Londonist is risibly optimistic about our clubs’ chances this season, but if there’s one we fear for it’s Brentford. Please Bees, prove us wrong.

Transfer activity: various first-team regulars have left, including Tony Craig, Stuart Dallas and midfield hardman Jonathan Douglas, while Moses Odubajo and Andre Gray might still be on their way. Among the replacements is Josh McEachran, once the future of English football at Chelsea, and a man who gives fans few options when it comes to nicknames, Andreas Bjelland.

Charlton Athletic

A 12th-placed finish last season wasn’t too bad for Charlton in the end, but nobody who watches the Addicks will claim things are looking up at The Valley. A club whose recent managerial history has been checkered in the extreme have chosen to stick with Guy Luzon for at least the first few minutes of the new season. This may be due to the fast-receding memory of seven wins in nine matches not long after he took over in January but he’ll need a fast start against QPR to dismiss lingering doubts.

Charlton are nothing if not unpredictable, which is making this paragraph quite difficult. The play-offs and a relegation scrap are both well within Charlton’s grasp, which given this sport’s meant to be about entertainment, might help shift a few extra tickets in SE7 as neutrals flock to watch heroic exploit and hapless calamity in equal measure. And as if to underline the point, there to greet fans will be these two characters. Blimey.

Transfer activity: various ins and outs but nothing to set the heart ablaze. Tough anchorman Alou Diarra should add a bit of kickery to the middle of the park, and Cristian Ceballos, ex of Spurs, is an intriguing prospect. Local boy Joe Gomez will be a loss after his £3.5m move to Liverpool.

Pre-match drinks. Photo by JJ Willow in the Londonist Flickr pool

Chelsea

Most people’s favourites to retain the pot, if by favourites we assume people mean most likely to rather than any form of belovedness or adoration. Opposing fans have to taken to singing ‘boring boring Chelsea’ at the Blues, in a slap to the face of defenders who have laboured under the impression that their work in football is as much a part of the entertainment as Diego Costa’s goals or Ramires’s flailing elbows.

This ignores that Chelsea scored more goals than everyone but Manchester City last season and have in Eden Hazard possibly the most naturally gifted player in England. They will again look to juggernaut their way to the title, by which of course we mean the Londonist Football League title — not some paltry silver bucket handed out by the FA and some bank. Jose Mourinho will remain the most humourless man in the sport, blue-shirted monsters will continue to surround petrified referees and Chelsea fans will continue not to care so long as success flows under the Bridge.

Transfer activity: an unusually quiet summer, presumably because of the plummeting global oil prices. Mercurial Colombian winger Juan Cuadrado is the big name in, for a paltry £26m. Radamel Falcao has appeared, for some reason. Clubs legends Petr Cech and Didier Drogba are dead to Blues fans now.

Crystal Palace

The Eagles are in a curious position this season; on the face of it keeping clear of a relegation battle should be their primary aim, but with an uncharacteristic third straight season in the top flight ahead of them the feeling emerges that they should be aiming higher than that. Palace proved surprisingly resilient last season, and can hopefully capitalise on Alan Pardew having got the job to which no man on Earth is better suited.

A mooted takeover of the club by American mogul Josh Harris during last season had the feel of a doomed relationship from the start, moving from early optimism to the edge of climax before collapsing into acrimony and regret. There’s still been some cash spread about though, including a new record signing.

And in other news, Geoff Thomas.

Transfer activity: that new record was set by midfielder Yohan Cabaye for £13m, a long-time favourite of Pardew’s. The Palace attack has been strengthened with the arrivals of Patrick Bamford and Connor Wickham. No major departures point to a positive atmosphere in the camp.

Dagenham & Redbridge

The truth of it is that Dagenham & Redbridge are the least well-known of our 14 teams, at least by Londonist, so let’s sort that out. They play at Victoria Road, which is in Dagenham not Redbridge. Their chairman is Dave Bennett and their manager is Wayne Burnett — good, solid footballing names. They play in red and blue and their mascot, Digger the Dog, is an anarchic character to say the least.

Last season they finished 14th, a single place above their sole League Two London oppos, AFC Wimbledon, with whom they’ve enjoyed a dubious relationship in the past. This season they will also finish 14th and you can come back here in May so we can prove how right we were. Don’t worry, we can’t edit these pages after they’re posted, honest.

Transfer activity: not a lot going on out east. Wonderfully named defender Nyron Nosworthy has signed up and less-than-prolific striker Matt McClure will need to add goals. It’s a pity the club couldn’t hang on to Billy Bingham, but he’s buggered off up north somewhere.

Pre-match mascot. Photo by grot spotter in the Londonist Flickr pool

Fulham

After appearing for all the world like a permanent fixture in the Premier League for many years, Fulham dealt badly with their fall from grace. Manager Kit Symons took over from Mr Magoo and engineered a 17th-placed finish, and recently recognised that better is required.

A wholesale change of personnel was required, no doubt partly to shed a few who’d got used to Premier League wages, Hugo Rodallega among them. Having a squad containing a huge number of midfielders may be Symons’s main concern. Four pre-season friendlies have offered few clues and the season starts with a tough trip away to Cardiff. Another club whose fortunes are hard to predict. Mid table is a big place, let’s go with that.

Transfer activity: plenty. Nine players were released not far into the summer and the new faces include Tom Cairney, Jamie O’Hara, Sakari Mattila and Ben Pringle. Rumours swirl that England U21 goalkeeper Marcus Bettinelli may be on his way to Chelsea, but Andy Lonergan should provide useful experience between the sticks. And under the crossbar. That’s how goals work.

