The Northern League is 125 years old this season. Eight divisions below the PL, it has launched hundreds of careers. Owen Amos has helped write a book about it...
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Last season: Championship 5th; play-off winners FA Cup third round League Cup second round
Manager Ian Holloway (since November 2012) Odds on being first out of his job 18-1 (eighth favourite)
Players in Dwight Gayle (Peterborough, £6m), Jose Gomez Campana (Sevilla, £1.7m), Jerome Thomas (West Brom, free), Kevin Phillips (Blackpool, free, from loan), Elliott Grandin (Blackpool, free), Stephen Dobbie (Brighton)
Players out Wilfried Zaha (Manchester United, from loan after £15m January transfer), Andre Moritz (Bolton, free), Jermaine Easter (Millwall, free),
Club turnover in 2011-12 n/a
Handicap betting to win Premier League +51 points (20th)
He's back. He still thinks he's in a Blackpool amusement arcade - "Myself and the chairman are going to sit down and have a look at the targets we have shot at, and go from a scattergun approach to the rifle. We have got to knock some targets over" - and Ian Holloway is back in the Premier League to endear or irritate.
It is not just the manager's shtick that means one man's football fairytale is another's nightmare. Kevin Phillips, 39 at the time, was the Wembley hero in the play-off final, but his winner for Crystal Palace came at the expense of the club where he turned pro, Watford. The Championship season began on Saturday lunchtime with Dougie Freedman taking his Bolton side to Burnley, while thanks to Phillips the side he left behind last October are still waiting for their big kick-off, a week next Sunday at home to Tottenham.
Given that Freedman was joining a club a dozen places beneath his new employers, he must have known that Wanderers were a long-term project; and in the end he missed out on the play-offs only on goal difference. He will be considering the chances of being in at least as high a division as his former club in a year's time as realistic. Nevertheless, Palace's progress has been unlikely, given the recent history, on and off the field. They finished 17th in 2012, having been 20th a year earlier and, deducted 10 points for going into administration, 21st the season before that, only staying up in 2010 by sending down Sheffield Wednesday with a 2-2 draw at Hillsborough on the final Sunday. Just after that escape from relegation, fans were protesting outside the high court as the club teetered on the brink of liquidation.
The arrival of CPFC 2010 Limited in the Premier League coincident to a new TV deal that will reward the bottom-placed side with more than Manchester United got for being champions in May should help massively with the club's financial stability; Simon Jordan has written at length about the price paid for getting them there for 2004-05. The odds are firmly stacked in favour of their calling on the parachute payments next year, though.
Promotion was achieved despite nine winless games from early March, the 10th resulting in a 3-2 win that relegated Peterborough thanks to an 89th-minute goal. They had the 15th best away record in the division and were highly reliant on 30-goal man Glenn Murray, whose injury sustained in the play-off semi-final rules him out for many months. Wilfried Zaha is at Old Trafford, the purchase and loan back deal concluded. Phillips has postponed retirement but also turned 40 and a great deal will depend on whether Dwight Gayle can repeat the goalscoring form that could not save Peterborough but did earn a £6m move. Jose Gomez Campana, a Spain Under-20s midfielder, is a fascinating purchase from Sevilla but more is needed to lift nurtured talent such as Jonny Williams. Holloway's arcade fire line was provoked by the travails of signing reinforcements, difficult for any promoted side and especially one that were outsiders to come up in the first place.
When Holloway was promoted with Blackpool he was able to take the division by surprise with his positive approach but the element of surprise has been lost €- and anyway that season still ended in relegation. A reminder of the unpredictability of the play-offs is that it was a side with such poor form that triumphed; only three teams have gone up with as few points as 72 since the division expanded to 24 teams; of those, Holloway's own Blackpool in 2010 and Palace themselves in 1997 went straight down, and only Martin O'Neill's Leicester (1996) prospered.
The visit of Tottenham is followed by a trip to Stoke, before Sunderland come to Selhurst Park. Paolo Di Canio's side were 17th in the Premier League in May and on that basis a side Palace should be targeting but the visitors will surely be favourites. Defeat and succour will be in short supply before the trip to Manchester United after the international break.
Any Palace fans who get too disconsolate at the poor results should remind themselves of the state the club were in three years ago. Steve Parish, Martin Long, Jeremy Hosking and Stephen Browett should be the most popular (co-) chairmen in England regardless of how this season plays out on the pitch. But if Palace are not back in the Championship in a year's time then it will be more remarkable than the survivals of Hull, or Swansea, or anyone else written off as hopeless.
Last season: Championship 2nd FA Cup fourth round League Cup second round
Manager Steve Bruce (since June 2012) Odds on being first out of his job 33-1 (13th=)
Players in Curtis Davies (Birmingham, £2.25m), Ahmed Elmohamady (Sunderland, £2m, from loan), Allan McGregor (Besiktas, £1.5m), Steve Harper (Newcastle, free), Maynor Figueroa (Wigan, free), Yannick Sagbo (Evian, free), Danny Graham (Sunderland, loan), George Boyd (Peterborough, free, from loan)
Players out Corry Evans (Blackburn, n/a), Jack Hobbs (Nottingham Forest, loan), Seyi Olofinjana, Jay Simpson (both released)
Club turnover in 2011-12 n/a
Handicap betting to win Premier League +48 points (19th)
Five years after Phil Brown brought top-flight football to the north bank of the Humber for the first time, Hull City are back. Steve Bruce will doubtless feel differently but there is much less to get excited about at the Tigers' second promotion to the top flight. Indeed, it is hard for anyone but Steve Bruce to get excited about anything that happens to Steve Bruce.
