Thursday 7 August ~
In preparation for the start of the Football League on Saturday we're looking back at pre-season predictions in last summer's WSC preview, beginning with League Two. Perhaps understandably, supporters' predictions in this division were less bullish than those elsewhere, varying from very cautious optimism to fairly hopeful pessimism, with the representatives of most clubs plumping for a “realistic mid-table spot”. The prediction table (right – with each contributor voting for four teams to go up and two to be relegated) was comprehensively inaccurate. Tipped to go up were Bradford, Peterborough and Wycombe. Only Peterborough, who came second, will be playing a division higher in the coming season.
Wycombe lost in the play-off semi-finals to eventual winners Stockport. Bradford, though boosted by an average attendance of over 13,000 following £138 season tickets (a lesson all clubs could learn from), prompted manager Stuart McCall into personal reflection after he announced: “I will see myself as a failure if I don't get the club back up at the first attempt.” His team started badly and ended up tenth. At the bottom Macclesfield and Accrington had 13 and nine relegation votes respectively but will have been delighted by lower mid-table safety. Wrexham and Mansfield, who were only tipped to go down by three fellow supporters between them, kick off in the Conference at the weekend – respectively away to internet gimmick team Ebbsfleet and at home to Stevenage.
There were several noteworthy individual team predictions. The grim realism of Wrexham supporter Nathan Davies – “There is not enough evidence to suggest that we'll finish any higher than mid-table” – was justified as his club came bottom, seven points from safety. Martin Shaw, the Mansfield representative, was expecting mid-table, noting that the team hadn't changed much except for the loss of goalscorers Richie Barker and Barry Conlon. Unfortunately for Shaw, despite an FA cup run (beating Brighton before losing to Middlesbrough), this optimism was misplaced. The best example of hopeful pessimism was Hereford supporter Richard Butler. Though in the end his club ended up comfortable in third place, his pre-season conviction was: “The locals are expecting a definite improvement on last season's 16th place.” Peterborough, also promoted, justified Darren Fletcher's cautious optimism: “I think a top-three finish but far tougher than anyone thinks.”
Of course, there's a lot of space between top and bottom, and a mid-table finish is a much safer call. Large numbers of clubs did ever so slightly better or worse than expected by their supporters. But that's the true and ultimately reassuring nature of football, especially in League Two.