And so here we go again…nine months in which we spend every Saturday either travelling to matches, walking around the corner to a home game, gluing a radio to our ears, finding dodgy internet streams, waiting on goal updates on TV or on the phone and generally being in a state of football fever. It all kicks off tomorrow and there’s even some live action to enjoy before most of us in League Two get under way at 3pm.
Focus on…AFC Wimbledon v Bristol Rovers…
Last Season: n/a
The nine year history of AFC Wimbledon reaches a new high this weekend as the Dons play their first game in the Football League under their new name. An extraordinary rise through the non-league ranks has brought Terry Brown’s men to League Two and they kick things off in front of the nation with a 12:45pm kick off against Bristol Rovers on Sky Sports.
When Seb Brown became the penalty shoot-out hero back in May as Wimbledon saw off Luton Town in a tense final at the City of Manchester Stadium, the legions of fans that rightly turned their back on a move to Milton Keynes finally had their crowning moment and the ten year plan to reach the league was achieved with a year to spare. So much has been written about the Dons in the last couple of months so I’ll spare a history lesson but it’s fair to say that Brown’s men have reclaimed their rightful place and will now be looking to go even further.
For visitors Bristol Rovers, last season couldn’t have been on much less of a parallel. Paul Trollope was sacked in December following a poor start to the season and replacement Dave Penney had just as bad a time of it, given his marching orders by March with the Gas 23rd in League One and five points from safety.
Stuart Campbell came in until the end of the season but the damage was already done and Rovers were relegated in 22nd place with just 45 points and having conceded a massive 82 goals along the way. To say a rebuilding job was needed is an understatement but capturing Paul Buckle from Torquay was a start after the Gulls boss jumped ship just after leading his former side to the League Two Playoff Semi Finals.
Buckle has since raided his former club for striker Chris Zebroski and keeper Scott Bevan whilst also bringing in undoubted quality at this level in the form of former Cobbler Scott McGleish, Yeovil defender Adam Virgo and Craig Stanley from Morecambe.
As one of the pre-season favourites for the title, there could be no more intriguing opposition for a side that’s risen from the ashes of a plastic population. This one could be an absolute belter to kick start the League Two season!
Elsewhere in League Two…
Bradford v Aldershot
Last Season: Bradford 2-1 Aldershot, Aldershot 1-0 Bradford
The Bantams will once again be looking to live up to high expectations and will see this one as a good chance for a positive start against an Aldershot side who had an exceptionally average campaign last time out.
Gillingham v Cheltenham
Last Season: Cheltenham 1-2 Gillingham, Gillingham 1-1 Cheltenham
The Gills just missed out on the playoffs on the final day of last season and come up against a Cheltenham side viewed by many pundits as rank outsiders. Gillingham’s wait to put their squad together, potentially losing them some significant gelling time, along with some decent acquisitions from the visitors could mean a possible upset is on the cards at the Priestfield.
Macclesfield v Dagenham and Redbridge
Last Season: n/a
Relegated Dagenham have a tricky encounter at Moss Rose to kick off the League Two season but the Silkmen are among the favourites for demotion to the Conference come May.
Morecambe v Barnet
Last Season: Barnet 1-2 Morecambe, Morecambe 2-2 Barnet
The great escape from Barnet on the final day of last season will mean their fans will still be buzzing, perhaps enough to shock Morecambe on the first day this time around. New signings Izak Reid and Lewis Alessandra will be on hand to try to bring the Bees back down to earth though.
Port Vale v Crawley Town
Last Season: n/a
Could be one of the better games of the weekend as Vale, much in need of a lift following the collapse of their playoff bid last season, come up against the big spenders from Crawley who bring a frighteningly talented forward line to Vale Park with the likes of John Akinde, Wes Thomas, Tyrone Bennett and Matt Tubbs competing for places.
Rotherham United v Oxford United
Last Season: Oxford 2-1 Rotherham, Rotherham 2-1 Oxford
Many people’s dark horses, Oxford have recruited early and wisely over the summer with Michael Duberry coming in to lend massive experience to the back line whilst at the other end Jon Paul Pitman and Deane Smalley will be looking to start in style. In what should be the final season at the Don Valley Stadium, Rotherham are counting down the days until they leave but will still want a happy start to the last campaign outside their city.
Shrewsbury Town v Plymouth Argyle
Last Season: n/a
The well documented troubles of Plymouth will mean that they enter another season of uncertainty and they couldn’t have picked out much more daunting an away trip for the opening day. They visit a Shrewsbury side still licking their wounds following defeat in the playoffs last May and could face the initial backlash at the New Meadow.
Southend United v Hereford United
Last Season: Southend 4-0 Hereford, Hereford 1-3 Southend
Southend have recruited wisely over the summer and are among a clutch of sides ready to make a charge on the top seven. Hereford’s ambitions are more modest and just getting off to any kind of good start would be huge after a shocking opening last season in which victory at Crewe on the opening day was followed by a ten game winless run.
Swindon Town v Crewe Alexandra
Last Season: n/a
Paolo Di Canio’s first competitive game in English management sees him come up against one of the most iconic managers in the Football League in Dario Gradi. Di Canio will be desperate for a good start to shed any nerves his new fans might have as they face an Alex side who have lost their last three opening day fixtures.
Torquay United v Burton Albion
Last Season: Burton 3-3 Torquay, Torquay 1-0 Burton
Things could easily have been so much different for both of these sides with Torquay a whisker away from League One after defeat in the Playoff Final and Burton nearly falling out of the league altogether but for a late escape. All that means that the Gulls and the Brewers meet back in League Two and this could be a decent little match on the Riviera.