At 9am tomorrow morning, it all becomes very real. Rather than having to wait until early July to find out about trips to Solihull Moors, we will be relishing clashes with Coventry, Swindon and (dare I say it) our fishy rivals from up the A46.
Tomorrow is the first tangible sight of League Football that we’ve had in six years, the first time we get some physical spoils from our wonderful season last time out. Instead of running our eyes down a fixture list full of dread, the only fixture that will truly stand out as a stinker is Forest Green away. Even going to Yeovil and Crawley will seem exciting at first, until we establish ourselves as a league club again.
I’m not going to do a prediction piece, it is both absurd and pointless to try to predict who we’ll pull out of the hat on what date. It’s random, you can’t predict it, so don’t try.
Where would we like Danny and Nicky to kick off their managerial career? On the whole I think a home tie would be preferable, and one against a team who might bring a big crowd. It would send a clear message to other teams if we opened our season with a 9,500-10,000 crowd full of atmosphere and life. Ideally I suppose that means Coventry, but perhaps Chesterfield or Notts County would also prove fitting adversaries. If it is Accrington or Crawley at home the away allocation could be lower, and we might get more Imps into the ground which could make for a good day.
If we were away then I couldn’t see anywhere better than Coventry and the Ricoh Arena. The fixture list has a habit of throwing up big occasions early in the season, and what bigger than the 1987 FA Cup winners against last years FA Cup quarter finalists? I’m sure it is a fixture the league would like to see, from a promotional point of view.
The next big clashes will be the Christmas games, and this year we’ll most likely get three. Boxing Day falls on a Tuesday, and there will be fixtures on Saturday 30th and potentially January 2nd too. The fixtures aren’t regional either, last year Grimsby played Blackpool and Hartlepool at home and Carlisle away. We could have a long Christmas drive to look forward too.
There is a good chance of a tasty Christmas derby though, and that invokes memories of Chesterfield in 2009 and Boston in 2002. Those matches are always ‘occasion’ matches, and if you’re doing well at Christmas a game can draw extra crowds. Students will be back from university, relatives who don’t normally go to games can be coaxed along. Mansfield Town or Grimsby on any of those three dates would bring big crowds. What we do not want is a December 26th trip to Yeovil.
There’s also the pivotal Easter matches to look forward too. March 3rd and April 2nd are Good Friday and Easter Monday, so I imagine the matches will be the 31st and 2nd. It’s a crucial time to have matches close together, and aside from the bigger teams, it might be advantageous to have some of the strugglers that weekend. We don’t know who they’ll be, but my money is on Crawley and Barnet to be down there.
I have two matches I’m looking out for personally. I’ll be watching out for my second home, Cambridge, with view to an away trip and having my other half with me for the home match. We always seem to play at Cambridge on a week night, so a Saturday clash would be good. Exeter City is another game I hope is on favourable days, it is a nice city to visit and with relatives who are big Grecians fans it will be a good occasion.
When those fixtures land tomorrow and we start pouring over them, I’ll feel our non-league hell is truly over. Some websites still have us in the National League tables, but as of 9am that will officially be ‘last season’. We’ll have dates and times when so-called proper clubs are coming to play us. Tomorrow we are well and truly back.
I’ve tried not to get too excited, we know we’ll be playing all 23 other teams home and away, in what order is largely irrelevant. Some were clamouring for the fixtures before last season had fully finished, and aside from the warm glow of being back where we belong, I’ll be chuffed not to have to read all the ‘does anybody know when the fixture lists is out’ posts on Facebook.
I’ll be poised and ready at nine o’clock to start planning and preparation for the latter part of 2017. For all of us who live our life in seasons rather than years, tonight is the unofficial New Year’s Eve. Currently those Saturdays in November look awfully empty on my blank calendar, but in 12 hours time they’ll be filled with exotic places such as Carlisle, Stevenage and Cheltenham. Tomorrow the 2017/18 season is, in my eyes, upon us. I hope it gives me half as much pleasure and personal fulfilment at the 2016/17 one did.