Leyton Orient

A dismal end to the season for Orient saw them plop down into the fourth tier, just a year after losing the playoff final on penalties to the dastardly Rotherham, which we still can’t find on the map and assume has been made up to goad Londoners. Italian businessman Francesco Becchetti saw an opportunity and swooped in like a grouse on Danby Moor, meeting a similar fate. If a grouse could shoot itself it’d probably do so by running through five managers in about 10 months. It’s a solid metaphor, get over it.

Ian Hendon is current holder of the poisoned chalice, and already demonstrating absurd levels of optimism by claiming the owners will be far more patient this season. Automatic promotion is the target, the play-offs are at the upper edge of realism, mid-table safety may in fact be accepted by the fans and relegation is a virtual certainty if Becchetti doesn’t put a lid on the lunacy swirling around Brisbane Road.

Transfer activity: last season’s top scorer Chris Dagnall turned down a new deal to join, wait for it, Kerala Blasters of the Indian Super League. His replacement won’t be David Mooney, who’s also moved on, so a lot of hope will be placed in new boy Paul McCallum for goals. The O’s may have to rely on solid defending and have gone flat out at recruitment in that area.

Millwall

Another club who’ll have to bounce back from relegation; much as fans may disagree a chance to regroup and look forward positively might not be the worst thing after a few seasons of bumping about in the lower reaches of the Championship. Neil Harris has overseen a huge clear-out of players this summer, including skipper Alan Dunne as football once again demonstrates that it’s a heartless bastard of a sport.

As a team that has in the past basked in the dubious glow of being hated by most other London clubs, and famously proud of that, it will be a lonely experience for the Lions as the only London club in League One. Rumours that Orient got themselves relegated on purpose are unconfirmable.

Transfer activity: despite all those players having been kicked out of SE16, there’s been little sign of a recruitment drive. Former Lion Tony Craig has returned from Brentford, striker Steve Morison has joined from Leeds but is still missing an R, goalkeeper Jordan Archer has brought with him a middle name of Gideon and there’s really nothing to be said about Joe Martin.

Pre-match food. Photo by AH McKay in the Londonist Flickr pool

Queens Park Rangers

Has anyone heard how Harry Redknapp’s knee operation went? It was so serious it forced him out of the QPR job last season at a time when no-one, absolutely no-one, thought, “That’s possibly the worst excuse from walking away from failure I’ve ever heard”. Chris Ramsey was the man to take over and it’s to Rangers’ credit they’ve chosen to stick with him following their relegation to the Championship.

Joey Barton has departed these shores, depriving supporters of entertaining red cards and disciplinary proceedings, but the knowledge that QPR once again share a division with rivals Fulham and Brentford should get the fans’ blood pumping. It’s against Charlton they kick things off this weekend, and the Rs should be among the favourites for the division if they can get off to a good start.

Transfer activity: various strange goings on at Loftus Road over the summer. An attempt to get rid of Leroy Fer has gone tits up. The arrival of Paul Konchesky has been met with bafflement by fans, perhaps because everyone thought he was bald. James Perch from Wigan offers decent experience in defence. So far the club have managed to hold onto star striker Charlie Austin, but clubs like Tottenham are still sniffing around.

Tottenham Hotspur

Just as Arsenal fans faced numerous summers awaiting lacklustre transfer news because of an imminent new stadium, so Spurs now fear a period in the doldrums. The vastly expensive redevelopment of White Hart Lane is likely to dominate board meetings for some time to come leaving Mauricio Pochettino little room to bolster this squad, if indeed he can keep himself in a job notorious for its ejector-seat qualities.

Where indeed Spurs will be playing while the work takes place remains a matter of confusion and unlikely suggestion. On the pitch it seems hard to see Tottenham challenging for the top four if they fail to recruit before the end of August, though partnering Charlie Austin alongside Harry Kane couldn’t hurt. That the board are hesitating over a mooted £15m fee is disturbing for a club that’s not been shy or hurling cash about liberally for the past few years.

Transfer activity: more outs than ins, with Tottenham laudably admitting to previous mistakes in the form of Benjamin Stambouli, Etienne Capoue, Paulinho and the like. New defender Kieran Trippier has been putting in man-of-the-match performances in pre-season and Belgium international Toby Alderweireld should be a useful buy.

West Ham United

UEFA’s unhelpful decision to reward the cleanest teams in Europe with weeks of qualification matches for a cup nobody wants to be in meant West Ham’s season actually began at the start of July. Pre-season friendlies have been replaced by competitive matches against teams with names like Astra Giurgiu, Birkirkara and Lusitanos, though even they sound more plausible than Rotherham. However, it was pretty much over before it started, and fans of 'east London's finest' won't be watching their team under continental skies this season.

The Sam Allardyce era has ended with few tears shed and ex-Hammer Slaven Bilic is now in charge to the pleasure of many supporters. A new striker is top of Bilic’s shopping list, with Enner Valencia ruled out for the better part of three months having picked up an injury against one of those teams you’ve never heard of.

This will be West Ham’s final season at Upton Park and it’ll be up to the players to remain undistracted among the inevitable celebrations of the old ground and excitement at the new one — it would be a brutal shame for West Ham to start their new life in a lower division. Mind you, at least the rent’s cheap. You’re welcome.

Transfer activity: few big names in or out, though the polarising Stewart Downing has headed back to the north east. Dimitri Payet is the principal newcomer, a creative midfielder who is known for providing a monstrous number of assists wherever he plays.

Last Updated 08 August 2015

theblackbuck

Er... Brentford are moving to Brentford (not Kew).