Dashing football optimism

FOOTBALL is back, the brief season of annual optimism upon us.For a few weeks at least we can all enjoy the irrational belief that this time our team will be there when the honours are handed out next May.

FOOTBALL is back, the brief season of annual optimism upon us.

For a few weeks at least we can all enjoy the irrational belief that this time our team will be there when the honours are handed out next May.

Except that this year the grudging half-acceptance of mediocrity that is most fans' natural state most of the time has set in already for me. The gulf between the haves of the Premiership and the have-nots of the Football League continues to widen. Just like in the real world beyond the stadium exits, the rich have become the fabulously rich, while the poor remain the poor.

If you happen to support a Premiership side, it will have been an exciting summer of speculation about who your club might sign - then further speculation about exactly who they might be once you know their names.

Imagine for a moment (if you can) that you are a Manchester City supporter.

What, until the last couple of weeks, would the following names have meant to you: Rolando Bianchi, Valeri Bojinov, Vedran Corluka, Elano, Gelson Fernandes, Javi Garrido, Geovanni, Martin Petrov?

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What, apart from their sheer strangeness, do they mean to you now?

They are the men - the bulk of a team - whose fortunes you are expected to follow avidly for the next nine months.

Yet even the manager who has casually spent upwards of £25million on their signatures admits he had never actually seen them play. One wonders whether he had even heard of some of them.

Will this rag-tag-and-bobtail assortment of foreign mercenaries win anything this season? Well, I don't actually expect them to be relegated, though I wouldn't be stunned (or sorry) if they were.

City fans may well be feeling a little confused right now, bereft of the established personal loyalties that are such an important element of supporting your club.

But at least they have the excitement of the unknown ahead.

Now let's revert to the mundane reality of following Ipswich. The three summer signings made by Jim Magilton have cost a combined total of, um, nothing in transfer fees.

One of them, goalkeeper Neil Alexander, is a straight replacement for the departed Lewis Price.

The other two, Tommy Miller and Pablo Counago, are both rather more familiar than, say, Nani is to Manchester United fans or any of Rafael Benitez's latest batch of foreign recruits is in Liverpool.

At least Magilton knows what he's getting. But neither Tommy nor Pab has exactly set the world alight since leaving Portman Road two years ago. And you know what they say about going back.

Last season was hardly a classic one for Town fans. And before this one has started, it already has a dreary look of more-of-the-same.

But not quite.

Magilton's selection policy last term often brought into my head that favourite terrace ditty: “You don't know what you're doing.”

And I have never seen so many loan players in one year - seven of them, making 72 appearances between them.

There will be no more of that this time. Changes in Football League rules have ended the trade in “emergency loans”.

Now only long-term loans are allowed. With no scope for clubs to demand players back in a hurry, they are no longer so anxious to let their reserves go elsewhere for first-team experience.

So the squad you see now is the squad you get, at least until the January transfer window.

By which time we'll have a good idea whether Counago and Alan Lee is a partnership that induces fear among opposition defences.

At least the Championship title race is wide open, which is more than you say for the Premiership.

With more new faces, and more cash shelled out, than ever before, there remains a dreary predictability.

The squad most improved over the summer is that of the reigning champions - leaving interest only in the minor placings and the battle against relegation.

THE government wants three million new houses built in Britain by 2020. Of that, it envisages 40 per cent being on land that is presently countryside.

As if we had plenty of countryside to spare. And as if we had a booming population that will need all those extra roofs.

Neither of which things is the case.

There are alternatives to burying the land under bricks and concrete. For one thing we could wean ourselves off the idea that every family needs to own a house of its own. Almost no other country shares that idea, to the extent that we have it.

More immediately, chancellor Alistair Darling could cool down the over-heated housing market at a stroke by slapping a prohibitive tax on second homes.

There'd be no housing shortage in Suffolk if all those weekend and holiday cottages suddenly became available to local people.

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