The soul of lugubriousness has repeated the feat of the eccentric Brown, but in a manner that provoked relief rather than ecstasy: automatic promotion secured without a win in the final four matches, confirmed as City were held by Cardiff by Watford's home defeat to Leeds, when a winner for the Hornets would have taken them up instead. In the past 16 years, only Stoke in 2008 have secured automatic promotion to the Premier League with as few as 79 points. It could have been a good few more, but whether that late struggle was the product of nerves or weakness neither bodes well.
Bruce may supply some tactical unpredictability, at least. He implemented a 3-5-2 in the Championship because he felt it made the best use of his squad and/or masked their weaknesses, and that has featured in pre-season, too. But he has turned to 4-3-3 lately to good effect, even if the Hull Daily Mail conceded after a 1-0 win achieved by this system at Dynamo Dresden that "Dresden, of course, are no Chelsea", referencing the opposition on the first weekend.
The 3-5-2 made Hull interesting to watch in the Championship, inasmuch as Middlesbrough with five were the only team in the three Football League divisions to draw fewer matches than the Tigers' seven. You win some, you lose some is not going to work in the Premier League, especially for a side short on firepower.
Their 61 goals was the fewest in the top half, and 18 of the 24 wins were by a single goal, allowing Hull to secure automatic promotion with a goal difference of +9; or 30 fewer than Southampton a year before and half the total Brown's play-off winners managed. Indeed trying to find another side promoted automatically to the top flight with such a low goal difference quickly feels like an exercise in futility.
They would be solid enough purchases for a promotion-chasing side but it is hard to see Curtis Davies, Allan McGregor or Maynor Figueroa being transformative signings. Bruce has plenty of top-flight experience himself but that includes taking down arguably his strongest Birmingham City side in 2005-06.
After succeeding Nick Barmby in June last year, Bruce is entitled to feel that he has justified his appointment. But those odds of 33-1 to be the first manager out of his job seem generous in light of all the statistics suggesting Hull are the weakest side to win automatic promotion for quite some time.
A trip to Chelsea is a tough start and after a home game with Norwich there is a match at last season's runners-up, Manchester City. Should Hull still be winless after a repeat of last season's finale, against Cardiff, then it will be a long, hard autumn, never mind winter. It will be followed, in all likelihood, by a bleak spring and relegation sooner rather than later.
Last season: Championship 1st FA Cup third round League Cup first round
Manager Malky Mackay (since May 2011) Odds on being first out of his job 20-1 (9th=)
Players in Steven Caulker (Tottenham, £8m), Andreas Cornelius (FC Copenhagen, £7.5m), John Brayford (Derby, £1.5m), Simon Moore (Brentford, n/a)
Players out Heidar Helguson, Stephen McPhail (both released)
Club turnover in 2011-12 n/a
Handicap betting to win Premier League +43 points (18th)
After years of disappointment, it was almost too easy in the end for Vincent Tan's dragons. Cardiff secured promotion with three games to spare, after three consecutive play-off failures. Given the amazing success story further west at Swansea, continued failure would have been even harder to bear than those red shirts.
The final points total of 87 was low by recent standards but such was Cardiff's dominance of their rivals that Malky Mackay's side could afford to ease off, drawing six of their last seven games (including the one at home to Charlton that clinched a Premier League place). The champions of 2012, Reading, proved too weak for the top flight but they are the only Championship winners since Sunderland in 2005 (up) and 2006 (down) to go straight back whence they came. And Tan, who spent to get Cardiff in the Premier League in the first place, is spending again to keep them there.
Another Malaysian businessman, Tony Fernandes, can testify that this is not as simple as it sounds, good money having being poured after bad in a vain attempt to keep Queens Park Rangers in the top division; Tan's £7.5m on the 20-year-old Dane Andreas Cornelius is an eyebrow raiser, but that is undeniably an investment in youth rather than money for old lags. Acquiring Steven Caulker from Tottenham for £8m demonstrates signals the general intent to build for the future and, the talismanic (talismaniac?) Craig Bellamy aside, the purchases that helped secure promotion were forward-looking.
Malky Mackay, too, is at 41 a manager with a long career ahead of him, with a narrowly lost League Cup final and a refusal to join a former team in the Premier League (Norwich) behind him. Whatever missteps Tan may have made, he chose the right man (as opposed to the rumoured Alan Shearer) in the latest Scot to move into the top flight (albeit not quite a Glaswegian, having been born in nearby Belshill).
Cornelius appears to need to make a quick impact for a side relatively short of goals and who let their joint top scorer, Heidar Helguson, depart. On the other hand, Helguson's total was only eight in a side with goals around the squad and if the January signing Fraizer Campbell - not 26 till next month - can stay fit and build on the seven he scored in 12 league appearances after his January move then this may be less of a problem.
Parallels between Cardiff's and Swansea's rises largely stop with their home countries and recent League Cup runs. While Swansea built from the bottom and the back, surviving near oblivion and creating a passing tradition that has served them well under successive managers, Cardiff have careered through a succession of financial crises before being rescued by a sugar daddy. Swansea have built on their roots; Tan sliced off Cardiff's, swapping blue for red and trying to lay claim to Welshness while contemplating a share sale on the Kuala Lumpur stock exchange. But a lot will be forgiven with any sustained success.
More spending is likely between now and the kick-off, never mind the closing of the window. An opening match at West Ham, Cardiff's play-off semi-final conquerors in 2012, is a good test of standing and will be followed by the admittedly difficult visits of Manchester City and Everton. Cardiff will need a decent autumn but perhaps the most important thing will not be to panic if a difficult January - with trips to Arsenal and both Manchester clubs - leaves them badly placed.
The first ever top-flight Welsh derby takes place on 3 November, live on Sky. The chances are that there will be more such matches next season.