Football’s Christmas comes but once a year…
‘TIS the day when all good little girls and boys can’t wait to wake up and see what Santa has brought them.
No, not Christmas Day, but the moment when we receive the delivery of the new season’s fixtures fresh from the chuntering computer down at Premier League house.
* The First Albion XI for next season
* Season tickets on general sale from Monday
It’s probably all a bit more high tech than that these days – Richard Scudamore must have an app for it surely – but there’s still that frisson of excitement when websites all around the country come to a shuddering halt under the sheer volume of traffic, a bit like the M6 around here on any given day.
So what did we get children of Albion? You’ll each have things that you particularly look out for but, as a seasoned programme writer, there are but two things to care about. Are we at home on the first day of the season and am I going to get any time off over Christmas.
For the first time in years, the Good Lord has smiled down upon Albion News and given us an away game to start with, thus giving me an extra week to get things ready. We start away at Crystal Palace this time, our first away opener since August 2010 when an Albion side led by Roberto di Matteo – whatever happened to him? – were slightly beaten by Chelsea. We need not worry ourselves about the score here, but rather should remember that a week later, we’d employed a fella called Peter Odemwingie and things were very definitely on the up.
With two away games on Boxing Day and then the New Year’s Eve jaunt to Southampton – celebratory 2017 drinks on the docks afterwards anyone? – I might get Christmas Day off, particularly if the bloke making the FA Cup third round draw utters those blessed words “will play West Bromwich Albion”.
But enough of this self-indulgence. What else does the fixture list give us? Predictions are always hard at this early stage with a couple of months of ins and outs at every cub to come. Remember two years ago when we looked at the last six games we had and couldn’t see a single point between them, only to take 11 out of 18? Or last year when we thought the run-in wasn’t too bad only to struggle through the final two months?
For most clubs in the Premier League, the bit that matters most in the fixture list are those first ten games, the ones where you really can define your season. We did it in the right direction under Steve Clarke – whatever happened to him? – in 2012/13 when we won five and drew two to give us a real platform for the campaign ahead. On the other hand, it can go the other way…
In that respect, things could certainly be worse in that opening stretch given that, with all due respect as they say, we don’t play any of the Premier League’s real elite until game eight when we play Spurs at home followed by a trip to Anfield for the re-enactment of Jurgen Klopp’s European Cup win of last term, and then a visit from Pep Guardiola and Manchester City.
There are, to employ the cliché, no easy games in the Premier League of course but when you think of how the opening ten might have panned out, we can offer up at least a silent word of thanks.
Incidentally, any idea who the Villa have got first game? What’s that? They’re not? Next week you say? Ah, ok…